Movies

So, let’s talk about that weird Oscar night

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Of all the times for me to go to bed early on Oscar night.

I’m sure you’ve witnessed the envelope rip heard around the world, but just in case you haven’t:

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So, yeah, if you’re having a rough Monday morning, just take heart: at least you didn’t produce last night’s Academy Awards.

Here are a few belated thoughts:

  • First off, I’m elated at “Moonlight’s” win for best picture. I never boarded the “La La Land” hate wagon; indeed, the film was one of my favorites last year. But I saw “Moonlight” after I compiled that list and it stuck with me for weeks. It’s a beautiful, empathetic film. It’s not, as some have pegged it, a political film or simply the “gay black movie.” It’s a beautifully filmed, wonderfully acted story about identity and the power of others to help (or hinder) our understanding of who we are. For years to come, “La La Land” will still be a film people enjoy. A film like “Moonlight,” made for only $1.5 million and telling such an intimate tale, could be easily lost to time. Having the cache of “best picture” means people will revisit it for years, and that’s a very good thing. Also, much-deserved wins for the screenplay and to Mahershela Ali, who’s only in the film for the first act but whose presence is felt in every scene afterward.
  • I’m bummed to have missed the best picture snafu, but I’ve rewatched the video several times. What a crazy mistake. And while it certainly must have been awkward for all involved, I agree with critic Matt Singer that it might have been the best thing to happen to the Oscars. Justin Horowitz, Warren Beatty and Jimmy Kimmel handled it with class, and it provided an only-in-the-movies finale to this celebration of cinema. Sure, if the films had been reversed or, say, something like “Hacksaw Ridge” had won,we might be feeling differently. And besides, if you’ve seen “La La Land,” you know why this is so deliciously ironic.
  • Like I said, I was in bed by the time the best picture stuff happened. In fact, I was in bed well before Emma Stone, Casey Affleck or Damien Chazelle won their respective awards. About 11:15 p.m., bored by the predictability of the affair (which I’d predicted) and aware that Monday morning was quickly approaching, I turned off the TV and headed upstairs. I don’t regret my decision. The rest of the awards turned out as I’d thought they would. And, honestly, I think I would have been so wound up about that finale, sleep would have been hard to come by.
  • It just wasn’t the greatest show, despite the fact that it had possibly the most energetic opening I’ve seen to an Oscar broadcast. Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” kicked things off with joy and adrenaline, but I feel he took all that with him when he left. I don’t know how much is Jimmy Kimmel’s fault. I don’t think he was a bad host; I thought the “Mean Tweets” and “We Bought a Zoo” bits were funny. Kimmel had an easygoing presence, but maybe it was just too easygoing. He seemed too casual, determined to not make a big deal of things. But that turned him into a non-presence and was a bad decision during a night when Hollywood constantly makes a big deal of itself. Also, he came off as surprisingly derisive of the movies, making jokes about how no one had watched them and shrugging off attempts at sincerity. Billy Crystal’s shtick may have worn thin over the years, but there was always the sense of love for the industry. An ironic approach doesn’t seem to work.
  • Also, that tour bus segment just dropped like a lead balloon for me. First off, it seemed very staged and not the surprise they were hyping it up to be. I mean, what kind of movie fans decide to take a tour of Hollywood on Oscar night? And I’m sure there had to be safety screenings and consent releases for this, so I find it hard to believe no one was in on the gag. And I don’t know what was worse: the fact that several of the tourists couldn’t stop staring at their phones or the general feeling of condescension and “let’s laugh at the normals” that the bit carried.
  • I guess it was inevitable that “City of Stars” would win best song (although I think “Audition” was the better number). But come on: we all wanted to see Lin-Manuel Miranda EGOT.
  • “OJ: Made in America” — a seven-hour movie that aired in five parts on ESPN (and had a limited theatrical run) — was the front-runner and winner for the documentary prize. We can quibble about that, I guess. I’ve always considered it a TV event, not a cinematic one, because that’s how I viewed it. But in these days of Netflix and Amazon movies, the whole boundaries between the two media are blurring. And “OJ” may have been shown in five parts but it was one coherent piece covering one topic. And really, it was pretty much one of the best things aired in any medium last year. I have no problem with its win because it is fantastic and should be watched by all.
  • Animated movie went to “Zootopia,” a movie I really like. That said, I feel “Moana” is the best Disney film in a long time and has a scope and beauty to it that the clever-but-familiar “Zootopia” lacks. But even more, I would have loved to see underdog Laika win for “Kubo and the Two Strings,” a gorgeous stop-motion epic that is one of the most imaginative and thrilling experiences of last year.
  • As expected, Donald Trump and current politics came up several times. I was mixed on this. On the one hand, I groaned any time Kimmel turned political. But it wasn’t because I minded the politics; I simply thought the attempts to shoehorn these topics in felt obligatory, forced and unfunny. A bit checking in on the president’s Twitter feed fell really flat because he hadn’t tweeted anything (and apparently he was out at a dinner instead of sitting by his computer). Most of the actors and actresses kept their speeches nonpolitical, which I appreciated. And when the statements were made, they were made by people who had something to say and were personally affected by current policy, such as “The White Helmets'” Raed Saleh and Khaled Khateeb. The lack of posturing from the stars made the more appropriate political commentary stand out, which kept the show from feeling overwrought.
  • As for the rest of the show, I mean, I have no beef, but there were also very few surprises. Emma Stone and Casey Affleck’s wins were deserved, as was Viola Davis’. Damien Chazelle directed the hell out of “La La Land,” a film that astounds more for its technical mastery than anything else. The scripts for “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight” are pieces of beauty. So while the awards went largely as planned (even “Moonlight” was regarded as a possible “La La Land” upset in advance), they were all fine. I think this year just wasn’t one in which I had much investment.
  • On a non-Oscar note, it’s only right to mention the passing of Bill Paxton this weekend, which shocked and saddened me. Paxton was one of my favorite character actors, a presence who always elevated a film. Yes, we can talk “Weird Science,” “Aliens,” “Terminator,” “Titanic” and “Twister” until the flying cows come home. And he was turning in film-stealing performances as recently as “Nightcrawler” and “Edge of Tomorrow.” But for me, his two best performances were in underseen thrillers that should really be sought out. Sam Raimi’s “A Simple Plan” is as taut and thrilling a crime drama as I’ve ever seen, and it’s Paxton’s everyday decency that makes the film’s pitch black themes work (he’s assisted by a career-best performance from Billy Bob Thornton). And Paxton’s directorial debut, “Frailty” not only was the first hint of Matthew McConaughey’s resurgence, but is also one of the great Southern gothic horror films, a bleak and harrowing piece of work with a fantastic final twist. Paxton’s going to be deeply missed.

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