A "Live" Look at the Oscars, 2002 Edition

Commentary by James Berardinelli
March 24, 2002

After a year off and numerous requests, I have decided to return to this "live" forum. If nothing else, it keeps me awake during the Oscar telecast - a task that would be daunting if I was just sitting on my living room sofa watching. There are two big problems with the Academy Awards - length and pretentiousness. The people behind the ceremony claim they have done something about the former (and, judging by the relative shortness of last year's version - which ended before midnight - I have to agree with them). There's probably nothing they can do about the latter.

My girlfriend has said that she's excited about the Oscars because she wants to see what Nicole Kidman is going to wear. I suppose that's the female perspective. I'm not a fashion critic, so I don't expect to be commenting on outfits (unless it's something like Bjork's swan). For me, the real point of interest will come during Whoopi Goldberg's opening monologue, when she pokes fun at Russell Crowe. Last year, he stared daggers at Steve Martin. This year, maybe he'll jump up on stage and hammer Whoopi. Or better yet, recite some poetry. If Crowe is really a good sport, which I don't think he is, he'll cook up something with the Academy to lampoon this entire business.

This year, I'll be updating every twenty minutes, starting at 8:30 pm EST. (I can't update as often this year because my TV is no longer in the same room as the computer.) If you plan to follow the updates live, this is the URL, and you'll need to hit the "Reload" button to get the latest. The entire log will also be available afterwards. I'll read any e-mail sent to berardin@reelviews.net, but can't promise to answer it. Responses will depend upon volume.

Let the games begin...

8:30 pm EST:

As usual, here are my obligatory predictions. I did pretty well last year - 74% - but am not as optimistic this year. I haven't changed any of my "major" predictions since the nominations came out, although I have wrestled over the Halle Berry/Sissy Spacek decision during the last few days. I still give a slight edge to Spacek, but if Berry wins, I won't fall off the sofa in astonishment. I'm also not confident about A Beautiful Mind, given the smear campaign launched against it. But I am still of the opinion that it will hold off charges by The Lord of the Rings and Moulin Rouge.

By the way, I skipped predictions for categories in which I haven't seen anything (the shorts and the full-length documentary).

In a number of technical categories, it's a toss-up between The Lord of the Rings and Moulin Rouge. In general, I leaned towards Moulin Rouge. However, if The Lord of the Rings starts cleaning up, that may presage its coming out on top in the Best Picture category. Or not.

8:50 pm EST:

I have long since given up trying to generate enthusiasm for the Oscar ceremony. And the "pre-game" warm-ups are tedious beyond belief. Masturbation, Hollywood style. Everyone drooling all over everyone else. "Oh, I love your dress..." "Where did you get that jewelry?" "Those shoes are to die for!" Give me a break. Apparently, the only qualifications sought after for hosts of this self-congratulatory hype are perkiness and a good smile.

Enter Whoopi, whose rapier-sharp wit is guaranteed to punch a hole or two in the overinflated balloons. Like everyone else, I prefer Billy Crystal, but Whoopi has delivered a memorable line or two during her previous stints as host. I'm just waiting for the year when John Cleese takes over the MC'ing (fat chance, I know, but just imagine...)

Sadly, I found the opening monologue to be bland (except for the line "Security is tighter than some of the faces..."). Nothing about Russell Crowe. Nothing truly nasty. Maybe someone told Whoopi to play nice. Then again, people wearing costumes like that are in no position to sling mud.

Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Connelly

1/1. No big surprise here. Every critic in the world predicted this. In fact, anyone expecting anything else needs their head examined. Pretty dull acceptance speech. No poetry.

9:10 pm EST:

Occasionally, I am asked what I think a reasonable length for the Oscar ceremony is. My response: 2 hours (which, incidentally, is also the ideal length of a baseball game). Most people think I'm joking, but I'm serious. Cut out all the fat, and the Oscars could fit comfortably into a 9-11 time slot. But the only people who would appreciate that are the viewers.

So Mamet wrote the description for "Film Editing". Someone should have gotten him to direct Will Smith's delivery of it.

Editing: Black Hawk Down

1/2. I felt that Memento should have won here, but didn't expect it to. The win for Black Hawk Down, however, comes as something of a surprise, although there's no doubt that it was a well-edited motion picture.

Very funny intro to Makeup by Buck Henry. Maybe he should write all of the introductions. Maybe he should have written Whoopi's opening monologue.

Makeup: The Lord of the Rings

2/3. Another no-brainer. Of the three nominees, this is the only one in which there was an abundance of obvious makeup. The second recipient of this award gave a more enjoyable acceptance speech than Whoopi Goldberg's introduction of In the Bedroom.

9:30 pm EST:

An hour gone already? Only seems like 90 minutes...

I liked Donald Sutherland's introduction of Owen Wilson (who is nominated for an Oscar tonight) and Ben Stiller (who isn't). The skit was cute, too.

Costume Design: Moulin Rouge

3/4. The costumes may not have been the best, but they were the flashiest. Note that the designer of Whoopi Goldberg's outfit was not nominated.

Woody Allen's five-minute bit here generated more laughs than his most recent movie, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.

Cinematography: The Lord of the Rings

4/5. This was one of the most difficult categories to predict, because it's possible to come up with a reason why each of the nominees should have won. But the Academy generally likes to give this award to big, epic motion pictures, and nothing in 2001 was bigger than LOTR.

9:50 pm EST:

This is around the time of night when my creative juices start running low. I follow a policy that I don't write after 10 pm, unless I have a cup of coffee. No coffee tonight, so from here out, my writing may begin losing its edge. At least until someone does something truly insipid, stupid, or otherwise noteworthy. Like reciting poetry or getting involved in a physical altercation with the show's producer. (Does my disdain for Russell Crowe shine through? Great actor, terrible human being.)

I take a rather dim view of the Academy's documentary award - after all, how is it possible to take a category seriously when Startup.com and The Endurance are ignored? (The list of omissions in past years is as egregious, if not moreso.) And Penelope Spheeris' short film honoring the documentary tradition, while of passing interst, falls into the category of a time-eater.

Documentary: Murder on a Sunday Morning
Documentary Short: Thoth

These titles don't mean anything to me. I haven't seen them. Then again, I haven't seen any of the nominees, either.

Art Direction: Moulin Rouge

5/6. Understandable; Moulin Rouge was at least 33% art direction. This is also an indication that the Academy isn't wedded to giving every technical category to LOTR.

10:10 pm EST:

"That's Hollywood for you - real diamonds, fake breasts." (Nathan Lane) - candidate for the best line of the night.

Animated Feature: Shrek

6/7. You were expecting Jimmy Neutron? Actually, this is kind of a blow to Disney. The first time this award is given out and Disney doesn't win it. Poetic justice?

Another garment comment: Halle Berry is wearing more than she did in Swordfish - barely.

Sound: Black Hawk Down
Sound Editing: Pearl Harbor

7/9. The only reason Pearl Harbor won the Sound Editing award is because there were only two nominees. It's interesting to note that, no matter which film won, Disney came out on top, since both Pearl Harbor and Monsters, Inc. were bankrolled by the Magic Kingdom.

Supporting Actor: Jim Broadbent

7/10. Upset special. It's nice to see Broadbent, the quintessential character actor, finally get recognition. It's also worth wondering how important his exposure in Moulin Rouge was to this victory. Was Broadbent being rewarded for Iris or Moulin Rouge? In the end, it doesn't matter. He's got the statue and the other four go home empty-handed.

10:30 pm EST:

I could have done without the Cirque du Soliel tribute to special effects. If I wanted to see them perform, I'd go watch them in person. In a situation like this, I'd rather see just the clips, or, better yet, nothing at all. (Incidentally, while this kind of a presentation is probably pretty specatacular in person, it doesn't play well on television, and, like it or not, the Oscars are a made-for-TV event.)

Visual Effects: The Lord of the Rings

8/11. Of the three nominated films, it's interesting to note that the effects work in LOTR was probably the least "high-tech". Ultimately, however, it worked the best. Pearl Harbor used impressive CGI in service of a trite script.

Is it just me, or do Ryan O'Neal and Ali McGraw seem a little stilted? Congrats, I suppose, to Arthur Hiller. I'm sure he has done many notable things, but the recipient of this is determined purely as a result of Hollywood politics. But he sounds sincere and genuinely moved, so I'll limit my gripes.

10:50 pm EST:

I have to admit liking John Williams' tribute to past Best Score winners. Nicely done.

Score: The Lord of the Rings

8/12. The only reason I didn't pick this one is because I found Howard Shore's music to be decidedly mediocre (one of the few things about the film that was mediocre).

Denzel introducing Poitier. If he wins Best Actor tonight, this will truly be appropriate. The most recent African American to win Best Actor introducing the first one.

11:10 pm EST:

It's quite possible that the most touching moment of the evening will be Sidney Poitier's acceptance speech. Eloquent, honest, and moving, it was a perfect representation of the man who gave it.

Live Action Short Film: The Accountant
Animated Short Film: For the Birds

Haven't seen these, either, so no predictions. I record them here for completeness' sake.

11:30 pm EST:

Time for Josh Hartnett fans to swoon. I'll need smelling salts for my girlfriend. At least now they're bundling these songs together. Really, they should be eliminated altogether - this isn't the Grammies. In fact, this category could be scrapped. Nominees in this category are typically played over end credits - not really an integral part of the movie, but something tacked on to sell a sountrack album. Performances by Sting, Enya, John Goodman & Randy Newman, Tim McGraw's wife, and Paul McCartney.

Song: Monsters, Inc.

8/13. Disney's dominance of this category continues. Oddly, this is Randy Newman's first victory, even though he seems to be back every year to perform something. He and Alan Menken seem to be Disney's in-house composers.

Now we're at the three-hour mark, and there are still 7 more awards to give out. Depending on how quickly they buzz through them, this could end anywhere from midnight to 12:30. Please let the presenters talk fast - I would love for the next update to be my last. Sitting here in my pyjamas and robe, I'm ready for bed.

11:50 pm EST:

So much for my hope that things would be over by now. Admittedly, there wasn't much chance, but one can always wish...

At least all of the remaining awards are the major ones. (Although a large portion of the subtitle-phobic movie-going audience might argue with my categorization of Best Foreign Film as a major award.)

Adapted Screenplay: A Beautiful Mind
Original Screenplay: Gosford Park

9/15. Admittedly, my "vote" for Memento was based more on hope than anything else. Deep down inside, I thought Gosford Park might win this, but I desperately wanted Memento to get some sort of recognition, and this seemed to be the category in which it had the best chance.

The victory of A Beautiful Mind can be seen one of two ways: (1) the backlash against the film was exagerrated, or (2) this is a "consolation award" to compensate for losing Best Picture. Time will tell.

Foreign Film: No Man's Land

9/16. This qualifies as an upset, although it simply replicates No Man's Land over Amelie at the Golden Globes. I wonder if this is a reflection of the growing anti-French sentiment in the United States.

I'll do one more update when it's all over.

12:45 am EST:

Further padding provided courtesy of Robert Redford...

Best Actress: Halle Berry

9/17. As I indicated above, this was the one category in which I was very uncertain about the outcome. Sissy Spacek was the early favorite, but the buzz had it that Berry was coming on strong. Of course, the best female performance of the year - Tilda Swinton in The Deep End - wasn't nominated.

That being said, it's nice to find an actor or actress who seems truly overwhelmed by the honor. In a sea of prepared and rehearsed speeches, Berry comes across as one of the few real human beings to take the microphone tonight.

Best Actor: Denzel Washington

10/18. A small part of me would have liked to see Russell Crowe win, just to see if he would recite some poetry. Denzel's approach was much more straightforward.

Best Director: Ron Howard

11/19. As expected, Opie/Richie Cunningham gets his award.

Best Picture: A Beautiful Mind

12/20 (60% - just about as usual.) So A Beautiful Mind held on. For The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson should get to more chances. For Moulin Rouge, how could a movie that directed itself get Best Picture anyway?

And let me conclude by stating the obvious: 4:15 is waaaay too long by any standards. I can't guarantee that I'll be doing this again next year. Life's too short to throw so much away on such a plodding, artificial endeavor. No, I don't like the Oscars. I might even go so far as to say I dislike them. But they are an important part of the industry I have connected myself with, so I can't simply ignore them, much as I might wish to.


© 2002 James Berardinelli

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