Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson





Building façade in Cannes, France

Many countries for old Oscar

An old gag has been running through my mind. I do not remember exactly when or where I saw or heard it. It might have been in a movie or a TV show or even a New Yorker cartoon. The setup is this: an American family is on vacation in Europe. The father is totally consumed with his camera and/or camcorder, trying to capture every bit of scenery and monument on their tour. The wife says to him that he should relax and enjoy the views. Agitated, her husband snaps back, I’ll see it when we get home.

That’s kind of how I feel about the Academy Awards broadcast. Four days later I can barely remember the ceremony that I stayed up all night watching. But I’m not too worried about it. I know that the good bits (if there were any) will show up in highlights clips in future Oscar broadcasts. It used to be the broadcast was rife with clips of old and celebrated movies, as Hollywood congratulated itself on its collective output. Increasingly, as the ceremony keeps hitting major anniversary milestones (Sunday’s event was the 80th), we are seeing not only clips of memorable moments culled from movies but also clips of memorable moments from past Oscar ceremonies. The thing is becoming so self-referential that I fully expect someday to see a film montage in the second hour of memorable moments from the evening’s first hour. That’s not really a complaint, mind you. Just an observation. I would never willingly miss a minute of the annual broadcast, and so there I was hanging out on my couch from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time.

The first thing you should know is that, despite my all-night TV watching marathon, I wound up taking the Munchkin to school on Monday morning anyway. What I hadn’t anticipated was that the Missus would wind up staying up until 5 in the morning to watch the Academy Awards with me. It was nice to have the company, but it did change the experience. For example, I had to answer a lot of questions during the three-and-a-half-hour ceremony. For instance, whenever there was an old film clip of someone famous (which, as noted above, happened a lot during the broadcast), she would ask, “Oh, is he dead?” The answer was always either “No” or “Yes, but that’s not why they are showing the clip.”

One interesting use of film clips was, before each major award, to show a montage of all the previous winners to date. Generally, they did a good job. They were brief enough to not drag things out too much, not always the obvious clip (in the case of ones drawn from films) yet ones that caught what was memorable about the movie. But you would want a nimble brain and eyeballs (or, more realistically, a TiVo) to take it all in.

Those who were here last week are aware that I had more than a casual interest in how the Irish, or sort-of Irish, would do. Unfortunately, young Saoirse Ronan did not pick up the Supporting Actress prize, even though the Academy frequently likes to bestow this award on the extremely young and the extremely old. (Venerable veteran Ruby Dee didn’t get it either, which was even more of a shame.) Instead, it was Tilda Swinton, who is indeed a very gifted actor, although her role in Michael Clayton would not have been her most memorable. Neither did cinematographer Séamus McGarvey win for Atonement, and apparently everyone who knows anything about cinematography knew for a certainty that the award would go to Robert Elswit for There Will Be Blood.

The evening’s highlight for the Irish was clearly the awarding of the Best Original Song award to Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová for “Falling Slowly” from Once. In the moment, Hansard epitomized why people love the Irish. He wore the same clothes that he probably had worn the day before, and he had no speech prepared and just said what came into his mind. In short, he was just a real person. (The reason that more people don’t try this authenticity thing is that it is difficult to pull off if you don’t also have a cool Dublin accent.) The moment was made even warmer when, after Irglová was inevitably played off by the orchestra before she could make her own comments and the show went to commercial break, host Jon Stewart aptly and cannily brought her back out to have her say.

Strangely, the song itself reminded me of the one sung by Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara a few years ago in A Mighty Wind, which also got nominated. The strange thing about that song was that it was not written as a song in its own right but as a parody of a certain type of song. That it got nominated seemed bizarre indeed. But it was a harbinger. This year fully three of the five nominated songs (and all from the movie Enchanted) were parody songs. If it was not obvious before, it is now. Hollywood is getting too ironic and post-modern by half.

The odyssey of the little film Once has been an amazing and fascinating one. It has been nearly two years since I first saw the poster for it in a window of Galway’s Town Hall Theatre, at the beginning of that year’s Galway Film Fleadh, and wondered what it was about. The pleasant and cheaply made movie went on to other film festivals, getting a high profile when it won an audience award at Sundance and, now, an Academy Award. I confess to having failed to see just how much appeal this movie would have, but I am nothing but happy for director John Carney, whose work I have known for some nine years. The 1999 edition of Seattle’s Irish Reels Film & Video Festival, with which I was involved, showed his movie Just in Time, a companion piece to his first feature film November Afternoon (co-directed with Tom Hall). Three years later we screened his feature On the Edge, which burnished the c.v. of a young actor named Cillian Murphy. Once marked a return to his roots for Carney, as he started out making music videos for Hansard’s band, The Frames, of which Carney himself was once a member.

The other Irish moment of the evening was the totally unsurprising selection of Daniel Day-Lewis for Best Actor for There Will Be Blood. As mentioned last week, the English-born Day-Lewis lives in Ireland and has Irish citizenship. Wisely, the thesp did not bother feigning surprise, but reacted playfully (bowing to Helen Mirren, who won last year for The Queen) and thanked everyone graciously. (But does he really think he has no chance for a knighthood? Yeah, right.) The Irish press celebrated his honor, studiously referring to him as “Irish resident” or “Wicklow resident.” Interestingly, America’s National Public Radio the next morning did refer to him simply as “Irish actor Daniel Day-Lewis.” I guess we have come full circle since the days that Limerick-born Richard Harris observed wryly that, when he got some major honor, he was always referred to as “British actor Richard Harris” but, when he got some bad publicity for public misbehaviour, he was always identified as “Irish actor Richard Harris.”

If we hand Day-Lewis over to the Brits for the moment, the UK had contenders in all four acting categories, winning two. Spaniard Javier Bardem justifiably won out over Tom Wilkinson for Supporting Actor but, frankly, Julie Christie was robbed in the Supporting Actress category. She was an early favourite to win (as noted on my joke of a prediction page), but the writing was on the wall when Christie didn’t even win on home ground last month in the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards. The BAFTAs turned out to be an extremely good predictor of how the Oscars would turn out, mirroring 100% in the acting categories. They also called the Director and Original Screenplay awards. They did diverge on the top prize, settling that on Atonement. Still, it was a huge surprise for Marion Cotillard that she won the Best Actress Oscar for La Vie en Rose. We know it was a huge surprise for her because she said so—in pretty much the same exact speech in which she said how hugely surprised she was at the BAFTAs.

In case this is the only place you are getting information about the Oscars this year and you were wondering if any Americans were involved, the Coen brothers were in the unusual position of salvaging American nationalistic honor—with Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. They also were refreshingly authentic (and without the aid of Dublin accents) and, while they did wear formal attire, they had the good grace to look uncomfortable in it. Their speeches (such as they were) were heartfelt, if terse.

And how did Jon Stewart do as host? Well, I laughed at nearly everything he said, but the Missus kept asking me, “Why are you laughing?” I don’t know. But he is a very funny man, although his connection to the movie world (as opposed to American pop culture in general) is a bit tenuous. Frankly, I’d like to have Billy Crystal back.

-S.L., 28 February 2008


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