Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Oscars letting it go

As strange as it feels for me to say this (and with no irony), one of the best things about Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony telecast was the quality of the acceptance speeches.

Yeah, I know, where’s the fun in saying something like that? But it’s true. The evening got off to a strong start with Jared Leto’s acceptance of the Best Supporting Actor prize. He was poised and prepared, and he delivered his moving words well. The problem with most acceptance speeches—and the reason a whole evening of them can be such a grind—is that they typically consist of the recipient (sincerely or otherwise) making sure we know how much he or she didn’t expect to win and how emotionally overwhelmed he or she is and then launching into a list of everyone he or she knows or, more to the point, everyone he or she works with or hopes to work with.

Leto’s speech (remember when he was the dim but pretty high school bad boy that Claire Danes crushed on in the 1990s TV series My So-Called Life?) was good because it was, first and foremost, a heartfelt tribute to his mother. Yeah, and he did the thanking-everybody thing too. And, having played a character that embodied An Important Cause, he also did the de rigueur thing of “standing with” all the people who really experienced the thing he was merely portraying. More interesting, though, was the earlier part where he said he stood with the dreamers in Ukraine and Venezuela. According to reports, at that moment in Venezuela, the Oscar telecast was promptly cut off.

I did not hear events in Ukraine and Venezuela get mentioned again during the evening. Mostly, it was business as usual. No superfluous big production numbers or endless film montages. Mostly, it was just the handing out and accepting of awards.

And, though it’s boring to say it, Ellen DeGeneres did a really good job as host. She had just the right amount of good nature and mischievousness in tweaking the audience’s sense of self-importance and political correctness. (“Possibility number one: 12 Years a Slave wins best picture. Possibility number two: You’re all racists.”) She has a knack for exploiting the fact that everyone in the audience’s front rows wants to appear down-to-earth and able to enjoy a joke. The reward for the audience at home is seeing Hollywood’s rich and powerful and beautiful doing things (like order a pizza and eat it) that normal people are doing at home while watching the show. (Was it just me or did Harrison Ford look like he was starving for that slice? Does Calista not let him eat at home?)

Continuing my run of a boring lack of criticism, let me add that the musical performances were all very nice. (No “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” this year.) I should be sick of Pharell Williams’s “Happy” by now, but you can’t help but feel good whenever you see it performed—and getting Lupita Nyong’o, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams to join the dance was icing on the cake. Adele Dazim did a lovely job with the winning song, “Let it Go,” although it was strange to discover that John Travolta, who sort of introduced her, doesn’t pay as much attention to Broadway musicals as he might like us to think and may also possibly be dyslexic. On the topic of great acceptance speeches, the song’s composers, Kristin Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, did an entertaining job with their sort of sung acceptance. See, that’s what you can do if you just prepare your speech ahead of time instead of trying to make people think you never expected to win.

Matthew McConaughey is another case in point where preparing your speech ahead of time really pays off. His acceptance was refreshing in that it was totally him and totally unlike most stuff you hear at these events. Cate Blanchett was nothing but poised and articulate—as one would expect. No hysterical displays of emotion and crying for her, thank goodness. And Nyong’o’s speech was particularly beautiful and gracious. You couldn’t help but be happy for her and admire that she had the all-too-rare grace to acknowledge that her good fortune in receiving an acting award was due, at least indirectly, to the suffering of others.

One of the nicest bits came not in an acceptance speech but in an ad lib from someone announcing an award. That was Bill Murray, who slipped the name of the late Harold Ramis into the list of nominees for Best Cinematography.

Of course, the best way to handle your acceptance speech—if you can manage it—is to bring Darlene Love up on the stage with you and let her sing.

Yes, the quality of the acceptance speeches really did make this Oscar night unusual and more enjoyable. And you know the proof of that? I only heard the orchestra attempt to “play off” a recipient a couple of times—and then only very tentatively. Either everyone got (and heeded) the memo to keep their speeches succinct—or at least interesting—or the powers that be were a lot more tolerant than previous years, where it seemed like almost all of the speakers were drowned out by music. However it came about, it made watching a much more pleasurable experience.

Even if it did step on DeGeneres’s quip to music conductor William Ross about cutting him off for a change.

If you haven’t already seen how I did with my Oscar predictions, you can witness the carnage here.

• • •

On a totally unrelated matter, I have received some happy news about a movie I reviewed last August. Ron Jackson, writer and co-producer of 5 Hour Friends (directed by Theo Davies and starring Tom Sizemore), reports success in getting commercial cinema bookings for the movie. It will play at the San Diego AMC Mission Valley, AMC Palm Promenade and the Gaslamp 15 theaters from March 28 through April 3. If you live in that part of California and would like to see an old-fashioned grown-up comedy/drama, you should definitely go see it.

Also, Jackson says there is a distribution deal for a number of European countries and (somewhat topically) Russia.

It’s great to hear that Jackson, who has never given up on his dream of a real cinema run (as opposed to being resigned to the various streaming/direct-to-video options), is achieving his goal. And how sweet that its run is in San Diego, where not only was the film set and shot but which is home to many of the cast and crew. Congratulations, Ron!

-S.L., 4 March 2014

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