A "Live" Look at the Oscars

Commentary by James Berardinelli
March 23, 1998

This year, at the request of several enthusiastic readers, I'm doing something a little different for my annual Oscar-night commentary. Instead of sitting at the keyboard all evening, typing in random comments and reactions, then uploading the whole thing at the conclusion of the ceremony, I'm going to do it "live." Beginning at 9:10 EST, I'll be uploading a new update to this commentary every 10 minutes until the Awards show is over. If you plan to follow this live, this is the URL, and you'll need to hit the "Reload" button to get the update. The entire log will also be available afterwards. E-mail to berardin@mail.cybernex.net will be answered as promptly as time allows.

8:30 pm EST:

For those who want to play along in the "Beat Berardinelli" Oscar sweepstakes (no prizes other than bragging rights will be awarded to winners -- but do drop me a line if you do better than me), here's my complete list of predictions. Note that I'm not taking any guesses in the shorts categories, because I'm completely clueless about them.

A couple of notes:

  1. Number of Awards to Titanic: 10 (one short of Ben Hur)
  2. Film I like now but am most likely to hate around 12:15 tomorrow morning: Titanic

9:10 pm EST:

One thing to be thankful for is the return of Billy Crystal. Of all the Oscar hosts -- that includes Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Whoopi Goldberg, and David Letterman -- no one is as good as Crystal. As long as he's the host, things never get too boring.

Now, a couple of questions regarding the parade of stars:

What is Kate Winslet wearing??
What's with Helena Bonham Carter's hair??

I enjoyed Crystal's introduction, which showed more ingenuity than about 50% of the movies that have come out already this year...

9:20 pm EST:

If there's one thing that's not in doubt, it's that Crystal's opening song honoring the Best Picture nominees is far more enjoyable than the one that will win the competition, that pointless example of blandness from Titanic.

  • Supporting Actress: Kim Basinger.
    This is probably considered an upset, but I never felt that Titanic was strong enough to pull through what was essentially little more than a mediocre performance by Gloria Stuart. This makes me one for one. : )

    9:30 pm EST:

    I'll try not to be too smug about Basinger, because I'll get plenty of opportunities to eat crow before the night is over. Of course, Stuart's inability to grab a statue says something about Titanic's lack of coat tails, although I don't think there's much danger of there being an upset in either the Director or Picture category.

  • Costume Design: Deborah L. Scott, Titanic
    No big surprise. Two for two.

    It amazes me how an accomplished actor like Dustin Hoffman can have so much trouble giving an effective reading from a teleprompter.

    9:40 pm EST:

    While I suppose it was nice to see clips from all the Oscar-winning films through the years, this is the kind of pointless waste of time that makes the Academy Awards so difficult to endure. If they would cut excess out, there's a chance the ceremony could end at a reasonablehour. Sitting through three hours of this is too much even for the most devout film-lover.

    Doesn't Neve Campbell sound nervous? That's a surprise.

    I actually don't mind listening to "Journey from the Past," although I prefer Liz Callaway's interpretation. If I recall correctly, back when Beauty and the Beast had three song nominations, the title number was performed by both Angela Lansbury and whoever sang it over the end credits. Too bad they didn't take that approach here.

    Michael Bolton. Time for a bathroom break...

    By the way, if they cut out the performances of these songs (which are typically filler), they could trim another 15-20 minutes off the length. The producers of the telecast should be looking for ways to shorten things. How many people would actually miss the songs? [Now I'll probably get a flood of e-mail telling me how wrong I am.]

    9:50 pm EST:

    There are a lot of commercials, but not as many as during the Winter Olympics.

  • Supporting Actor: Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting
    The only two that would have surprised me in this category would have been Hopkins and Kinnear. I didn't predict Williams, but his win doesn't surprise me. Two for three. But I think Ebert is still perfect.

    10:00 pm EST:

  • Sound: Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, Gary Summers and Mark Ulano, Titanic
    The Titanic bandwagon rolls on... That's two for Titanic and three out of four for me.

    That "animal actors" thing was just plain lame. More time wasting... Just get on with it.

  • Sound Effects Editing: Tom Bellfort and Christopher Boyes, Titanic
    Three for Titanic. Four out of five for me. Ebert still perfect. (I'm sure he doesn't need me to keep track, but I'll do it anyway.)

    10:10 pm EST:

    Am I mistaken, or did they move up the presentation of the Best Actress award this year? In the past, I thought the four biggest awards (Actress, Actor, Director, Picture) were given out after everyone on the East Coast had gone to bed.

    For anyone who caught my Robin Williams mistake (and if you missed it, I'm not going to say what it was), just remember that I'm doing this writing quickly, so there are bound to be errors, some of which could be embarrassing.

  • Visual Effects: Robert Legato, Mark Lasoff, Thomas L. Fisher and Michael Kanfer, Titanic
    Gee. What a surprise. Four for Titanic. Five out of six for me.

    10:20 pm EST:

    Thanks for keeping the acceptance speeches short and sweet. The best so far belongs to Robin Williams.

    Okay, so it's more filler, but I'll admit to liking the King Kong bit, and the introduction of Fay Wray. I'm surprised she didn't get a standing ovation.

    Sorry, but I'm not going to bother recording the short film winners, because I'm not counting them in my running tally, and I frankly don't care who wins. In fact, the only ones who probably care are the people directly involved. These should be handed out beforehand -- that would save another 5-or-so minutes.

  • Actress: Helen Hunt, As Good as It Gets
    I am underwhelmed. Five out of seven for me. Ebert still perfect. Another miss for Titanic, but this was expected. I still wish Judi Dench had won -- her performance was significantly better than any of the others'. Hunt's was arguably the weakest.

    10:30 pm EST:

    Hunt's speech was sickeningly gracious. She appears to agree with me about Judi Dench, though.

    Ooops. So I'm wrong about Ebert. He's not perfect. (I have been told that he picked Kundun for costume.) But he's still one better than me. : )

    I don't remember them doing a montage of nominated scores in the past. Is this something new or is my memory faulty?

    10:40 pm EST:

  • Dramatic Score: James Horner, Titanic
    Five for Titanic. Six out of eight for me. I didn't realize that this was Horner's first award. With all of the "high profile" scores he had written, I assumed he had taken home at least one statue.

  • Comedy or Musical Score: Anne Dudley, The Full Monty
    I never had a strong feeling about this going in (probably because Titanic wasn't eligible). I guessed wrong. To be quite frank, I can't remember anything about the original score of the film. All I remember are the pop songs. Six out of nine.

    10:50 pm EST:

    It's getting close to my bedtime. : ) [Those who know me are laughing now.]

  • Makeup: Rick Baker and David LeRoy Anderson, Men in Black
    Seven out of 10. 70% thus far. Not bad. Ebert is eight out of 10, for those who are interested. Another miss for Titanic It must win every other award it's nominated for to tie Ben Hur.

    11:00 pm EST:

  • Editing: Conrad Buff, James Cameron and Richard A. Harris, Titanic
    Eight out of 11. Six for Titanic. No surprises here.

    The Stanley Donen tribute was short enough that it didn't qualify as a waste of time. And he is a great director -- no doubt about that -- and as deserving of this award as anyone.

    11:10 pm EST:

    Now that they're wasting more time by doing more original songs, I want to make a point about this category. I don't think a song should be eligible unless it appears in its entirety during the course of the film -- not over the end-credits. That's a cheat.

    By the way, I don't remember two of the songs nominated in this category. The other, from Titanic, will send me out of the room the minute Celine Dion begins singing it.

    11:20 pm EST:

    I'm getting bored. I wish they would just wrap this up. A two hour Oscar program would be bearable. Three hours borders on unwatchable. If I wasn't doing this write-up, I think I'd turn off the TV, do something productive, then come back in an hour and check a website for the final results. There are still 10 awards to be handed out. I know a lot of people participate in Oscar polls. Maybe the tie-breaker should be who guesses closest to the time when the show actually ends. It sure as hell isn't going to be before midnight.

  • Song: James Horner and Will Jennings, "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic
    Nine out of 12. Seven for Titanic. At least Menken didn't win this year.

    11:30 pm EST:

  • Documentary Feature: The Long Way Home
    I haven't seen it, so I can't comment about its quality. Nine out of 13. Ebert missed this one too.

    There's not enough Billy Crystal. More Crystal, less idiotic filler. The "dead people" segment is filler, since it's impossible to do justice to anyone with a short clip or two.

    11:40 pm EST:

  • Art Direction: Peter Lamont, Michael Ford, Titanic
    Another non-surprise. 10 out of 14. Eight for Titanic. It's gonna be close.

    70 years of Oscar's greatest moments -- still more filler.

    11:50 pm EST:

  • Actor: Jack Nicholson, As Good as It Gets
    Of the nominees, Duvall gave the best performance. I thought sentiment would pull Fonda in. But Jack Nicholson?? For this role in this movie? What a travesty. 10 out of 15.

    And still it goes on and on, without an end in sight... Midnight's just around the corner. Anyone out there know what the longest-running Oscar telecast was?

    Midnight EST:

  • Foreign Language Film: Character
    Sharon Stone presenting the award for Best Foreign Language Film? There must be some irony in that. I missed this one, but I haven't seen Character, so I feel somewhat justfied. 10 out of 16.

  • Adapted Screenplay: Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson, L.A. Confidential
    Coupled with Basinger, this looks like it for L.A. Confidential. 11 out of 17.

  • Original Screenplay: Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting
    This one was so obvious it wasn't funny. I can't believe they're acting surprised. 12 out of 18. I'm back up to 67% again.

    12:10 am EST:

    At least Affleck & Damon were energetic with their acceptance speech... I liked the reference to Cuba Gooding Jr.

    Good clip from The Full Monty. That was one of my Top 10 clips of the year. (See a previous commentary for the full list.)

  • Cinematography: Russell Carpenter, Titanic
    I took a shot at a dark horse here, and guessed wrong. 12 out of 19. With its ninth win, Titanic is now assured of tying Ben Hur. There are two awards left, and Titanic will take both.

    12:20 am EST:

    Additional filler, although somewhat more entertaining that the other fluff thrown out at us. But, at this time of night, I'd rather they just skip this parade of stars. It's pretty pointless unless you're actually there.

    12:40 am EST:

    Finally, it's over! The sad thing is, with a little bit of intelligent pruning, this could have been over 95 minutes ago. It's a problem when the length of the ceremony outweighs the winners and losers.

  • Director: James Cameron, Titanic
    No surprise here. And since the director almost always is an indication of the Picture winner, that means...

  • Picture: Titanic
    One of the night's foregone conclusions.

    My final tally: 14 out of 21, or 67%. Not bad.

    Titanic ties Ben Hur, although it needs the technical categories to do it, and gets completely shut out in the acting and writing areas. Interesting. What does that say?

    When all is said and done, I feel like I've just watched a political convention. A few nice moments, a lot of hot air, and no real surprised. Gripes aside, I'll be back again next year, probably with a similar format. Thanks to everyone who stuck with me all night. There has been a lot of e-mail flying back and forth, and I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did.

    © 1998 James Berardinelli

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