Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Overlook: Overlooked at the 2015 Oscars

by JB
“I know. You’re hurt. You’re stung… and you’re steaming…”
--Joe Mantegna, House of Games

Oscar night was a letdown, babies. A reliable, comfortable letdown. I have written about OSCAH before on this very website, and I should no longer be surprised when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gets it wrong.

TANGENT: When contemporary comedians wish to deflate the pomposity of Old Hollywood (think of Martin Short doing his Irving Cohen character: “Give me a C, a bouncy C!”) they will inevitably adopt an old-school hep-cat attitude and pretentiously pontificate about “this business called SHOW.”

The older I get, and the more I have come to loathe the Awards, the more I realize that’s what it is all about—SHOW. Perhaps that is what is has always been about. As Debbie Reynolds says to Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain, “You don’t talk. You don’t act. It’s all a bunch of dumb show.” She may as well have been talking to the Academy.

Did you see what the Oscars did last night? I thought they would finally acknowledge talents like Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson, Michael Keaton, and The Lego Movie. Naaaaaaaaah. Once again, Academy voters turned the whole proceedings into ashes in my mouth. The nomination themselves weren’t perfect; but even among the nominated films, I think many of the best candidates were…. wait for it…. OVERLOOKED.

Birdman wins; Boyhood is overlooked. Birdman is the self-congratulatory choice; it’s all about actors being actory. I loved Birdman, but Boyhood moved me in a way no other film did this past year. It remains the only “new release” film I have ever reviewed for the site.
Boyhood is groundbreaking; it eschews many Hollywood conventions to portray life as it really is (or perhaps as it really feels) and that is terrifying to members of the Academy, whose very livelihoods are based on maintaining the “This Is What A Movie Is Like” status quo. The biggest complaint I heard again and again about Boyhood was that “it was about nothing” or “she keeps marrying scary alcoholics.” Yes, dear Movie-Going Public, I know that you’re accustomed to comforting, plotty Hollywood narratives that are short and obvious, pitched to level of a fifth grader and easily summarized in a sentence. Yes, the Patricia Arquette character marries two alcoholics. Many people in real life marry two alcoholics. In the movie version, both boozy spouses would be conflated into one composite character that was also a secret agent or serial killer or circus clown. Hollywood is so worried that any audience member might be bored that it no longer makes movies about average lives.

Back in July, I wrote, “… this is largely because Linklater leaves out the usual Hollywood signifiers […] the ‘this is how I’m feeling’ set of dramatically-worded responses, grand gestures, and orchestral pushes that lead audiences, beat by beat, through the arc of the film. In their absence, we are expected to do most of the heavy lifting and interpret the emotional meaning of what is on the screen.”

I think some people find this exhausting, or they are so seldom asked to do this during a Hollywood film that they have forgotten how. I know the Academy has. In voting this year, the Academy faced a choice between an outsized, elaborately produced look into its own heart and a sincere, intimate look into the hearts and lives of the rest of us. They chose the former. Again, I loved the movie Birdman—but I’ve lived something much closer to Boyhood. What an achievement that Linklater could find a way to validate and affirm my life, and the lives of my regular-person friends and family, through his art.

• Julianne Moore is overlooked her entire career and is given a “make good Oscar” for a film that, by the telecast’s own admission, no one has seen.
• How The Lego Movie was overlooked for a Best Animated Feature nomination escapes me. It was entertaining and funny. It had a great message for kids. The animation was ground breaking. Did many Academy voters simply not see it, assuming that it was merely a feature-length toy commercial? Or does its message of active creativity threaten them the way Boyhood does?

• I very much enjoyed both Feast and The Phone Call, the two Shorts winners (The Phone Call left me a sobbing wreck.) Still, I cannot get rid of a nagging thought at the back of my head that those choices were too safe and, in their own ways, too comfortable. Having seen all the nominated shorts, I felt that Me and My Moulton in the animated category and Parvaneh in the live action category might have been better choices. With the benefit of distance, I think of The Phone Call what I thought of Terms of Endearment after its release: given the subject matter, it would have been artistically more difficult to make the audience NOT cry. Both Me and My Moulton and Parvaneh brought me into the lives of its characters with so much left unsaid.
Maybe it’s better that we should all save our tears for Oscar night. So overblown, so leaden, so awful has the annual televised festivity become that I thank my lucky stars my wife and I still host an annual Oscar party, so we and our friends might at least entertain ourselves.

We continue our tradition of matching hors d’oeuvres to the nominated films. This year we had some help from other members of the F This Movie! crew. My wife carved the tradition, delicious Choscar:
For American Sniper, we did shots. Get it?
Birdman and Whiplash resulted in a flurry of chicken drumsticks. Delicious.
My lovely wife used every pot, pan, and bowl in our house to recreate the Courtesan au Chocolat from The Grand Budapest Hotel:
The evening concluded with disappointment and “I Have A Dream(sicles)” from Selma. Perhaps one day, the white part of this confection will gain a little more respect for the non-white part. And by “this confection” I mean the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
CONCLUSION: The only lesson I learned Sunday night was that the best way (maybe the only way) to watch the Oscar telecast and still have a good time is to watch it with a two year-old. She liked the “Everything is Awesome” production number… and eating popcorn.

Me too.


  1. The majority of this sub culture of people that live in "Hollywood Land" are so out of touch to the real world and it shows more and more every year at the Oscars. Hollywood Land is a whole other world in a little bubble where anything goes above the law. They have their own rules and shadiness that goes much deeper than any of us want to think about. Movies are "larger than life" as are the people involved in movie making (at least that's what they think!) from the producers to the actors. The actors are so self-important minus the few that somehow remain humble yet are still successful.

    A long time ago, I realized that to be an actor you pretty much have to be an egomaniac and have that "look at me, now!" attitude. You also have to go through awful shit ("Mulholland Drive" or "Starry Eyes" anyone?!) I would love to see the reaction of the Academy nominating Amy Berg's Documentary "An Open Secret" (look it up)- oh man, that would be UNCOMFORTABLE! Of course there are exceptions to all of this, I am simply speaking on the majority. The snobbery and fakeness that fills the room at the Oscar's seeps through the TV making my living room an uncomfortable and embarrassing cloud. Only at the Oscars can someone make a remark about their son who committed suicide and immediately afterward be praised for having "balls" to "wear that dress" as the audience erupts in laughter. Awkward, laugh track-y, laughter.

    Great article, JB. I think the idea is to watch awards like the Oscars as you watch movies. With suspension of disbelief and realize you are watching actors doing their jobs, acting. Most of the time though it's a cold, pretentious and shitty movie.

    Sorry for my long post everyone.

  2. To me the breaking point with Oscars was the year "The Artist" won Best Picture and Best Actor. Before then I knew they were out of touch often ("The English Patient," "Rocky" over "Network," etc.), but every once in a while they got it right (1997 with "Titanic," 2007 with "No Country for Old Men," 1991 with "Silence of the Lambs," etc.) and things were mostly evened out. But lately ("The Hurt Locker"), and particularly with this year's crop of Best Picture nominees (all weak sausage except for "Boyhood") and glaring omissions ("Selma" in the acting categories, "Lego Movie" in animation category, etc.), the wheels have completely fallen off the process. It's the polar opposite ("Birdman" is the best movie of 2014? Really?!?!) of The People's Choice Awards's too-mainstream choices ("Malevolent" for best picture of the year, really? REALLY!?!?!), with the actual solution/right choice somewhere in an irreconcilable middle.

    And the saddest part is that the Academy continues marching forth in its slowly self-immolating path of alienating the core cinephile audience that keeps their smaller and cherished "smart" movies in business (i.e. the people that have made "Boyhood" a modest below-$25 million arthouse hit). They and ABC know they can piss us all away and The Oscars would still be a huge TV hit based solely by the amount of rubber-necking fashionistas and star-gazing civilians that tune in to see the stars.

    I've made my peace and, unlike JB, I can't even look at Oscars in a hipster derogatory mood. I just ignore it and try to enjoy myself with fun movies like "Under Siege" or the new "RoboCop," which is what I watched while this year's Oscars were playing. Seagal and Jose Padilla (not to mention those delicious "Whiplash" drumsticks, yummy!) for the win! :-)

    1. Oh, BTW, "RoboCop" (2014) is now streaming on Amazon Prime but isn't on Netflix Instant. Maybe the site should have a sub-section in the weekly Netflix column for the handful of exceptional exclusives ("Enemy," "Obvious Child," etc.) that Amazon manages to get their mittens on and keep away from Netflix Instant.

    2. ^^^ IGNORE THE RETARD THAT WROTE THE ABOVE PARAGRAPH! "RoboCop" 2014 is also streaming on Netflix as well. My bad. :-(

  3. While we're venting, I'll say that to me the saddest part of the Oscars is that it makes me resent movies that are actually really good. When I saw Birdman, I liked it. I walked out happy and impressed and had no personal problems with it other than it being up its own ass. Now I subconsciously hate Birdman, even though it did nothing wrong. It just became the darling of a pretentious bunch of dopes. I still haven't seen Theory of Everything, and I just don't want to anymore. Its existence annoys me because I knew from the minute I saw the trailer that it would win an Oscar or two. In fact, this year I may not bother with seeing alot of these movies. I'll just watch the trailers in September and go ahead and predict them to win Oscars which, had I done this year, I could have made big money in the betting pools.

    What sucks is that I'm sure Theory of Everything is a great movie, but the Oscars made me hate it. Also, I'm sure Eddie Redmayne gave an outstanding performance, worthy of such recognition. The simple fact that this movie won in a category which should have included Jake G and Oyelowo gives it a bad taste on the....tongue...of my brain.

    I'm mad at the Oscars for giving me a reason to dislike movies I probably would have loved. Maybe we should just stop pitting movies against one another altogether. Get rid of the nominations, and make every single category a write-in ballot, where only the first place winner is announced. Congrats to them, everyone else was great too. Yeah, that'll happen.

    Anyway, I was happy to see Citizenfour win best documentary. I think it was the most important and timely movie of 2014, and I'm glad the Academy at least has the perception to see things of political importance. Sorry for going long. Happy Tuesday.

  4. I watched the last third of the show and was entertained. Hosting that show seems like a doomed endeavor, but NPH did alright. I liked the music from Selma, Glen Campbell and Lady Gaga's Sound of Music medley. We debated this last night in our podcast, whether Birdman should have won...we all agreed on Grand Budapest Hotel and I thought Ralph Fiennes was big time snubbed. Unless the whole setup changes, I dont see how the Oscars will ever be different. The Academy had such a great opportunity to celebrate one of the best years in film. A grand celebration, or something different, would have been the only way they could have lured people away from Walking Dead.