The Academy Awards: A Guilty Pleasure
For me, watching the Oscars is kind of like being in a bar, ordering a caesar-salad, and just one single pint. Watching the Oscars is kind of like being back in early high-school orchestrating plans to see Home Alone 3 (in theaters) when I knew all logic dictated that I should actually be at home confined to studying for that perpetually looming math exam. Yes, maybe I’m simply trying to admit that basically watching the Oscars is – well there’s lets just say, maybe there’s lots of guilt involved. Dare people know what I’m doing for the next three hours – conforming to the sensationalized schmaltz of the masquerade of it all, that facade, ogling that glamorized bubble that is this inflated cult of celebrity, I can’t lie, these are all things that I think about when tuning into such an annual spectacle. This combined with flashbacks of when I used to religiously watch the awards with my parents, hearing my dad periodically snap every seven minutes: “He-she’s so phony!”
Nevertheless, all contemporary forms of distaste aside, I must admit that there does indeed exist my alternate half, and my alternate half truly values what the Academy Awards stand for (in principle). Honoring the outstanding achievements accomplished across this 365 day cinematic-timeline, I can nitpick and belittle the institution till I’m blue in the face, but really, at the end of the day, the fact is, the Oscars do indeed stand for something. For the industry players, the thespians and filmmakers that makeup this outwardly business known as show, the Oscars are definitive in showcasing what it means to succeed in such a cutthroat system known as Hollywood, and I respect that element to the umpteenth power. I respect the fact that while, sure, the Oscars don’t properly represent a well-compiled grid of the year’s “best” (as if there were only 10 films) the awards do still manage to (at the very least) shine a light on so many of the expertly made pictures (and the artists that make them possible) that do rightfully deserve to be spotlighted for their sheer levels of excellence, especially when compared to the year’s remaining federal-reserve’s worth of cinematic-garbage that, for many of us, is still costing us both time and money we’ll never see again.
And since I’m being so brutally honest here, I might as well add that as an aspiring “full-time” filmmaker, the thing I truthfully hate most about watching the Oscars, is simply just not being able to be there myself. And by “there,” I don’t necessarily mean at the Oscars, I just mean being geographically situated and established within such a filmmaking mecca — The dreams and goals that come along attached to that very idea, the burning passion and longing desire — Wow, I think my Academy Awards bitterness is actually spawned from this undying love for the show and its unavoidable symbolicalness. Certainly, despite whatever cynical act I try to play-up, the truth is I’ve persistently (and willfully) been hooked year after year, and because of this undeniable fact, I can’t not chime in, with some of my very own off-the-cuff memories related to such a worldly revered holly-night (film world that is).
#1. Tom Cruise’s post 9/11 opening monologue (74th annual Academy Awards):
Mourning from staring straight in the face of unforeseen terrorism and national tragedy, I want to believe even Hollywood itself took a brief period of grace and paused to question the validity behind retaining the green-light in going-ahead with the upcoming Academy Awards as planned. And being that this is exactly the direction Hollywood chose to go in, certainly the show’s inevitable introduction/opening was going to be absolutely crucial in determining whether or not the 74th Academy Awards was in fact the right idea. Now say what you want about Tom Cruise (I’m a fan and I honestly think he’s one of the most underrated actors working — Weird to say what with him being the epitome of a movie-stardom) but it turns out he was in fact the perfect person to commence the toned-down ceremony. With an appropriate professional level of class and respect towards both a nation’s grieving, and the uniting significance of cinema as a symbol for cultural-freedom and individual acts of self-expression, Cruise set the tone for the entire night ahead. He has always come across as the utmost focused and committed professional on his movie-sets, there because he seemingly wants the project to succeed. Cruise’s opening Oscar monologue felt no different, no less — It was a master-class in how most celebrities should conduct themselves, especially in today’s “selfie” climate.
#2. “What I really want to do is act.” (68th Academy Awards):
While popular consensus on favorable Mel Gibson rants has experienced a global-wide drought since the 90’s, I hope it’s safe to say that his films still stand for something. And I do believe that dialogue on works such as Braveheart (and to a lesser degree, Apocalypto) have only increased with much unanimous praise over time. With Braveheart specifically, I remember (at the time) the film marking Gibson’s debut as a feature-film director, seemed to explode out of nowhere cementing the actor’s unexpected status as an auteur-esque visionary to watch out for. Upon accepting the Academy Award for best director for Braveheart, Gibson wisecracked possibly the most accurately truthful of jokes describing the job and a man of his now award-winning position. “…Well, like most directors I suppose what I really want to do is act.”
#3. Every Billy Crystal Movie Montage (all 9 of them):
The visual components to the Oscars really plays to my own beloved sensibilities. I love watching anything clip-related, and I think it’s imperative to see those extracted scene-segments right before each re-caped nomination read (I believe the one year they did away with that traditional flourish I felt the show to be severely naked). One of the many reasons I have always backed legendary comedian Billy Crystal’s hosting duties, is because (keeping in line with me being a very visual based person) I have always been enormously entertained by Crystal’s opening film-montages in which he literally inserts himself into the year’s nominated “best pictures”. While subsequently spoofing every little crevasse of the films themselves, and arguably what these movies pretentiously stood for, Crystal’s non-malicious tone was consistently confidant and playful with his well executed intentions. I loved being treated to a bunch of inventive vignettes depicting the films we loved over the years from the expository mind of Billy Crystal combined with his well-oiled ingenious sense of comedic bemoaning.
#1. “Ouch!” You’re really good — Please stop hitting me (78th Academy Awards):
Remember that film called Crash from 2004? Directed by Canuck Paul Haggis… what was it about again? Alas, I kid, how could I draw a blank on the themes and issues that Crash was tackling… the movie repeatedly took a baseball-bat to my face with its anointed social-message flaunting. I kind of pretty much loathe this movie with the exception of that momentary Matt Dillon career and performance revival that the film accounted for. Other than that, Crash goes down in my books as one of the most contrived pictures I have ever witnessed unfold. Truly on every single level, from the plot-beats to the music-peeks, Crash took all my boiled dissatisfaction (with the film) and subsequently poured salt on my wounds snagging “best picture” at the 78th Academy Awards.
#2. Ford slips past nomination for The Fugitive (66th Academy Awards):
The Fugitive is a classic. While it was intended to be nothing more than a Ford/summer-vehicle, and subsequently a hopeful summer blockbuster, the film not only accomplished both of the above goals, but much to everyone’s surprise (audiences and critics alike) The Fugitive spun its expertly crafted genre-story with a staggering sense of care and clarity when it comes to the film’s template of action and suspense. On full-throttle display, Tommy Lee Jones deservedly won “best supporting actor” (for his co-starring U.S. Marshall role) at the 66th Academy Awards, while the film itself received an additional six more nominations including “best sound editing”, “best sound”, “best original score”, “best film editing”, “best cinematography”, and “best picture” — But where was the recognition for the movie’s deftly game headlining star? To this day, I cite The Fugitive as one of Harrison Ford’s greatest contributions to cinema, and every time I re-visit the film, his performance as the wrongfully accused Dr. Richard Kimble strikes me as nothing short of brilliant. His quietness, his intensity, the motivation and determination that his everyday-man/character plunges himself into — Ford makes this film as good as it is. It is a true shame his ferocious talent in this one perhaps flew by voting Academy members at the time.
#3. ‘Saving Private Ryan’ sniped out from receiving the Gold (71st Academy Awards):
Similar to me feeling violated by Crash’s “best picture” win, I suppose the precursor to said violation, was when Shakespeare in Love robbed Saving Private Ryan in taking home the Oscar for best film at the 71st Academy Awards. Thankfully, Spielberg did win for “best director”, but still… I mean Shakespeare in Love? Ask yourself, or ask anyone really, and I think it becomes painfully obvious which of these two films appropriately fits itself into that timeless-factor. For me this is one of those Oscar wins that retrospectively makes the Academy members look like they were all hopped up on 90’s Gwyneth Paltrow allure, and arguably, they perhaps were not all in the right frame of mind when it came time to honoring Saving Private Ryan’s down-and-dirty battle to resurrect the classic genre of the war-film. Fantasy beat out history for the gold I suppose, but Saving Private Ryan did usher in this whole new re-birth of contemporary “men on a mission” stories, while Shakespeare in Love gave us… (and for the record I am an advocate for a great Paltrow performance. Paltrow in Se7en — Knocks it out of the park).
#1. “Uma — Oprah.” (67th Academy Awards):
Nearing the end of his late-night legacy, talk-show host, David Letterman, is apparently gearing up towards approaching retirement. Looking back on his impressive run, a timeline that spans the transformation from stand-up comedian to corporate household syndication, it’s hard to believe Letterman was ever an Oscar host, largely in part, due to the fact that Letterman has been conducting his late-night shtick for such a prolonged period of time now, it almost feels like The Late Show is all the man has ever done (especially for newer generations of kids growing up on T.V. nowadays). Maybe that’s not such a bad thing if it means I can memory-blank myself and forget about the fact that I ever spent time brutally watching Letterman battle his way through the 67th Academy Awards insistently breaking down the celebrity common-syllables theorem that is: “Uma — Oprah.” For some reason Letterman just wouldn’t let go of this debatably juvenile comparison (the kind of name-play one perfects skills for in kindergarten). What followed for the remainder of Oscar night was the former comedian’s tiered relentless penchant for abrasive dry-humor, and possibly the destruction of all things sleek. The opposite of how a show like the Academy Awards should be guided. As the host himself would riff: “Oh buddyyy…”
#2. ‘Crash’ the interpretive-dance number — That works, right? (78th Academy Awards):
I assure you my loathing of this film is justifiable. But if you really need proof, think about it this way… any film that inspires a pretentious pastiche of Celine Dion-esque vocals complete with New Jack City burning hood-ornaments, and scantily-clad homelessness, all building towards that desired Titanic “epicness” — Well am I crazy, or was Crash just asking for a rise in ridicule post-witnessing the flaky debacle that was this picture’s heavy-handed musical number. The Academy Awards aimed for Broadway here, but their aggressive attempt at adapting the film’s intertwining tale of city-spread racism for the chic interpretive-dance fan in all of us… ultimately (and quite fittingly) CRASHES.
#3. Anne Hathaway & James Franco play “good cop/bad cop” for 3 Hours (83rd Academy Awards):
In an effort to blatantly appear more “hip” with the Auto-Tune generation, target those young kids (you know that fraction of the audience that absolutely drives you insane with murderous rage every single time you finally find the opportunity to make it out to the cinema), the 83rd Academy Awards bestowed their prestigious hosting gig upon the likes of Anne Hathaway and James Franco. With this atypical knight-ship from the Oscars representing a pretty ingenious move tied to some truly inspired casting, it’s all the more unfortunate that what followed was an unforeseen wave of massive collective uncomfortableness. This wave then downward-spiraled into a scattered puddle of shocking social-awkwardness.
One time, I had plans to meet up with this girl that I liked at some comedy bar that I had never been to before. I show up punctual on the nose but she isn’t there, so naturally, I start to drink at the bar as I eagerly anticipate her subsequent arrival. An hour and a half goes by as I sit through a couple of not-too-funny amateur-hour skits, and contemplate the realization of being stood up. Nevertheless, texting miraculously resumes with the unreachable pseudo-date, and another hour and a half later, I’m still sticking around for her now expected delayed arrival. I’m drunk, but she finally makes it in and taps me on the shoulder from behind as I look up from the counter (and my Heineken) to see someone I was genuinely not expecting to see — My first reaction in my head (in the span of thirty seconds) is “oh what are the odds that I’m waiting for another girl and I run into her.” Then reality breaks through briefly and I realize what has actually transpired, which is that I had essentially made plans (all through texting) to meet-up with the wrong person. If you can imagine the foreign vibe shared between both of us that night (and how long it lasted) this is the 83rd Academy Awards in a nutshell.