Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Crystal clear

As the magic hour (half hour?) of 1:30 a.m. approached, I got myself ready for the big broadcast. Plenty of ice and olives on hand for the martinis. And iPad to hand. “What fun,” I thought. “I will follow the live tweets on the Academy Awards and maybe even contribute a few myself.”

And then I remembered I wasn’t 14 years old. Or whatever age people are when they do that sort of thing. Actually, people of all ages do that thing. Or, if they are important, somebody working for them does it for them. But as the telecast got going, I realized that I don’t really have enough cerebral bandwidth to both watch the television and read and type comments at the same time. One of the first tweets I saw, giving Billy Crystal all of five minutes to succeed or fail, whined, “Bring back James Franco!” Ouch. How could that person possibly appreciate Crystal’s craft while playing around with his computer or smart phone (or whatever he was using) at the same time? And did he even see what kind of job James Franco did last year?

Sure, I could have done my twittering during the ample commercial breaks. Except that I don’t brake for commercials. I don’t begin watching the program until 15 minutes after it’s started, so I can fast forward through all the breaks. Giving the #Oscars that head start—plus my own breaks for retrieving more vodka and vermouth—is carefully calculated so that I reach the end of the proceedings in my living room at just about the same time that they are ending in Los Angeles. So there is no downtime the whole night/morning. Okay, I could tweet during the boring speeches, but if you’re not going to pay attention to the boring speeches, what is the point of watching at all?

Back to Billy Crystal. I have to feel for him. It seems as though he has been getting a lot of bitchy criticism for doing the same stuff he always does when he hosts the program. Well, what did people expect? Of course, the idea of an opening parody montage in which he inserts himself in the nominated movies will never again be quite as funny as it was the first couple of times. Nor will his song about the Best Picture nominees can never feel as fresh as the first time. But it’s all still pretty darn amusing, and anyone who thought it was better the past couple of years simply wants trouble. But the naysayers have a point. Sometime and soon they really have to find someone else who can host and not make people (I mean me) grate their teeth. It’s not fair to make Billy Crystal have to become Bob Hope.

As for the ceremony as a whole, the best thing you can say about it is that it ticked all the boxes. One set of recipients had to be “played off” for going on too long in accepting—but surprisingly, only one; everyone was well trained to keep it short. One dropped an F bomb. There was the obligatory I’m-too-overwhelmed-to-talk-but-I’ll-manage-to-get-out-all-the-names-I-have-to-thank-anyway speech (Octavia Spencer). There was the old school consummate professional elegant speech (Christopher Plummer). And the usual suspects were still reliable for a good laugh (Chris Rock, Ben Stiller with an able assist from Emma Stone). And I really liked the way Meryl Streep made a point of wearing her glasses after having forgotten to wear them up to the stage at the Golden Globes. (Yes, sigh, I watched them.)

As you may have read elsewhere on this web site, my predictions of the likely winners were all too accurate. And it wasn’t because I’m brilliant. Most everyone else who bothered to forecast it had the same list. I would go on about this, but by now we all know that the Oscars have become as predictable as, well, as the likelihood that I will write a piece every year about how they’ve become so predictable.

I have no problem with The Artist coming out the big winner, even though Hugo was really the better film. I was a bit surprised that La Streep got the Best Actress prize. (As the BBC helpfully pointed out, it was for playing the woman who was British prime minister when Streep won both of her previous Oscars.) Not that she isn’t a fine actor who deserves to have three or more Oscars. It’s just that politics and sentiment seemed to favor Viola Davis. I may have to reconsider my perception of famously liberal Hollywood after it has passed over a performance that has civil rights at its heart for a more or less sympathetic portrait of a conservative icon. Maybe my view of industry actors is slanted.

On the other hand, I still cannot shake the nagging suspicion that politics may have had quite a bit to do with the selection of the Best Foreign Film award. As tipped by most everybody, Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation took that prize with no bother whatsoever. Farhadi got a thunderous applause at the Golden Globes when he asserted that his people (he is Iranian) are a peaceful people. He got a similar reaction on Sunday. Much of the American praise for A Separation has been patronizing, focusing on how it defies supposed U.S. perceptions of what Iran is like. I would like to think that, to the extent that academy voters were sending a political message, it was in support of Iranian filmmakers who have to work under repressive conditions. Farhadi’s countryman Jafar Panahi is currently serving a six-year sentence and under a 20-year ban on directing or writing movies because his work displeased the regime. Likelier, I suspect, it is more of a gesture against fears of a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. In any event, the Iranian government’s Cinematic Agency crowed over Farhadi’s win and the fact that his film beat Israel’s Joseph Cedar’s A Footnote. Interestingly, A Separation has been doing very good box office in Israel.

Unfortunately, I cannot speak to the quality of A Separation myself, since I haven’t seen it. But all the evidence suggests that it is indeed a fine film. Until I do see it, however, I will stick with my choice in that category, Canada’s Monsieur Lazhar. It dealt with tricky issues in a sensitive, thoughtful and realistic manner and left the viewer with plenty to think about as well as feel. I saw it the recently concluded Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. Celebrating the conclusion of its first decade, this film fest seems to have it all. The impracticality of attending it for its full ten-day run is just about the only thing that actually makes me wish sometimes that I lived in Dublin.

-S.L., 28 February 2012

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