Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

The nice Oscars®

Hey, isn’t this where I came in? Two whole years ago I began these weekly missives with my aimless musings on the Academy Awards for 1999. And somehow I have kept it up for 24 months, without missing a week. I may not have always uploaded on time, but I eventually got something posted for each week. Not bad for someone whose attention span has grown so short that he can’t turn on MTV for even a few minutes because it’s too much of a commitment. After 104 weeks, is there anything left to say? Probably not. But that hasn’t stopped me so far. Whether it’s worth your time to keep reading, that’s your problem.

Anyway, the obvious topic for now is the recently held ceremony that involved months of nail-biting anticipation, a fair amount of cross words back and forth between various parties, and the usual agonizing and wondering over what everyone would be wearing. No, I’m not talking about my Irish brother-in-law’s wedding. You know what I’m talking about.

Last year I lamented how controlled and non-spontaneous the Academy Awards ceremony had become. Now I look back nostalgically on that broadcast as an evening of whimsical anarchy compared to this year’s version. Being on Greenwich Mean Time this time around (and no TiVo to assist me), I wound up staying up all night until 6:00 in the morning. But did Whoopi Goldberg and company give me any help in staying awake? By sunrise, I was begging and pleading for someone, anyone to show up wearing dead waterfowl. As The Missus will readily attest, I am not the most observant person when it comes to what people are wearing, but usually Cher or someone will show up in something that gets my attention. But this year (Whoopi’s serial get-ups aside), zip. And Whoopi can usually be counted on for at least one or two moments in which I can cringe and wonder, how does she get away with saying that? On Sunday night she was so well behaved (although I did enjoy her Moulin Rouge!-esque entrance) that they might as well have wheeled in Bob Hope. (She even used Hope’s ancient gag line about not having been nominated for anything. But Hope’s line about Oscar night being known in his house as “Passover” actually rang true for him. After all, Whoopi did get her Oscar in 1990 for Ghost.) Sure, there was one feeble attempt at provocation with a throwaway line involving the verb “to lick,” but it caused nary a stir.

We didn’t even get the usual embarrassing moments when jokes read by ill-at-ease presenters fall deafeningly flat. Bruce Vilanch, or whoever was writing these, struck just the right note with the gag lines. They were mostly poor-delivery-proof, like the one that had the very attractive Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon praising make-up artists by saying that without them actors in feature films “would look like people in documentaries.”

Heck, there weren’t even any awkward junctures where the orchestra had to strike up loud music to stop someone from making an overlong acceptance speech. Oh, one or two were cut off all right, but the producers have gotten slicker about giving the hook without being obvious about it—apparently an extension of that highly touted post-9/11 security. With this much control, something as truly exciting as a streaker was completely out of the question. And there were no acceptance speeches that caused true discomfort or controversy in the tradition of Marlon Brando. No, this four-plus-hour ceremony was as tame as a Barbara Walters interview.

So, we had to content ourselves with 1) the suspense, which was in plentiful supply this year, 2) the traditional display by the Best Actress winner to see how overcome with emotion she can get and still manage to deliver her speech and 3) the “nice” moments. Seeing Woody Allen on an Oscar broadcast was nice, even though he wasn’t presenting or receiving anything. Still, he was an excellent choice to salute his city of New York. I think he may now be rehabilitated from that robbing-his-partner’s-cradle thing. And it was nice to see Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand together again. Not great, but nice. And it was interesting to see Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw together again, even if it was a bit of wake-up call for those of us who had forgotten just how long ago Love Story was made. And it was nice to see three excellent African-American actors get deserved acknowledgement for their work. (Now, can we finally please drop the “African-” and the “American” and just call them actors?)

It was an evening for making up for repeated past oversights. Denzel did get his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Glory years ago, but he should have also had his Best Actor award before this. (And so should several other people.) But the real make-up prize was for Randy Newman, which can be the only logical explanation why his ditty for Monsters Inc. beat out Enya’s lovely song for The Lord of the Rings for Best Song. (After 16 nominations, Newman is basically the Susan Lucci of Oscar-nominated songwriters.) This was the most surprising of the numerous—but not unexpected—slights the actual best film of 2001 received. That’s why this winner prediction business is so difficult. It’s not enough to have an informed opinion of the quality of work done by the nominees in the current year. You have to figure out who is “owed” from previous years.

And speaking of the songs, it was nice to Paul McCartney at the ceremony, even if his song for Vanilla Sky was deservedly overlooked. I (probably like a lot of other people of my vintage) couldn’t help wondering what was going through his mind as he watched the tribute compilation to documentary films, which featured a heavy dose of Let It Be, and the “In Memoriam” segment, which closed with a lingering look at George Harrison.

So, why didn’t Miramax’s campaigning succeed against A Beautiful Mind the way it did against Saving Private Ryan? Well, let’s just say that with the bizarre, twisted Hollywood mindset, it is much easier to dis Steven Spielberg than to dis Opie. It is somehow un-American to dis Opie. Brits, on the other hand, find it easier. Viewers of the BBC’s coverage were treated to a final post-ceremony comment from Jonathan Ross, who pilloried Ron Howard in mock outrage for not thanking The Fonz.

-S.L., 28 March 2002

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