I enjoyed the 87th Annual Academy Awards. As usual, they were too long, and here in Atlantic Canada started too late. (Why did it start 30 minutes later than last year? To give more red carpet time? That’s a really bad idea. But I’ll have more to say about the preshow in a bit.)
Overall the show was entertaining, with a nice balance of humour and poignancy, as much from the musical performances and Neil Patrick Harris’s antics as the unexpectedly thoughtful and politicized speeches from the winners.
I think Harris did a fine job, despite his tendency to be puntastic. Ellen DeGeneres was a little better, but then I’d be OK if she did it every year, or rotating with Job Stewart and Chris Rock, who were the best hosts of the past 15 years. (Seth MacFarlane was the worst.) I did like how Harris (and the producers) took the time to highlight the pictures like The Lego Movie and Selma, acknowledging the snubs.
I had no problem with who won the acting prizes, even though I was hoping for at least one upset, if only to upend the predictability. If the Oscars are, as some have called it, the Superbowl for women, it could use a couple of Malcolm Butler interceptions in the last minute of play.
I was definitely more in the Boyhood camp than the Birdman camp, and can’t quite believe they didn’t give the Best Director award to Richard Linklater. But, digging deeper, I was actually in the Whiplash camp (out on DVD this week, don’t miss it) and The Grand Budapest Hotel camp, so was thrilled to see that both films took home a few awards. (For the entire list of nominees and winners, go here.)
As usual, there was some controversy over some aspects of the show, which is, I’m sure, a big part of why people watch. What will these actors and directors say and do off the cuff? Even the most seasoned performers (I’m looking at you John Travolta) can get flustered under the hot lights when billions of eyeballs are on him. Hollywood is no more like high school than at the Oscars, and I always have sympathies for the self-conscious nerds, even if they’re so rich they own passenger jets and their own airfields.
On those controversies. Well, I wasn’t going to weigh in on all this, but what the hell. If anyone cares…
• Patricia Arquette takes a stand for equal pay for women in America: I really enjoyed this moment, especially given the recent revelations (thanks to the Sony hack) of what the female leads of American Hustle were paid versus their male counterparts. Though she spoke about the issue in a general way, I bet Arquette was inspired by her own industry, hence the inclination to speak to them at their biggest event of the year.
What appalled me was how the more radical opinions of the left jumped down her throat for calling to arms other marginalized groups. The suggestion actors should stick to carefully crafted scripts from a team of public relations experts is just bullshit.
As if asking for help immediately means people should forsake their own battles. As if taking a public stand on an issue deserves to be spat upon by those who otherwise should be an ally because the person taking a stand doesn’t say exactly what you want them to say in the way you want them to say it. Get over yourselves.
At least the conversation is taking place, which is often the best part of when someone like Arquette shows a little courage. Unfortunately, I’m sure studio heads in Hollywood would argue that actors are commodities, whatever their gender, and are worth what the public are willing to pay in order to see them on the big screen, as Helen Mirren reminded viewers last night when she showed up on David Letterman.
• Sean Penn makes a joke about immigrants when he gives the award for Best Picture to Alejando G. Inarritu’s film Birdman: Not super-funny, sure. Penn isn’t someone who’s managed to exhibit much of a sense of humour, as indicated by his letter to the South Park creators. But come on, people: Not only has Penn worked with Inarritu in the past—and Birdman director thought the joke was funny—and they are clearly friendly, why aren’t we willing to give Penn the benefit of the doubt that he might be injecting a little satire into the proceedings, doing a voice of one of those intolerant, ignorant, immigrant-hating Americans? I certainly don’t agree with everything professional shit-disturber Michael Moore says, but he suggested as much on Twitter and I’m with him on this.
Or is this really because in the eyes of some Penn will always be the abusive spouse of Madonna, two-and-a-half decades later, and everything he does should be scorned? I dunno. Maybe? This is where I just step away and go back to the work. And speaking of the work…
• Joan Rivers not included on the In Memoriam list: I thought Joan Rivers was a hell of a comic, one of the best and funniest. But the Red Carpet isn’t about film, it’s about fashion and celebrity. If it was up to me, it wouldn’t be televised at all beyond a two minute montage at the beginning of the awards show (like it was as recently as the 1980s) so we can see what the weather is like in Los Angeles. If we can’t enjoy a televised montage of the work of Hayao Miyazaki and his speech when he gets his honorary Oscar, why do we put up with the manicam?
Because Rivers helped make the red carpet a big deal. It’s important to some people, I get that. But it’s gotten so women (like Reese Witherspoon) are pointing out they’d like to be asked about more than just their dresses. It’s become a 90 minute monster.
And Rivers wasn’t really about the movies (even if she once did direct one) so I have no problem with her not showing up on the roll.
Besides, she was one of the great outsiders—so much of her humour was predicated on not being one of the cool kids. I can just imagine the hilarious gags she would have delivered about this very thing.
She always knew it was more important to #StayWeird, to her credit
UPDATE: February 25, 2015
Well, I’ve been schooled.
A couple of friends yesterday evening gave me insight about something I admittedly don’t know a lot about: feminism and the ongoing fight for wage parity, re Patricia Arquette’s comments at the Oscars. Some of their finer points are illustrated in this editorial in The Guardian. It was also suggested I should respect people responding from their experience and not dismiss their anger.
And, now that I see the broader picture, I can better understand that perspective.
The one thing that I struggle with is the idea that Arquette, by dint of who she is and where she was, makes a poor activist. That is: privileged, white, and wealthy at The Oscars. Is the (perhaps disproportionate) anger directed at her more about who she is or is it about her clumsily articulated message? I don’t know, but it’s something worth considering.
I can’t be entirely cynical about Hollywood. I like the idea that we all have the right to draw attention to issues we think are important with the stage we’re given—and what a stage when so many people are watching. Arquette is continuing to clarify her case via her Twitter account, FWIW.
The Oscars are where Sacheen Littlefeather famously declined the award presented to Marlon Brando in 1973. Did that make any real difference in the world of aboriginal rights or was it just a sideshow? Some might say we’ve regressed from the 1970s in terms of the rights of women.
My bottom line: I believe the conversation is worthwhile. I’ve certainly learned a thing or two as a result of it.
Of all the things written about the Oscars I’ve read, I’m most on board with this piece by Screencrush’s Matt Singer. I’ve been guilty of “hot takes.” It’s an internet specialty.
And now I return you to your regularly scheduled program.