a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Toxic Tank Tops

All I wished for -- or, excepting some quotables from Chris Rock, expected to receive -- was a screenplay win for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. So, in one way, this year's Oscars were a runaway success. In another way, it was the same act of attrition for the die-hard cineaste, even with, courtesy the emcee, the pomp having been taken down a notch or two. Blowing by at a "mere" three hours and ten minutes, the ceremony felt less like the result of tight editing than an anxious need to plow through the required parts -- a lot of frantic business with no clear end in sight. Here are the highlights, as well as some random thoughts:

* The deluge beings with the obligatory fuzzy rundown of the last century-plus of cinema, the calm façade of which is severely disrupted by the finale: Chaplin from Modern Times first playing rock-hackysack with Shrek, then the two walking off into the distance together -- the implicit statement being that the big green ogre is our modern day equivalent of the wacky-but-sweet Little Tramp. Whether Will Smith from Shark Tale is today's Buster Keaton will have to wait for the inevitable Shark Tale sequel.

* Chris Rock monologue kicks, excepting a protracted bit about waiting for Tom Cruise whenever any role is up. I have no clue what he's talking about. Soon after, the sound of thousands of television sets being shut off or switched to VH1 Classics can be heard when Rock segues into a semi-tangential riff on Dubya working at the Gap. Best part: Rock talks of gun-battles at the Source Awards. The astute directors immediately cut to a simmering P. Diddy.

* Apparently the orchestra has decided on a sci-fi score theme for the evening, as evidenced by Morgan Freeman's acceptance speech being followed by the credits music from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

* Robin Williams emerges to give away the Best Animated Feature trophy wearing a piece of paper over his mouth. Sadly, this is only an in-joke as to the 11th-hour excision of his song parodying the whole SpongeBob-is-a-homo debacle, and as soon as the paper is torn off, Joan Rivers jokes and David Brent-level impressions spew out.

* The first of the technical awards occurs, introducing us to The New Policy, where recipients with unfamiliar names pose on stage like contestants at the Miss America Pageant, American Idol or wherever else people stand around like cattle and must applaud inertly when they lose. Amount of airtime saved by not having them walk: five seconds. Bodes well.

* Carson memorium. (He hosted the Oscars back in '81. Lucky there.) A treat, naturally, upset only by questions as to whether the sole available talking head was really Whoopi, followed by "And why her?"

* Roundabout here is where the night's strangest trend first occurred: large-sounding things falling from what sound like great heights backstage. At different intervals, Rock throws a sincere but priceless confused look and Jeremy Irons runs with it, proving, as per Rock's introduction, that he is a "comic genius." Gill Cate's castle of solitude is crumbling.

* Standing in an empty balcony seat (time saved by not having her strut to the podium: 3 seconds), Scarlett Johannson relays her fun-filled day at the techie awards. No facetiousness there. It looks like halcyon-days-Club-54 compared to tonight's festivities.

* Which is more jarring: the inclusion of many of Sidney Lumet's dogs (good work splicing Gloria in towards the front) among his greats during his Honorary Award montage? Or the high-angle shot of his daughter's (wife's?) heaving bosum?

* The New Policy hits a nadir when the camera prowls down rows of strategically placed nominees for the Best Live Action Short, scanning over faces we'll soon forget, names we'll never remember. (Clips from said labors of love are gone altogether. Time saved: nil.) One feigns sleep, a snarky move that proves prescient when he loses to...some human being.

* Adam Sandler carefully explains the difference between an adapted screenplay and one which is original, employing such helpful signifiers as "one is adapted."

* Roger Mayer, film historian and remasterer extraordinaire, temporarily saves the evening with something useful.

* The memorium montage. Marlon Brando "wins" (but "loses" to Carson), while ommissions prove glaring and obvious. (Just one: Maurice Pialat, you fuckwits.) To sate some, Russ Meyer makes the cut, though the mentions of his films include Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Fanny Hill, not more immediately recognized titles as Russ Meyer's Up!, Mondo Topless and Supervixens!

* With a straight face and without stuttering, P. Diddy describes The Polar Express as "hip and creative." This is an intro to that one's chunk o' treacle, "Believe," sung by Josh Groban and, in her third appearance, apparent go-to chanteuse Beyoncé.

* Prince butchers every Latin name on the roster of Best Songs. And yet he's still the man.

* Delivering the night's most welcome speech -- while, in an unprecedented turn of events, winning the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for the year's best original screenplay (and movie, grumble grumble) -- Charlie Kaufman humbly thanks his family then, when someone tells him to valliantly defy the orchestra and Mr. Cates, utters "No, I want to get off stage."

* Can't decide. On one hand, Spicoli's "compromised sense of humor" can clearly be translated into "no sense of humor" or "denotes a humorless bastard." On the other, at least someone had the good graces to stop the lame string of auto-jokes about Jude Law's ubiquity in the nation's multiplexes since September. And for that, I half-thank you.

* Sad Annette loses, but Hilary deserves it (or, rather, Kate deserves it). Hilary's a weird case, by the way: Here's an actress with absolutely no range, whose two trophy-gobbling performances have hedged on an awkward naturalism that calls to mind Maria Falconetti or a Warhol groupie. Was less impressed with her Boys Don't Cry perf, though that was due to the part and because she was being vigourously used as a mop by Chloe Sevigny. Here, her part was strong and she nailed it. But as evidenced by anything else she's done, that's all she's got. Prove me wrong, but I'd be shocked if you do.

* Jamie Foxx delivers a moving, but not hackneyed, speech -- the best of the evening apart from the guy who sang his song then said, simply, "Gracias." Still, I remember Booty Call, dude. Heck, I remember Breakin' All the Rules.

* Sad Marty lost, but Clint deserves it (or, rather, Mike Leigh deserves it). And thus yet another bloated, Oscar-friendly epic by Scorseez launches into pre-production.

* Dustin Hoffman, perhaps intentionally, mumbles through every Best Picture title. Which is awesome.

* I think I need another look at M$B. Still, I can't help but feel this is so much a flavor of the month deal: appearing out of nowhere, sporting a triumphant underdog story (or as much of one as you can get with Clint behind the lens), and alternately having and giving the illusion of having a well-learned take on the world. However, from a purely superficial stand-point -- from a traditional Oscar stand-point -- Clint sure radiated the stuff throughout. Like J. Hoberman pointed out in The Dream Life (referring to Dirty Harry, actually, but same thing), he's something to each of us, our Clint.

I am atoned. Somewhere Béla Tarr has long grown restless.


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