A "Live" Look at the Oscars, 2000 Edition

Commentary by James Berardinelli
March 26, 2000

Well, I'm back at it again. This marks the third year in a row that I'm doing this "live" commentary, and, if nothing else, it helps me to make it through the entire Oscar ceremony without falling asleep. (It's hard to doze off when you're typing at a keyboard, although I know a few co-workers who have managed that.) At any rate, this year I'm certainly not the only one doing an on-line program (even ex-Oscar host Whoopi Goldberg has gotten into the act), so I thank those of you who have stopped by here. Be warned, however: over the past year, I have grown increasingly cynical about the Academy Awards, so the tone of this update is likely to be on the grumpy side. Quality in my opinion, has little or nothing to do with who wins. It's all politics. Which is really sad, because it takes all the fun out of the evening. I enjoy doing this commentary, but not watching the telecast.

This year, as last, I'll be updating every fifteen minutes, starting at 8:30 pm EST (15 minutes after the telecast starts). 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. E-mail to berardin@cybernex.net will be answered as promptly as time allows. Please be patient.

Let the games begin...

8:30 pm EST:

As usual, here are my obligatory predictions. Unlike in the last two years (where I scored 67% and 62% correct), I'm taking quality out of the equation. It remains to see whether that will improve things. Note that I'm not taking any guesses in the shorts categories, because I don't care about them. And I won't be playing along with Ebert this year, because I haven't bothered to look up his predictions.

By the way, please don't ask me any questions about the Oscar pre-show, because I didn't get snookered into watching it. The Academy Awards is pure hype. I'm not about to waste my time watching a show that hypes up the hype.

Tough Predictions:

  1. Obviously, I expect an American Beauty sweep. Generally, when a film gains momentum, it has coattails. That's one of the main reasons I predicted so many wins for American Beauty. If the film doesn't have the staying power I expect, my percentage will be waaaaaay down.

  2. For best actor, it's a virtual toss-up between Spacey and Washington. But Denzel is hampered by a movie that is regarded as "tainted" and Spacey was in American Beauty, the one pictur that virtually every voting member of the Academy saw. Give the edge to Spacey, but I won't be shocked if Washington wins.

  3. For best actress, Bening has an edge over Hilary Swank, but, even though many members of the Academy have not seen Boys Don't Cry, word of mouth may be strong enough to create an upset. But Bening is virtually royalty, and she's pregnant, and her husband is being honored big-time, so it will be tough to unseat her.

  4. For best supporting actor, I still give Tom Cruise an outside shot. But the Miramax machine has been working overtime hyping Caine, so he'll probably get the statue.

  5. In the technical categories, The Phantom Menace isn't a lock, because it was regarded as a "disappointment" in some quarters. But the film's innovations were so cutting-edge that it's virtually impossible to believe that any other film will capture any of these three Oscars.

Things Likely to cause me to start frothing at the mouth:

  1. Any win by The Sixth Sense.
  2. A win for Meryl Streep.
  3. A telecast that goes past midnight.

Things to look forward to (there are a few):

  1. Billy Crystal usually has at least half-a-dozen genuinely funny zingers.
  2. How Robin Williams will handle "Blame Canada".
  3. Will Haley Joel Osment cry again after losing?

8:45 pm EST:

Boy do these people take themselves seriously. You'd think the fate of world peace rested on tonight's activities.

At least the opening segment was moderately entertaining. I especially liked the American Beauty portion. Hopefully, however, this doesn't represent the telecast's highlight.

Does anyone really care who found the stolen Oscars? Does he need to be singled out?

9:00 pm EST:

Horrible thought #1: By watching this, I'm missing The Sopranos. I'd love to see what kind of a ratings hit the Oscars telecast takes when people abandon it to get their weekly Jersey gangster fix. Then again, since The Sopranos seems to be on every hour of every day of the week, maybe people will wait until the Awards are over.

Did Billy Crystal turn soft? So far, nothing really vicious. Even the Al Gore thing was mild.

Costume Design : Topsy-Turvy.
1 for 1. I figured they'd want to give something to this film.

9:15 pm EST:

Sound: The Matrix.
1 for 2. Am I a little surprised? Yes. Am I terribly surprised? No.

Makeup : Topsy-Turvy.
1 for 3. I guess they really wanted to give this film something.

Things seem to be moving at a surprisingly fast clip. Didn't Tobey Maguire look stiff?

Supporting Actress : Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interrupted.
2 for 4. No surprises here. James Coburn has a great deep voice for announcing nominees.

9:30 pm EST:

Yes, these thoughts basically come stream-of-consciousness style, which doesn't give me much opportunity to be profound. Besides, there hasn't been anything to be profound about (and there may not be before the night is over). About the nicest thing I can say about the ceremony so far is that it's less annoying than watching Whatever It Takes, the most recent movie I "experienced."

What is the point of this "journey through history/guess all the clips" time-filler? It's as if the producers decided they were in danger of not running over three hours, so they had to stick something in to pad out the time. It's things like this that really piss me off about the Oscars.

Live action short: "My Mother Dreams: The Satans Disciples".
With nothing to base my selections on, I didn't predict this.

9:45 pm EST:

Animated short: "The Old Man In the Sea".

Not much happening in this segment, but Robin Williams' much-anticipated performance is coming up. Meanwhile, I'm trying to figure out how people actually stay awake through this Awards show. It seems like the perfect thing to tape then watch any time insomnia strikes.

And I'm still waiting for a commercial that can provide a moment's distraction. (At least we haven't seen Regis Philbin hawking the most stupid quiz show currently on a non-cable network.)

10:00 pm EST:

In general, my preference would be for the song performances to be cut out altogether, but at least this year they have crammed them altogether instead of spreading them out across the entire telecast. As a side note, my personal favorite of these songs is "Save Me", but Disney almost always wins this category. So if Toy Story doesn't take the award, Phil Collins probably will.

While Robin Williams' bit didn't turn out to be as controversial or revolutionary as some predicted, it was nevertheless amusing. He dealt with the profanity in a tasteful manner without wrecking the meaning of the song.

Why was it necessary to re-play clips from songs that were just played in their entirety?

Original Song: "You'll Be in My Heart", Tarzan.
2 for 5. See above...

10:15 pm EST:

In an e-mail, I have been asked why I bother to sit through the Oscars when I have such a clear dislike for them. The answer is simple: they're far too important to ignore. Much as I disdain the entire process, this is huge in the industry -- to huge to blow off.

Documentary Short Subject: "King Gimp"
No prediction. I haven't seen any of these. That rounds out the categories I didn't guess in.

Documentary Feature: One Day in September
2 for 6. I don't think anyone got this one right. Apparently, the Academy still doesn't want to recognize a documentary that anyone has actually seen. Of course, since I haven't seen One Day in September, it's difficult for me to make a comment upon whether or not Buena Vista Social Club was robbed. The guy making the speech strikes me as a real jackass.

Best Supporting Actor: Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules
3 for 7. No surprise here, either, although I'm not sure when Caine became the frontrunner. When the nominations were announced, I thought it would be Cruise. I didn't change my mind until a few days ago. What a difference six weeks makes. Incidentally, Roger Ebert's opinions notwithstanding, it's nice to see this underrated film take home something. A very gracious acceptance speech, with a great comment to Cruise. And no apparent crying from Osment (in one shot, he was smiling). Maybe they should have staged something...

10:30 pm EST:

Someone just sent me a fascinating e-mail about what people around the world are doing while watching the Oscars. I'm not sure who came up with the statistics, or whether they're right, but they're interesting. The #1 response, as one might expect, is "sitting" (with 52%). "Sex" comes in third (12%), behind "eating" (18%). "Being on-line" doesn't rank, but "driving" does (1%). I'm not sure I want to understand how someone could be watching the Oscars while driving. Oh, by the way, "sleeping" is fourth with 7%.

Now it's one of those honorary awards, this one to polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda. Wajda, who began making films in the early '50s, deserves this kind of recognition. Despite having one numerous awards at international film festivals and many critic circle prizes, he has never even been nominated for an Oscar. One oversight rectified.

10:45 pm EST:

Sound Effects Editing: The Matrix
3 for 8. Ouch! A pretty poor total. I publically apologize to anyone who sought my "insight" when making picks for their workplace Oscar pools (an activity I don't participate in, by the way -- a good thing, or I'd be out a few dollars). I guess my theory about The Phantom Menace was dead wrong.

The nerds got Salma Hayek -- not bad (hey, I can say it, since I classify myself as one).

Visual Effects: The Matrix
3 for 9. As good as the effects in The Matrix were, they were inferior to those in The Phantom Menace -- but here I am, talking about something deserving to win, and that's not what The Academy Awards are all about. I seriously underestimated the Star Wars backlash in Hollywood. But, with his millions of dollars, George Lucas is still having the last laugh.

11:00 pm EST:

What are people thinking? Very funny -- Crystal at his best.

I really don't need this filler of past songs. If I want to listen to them, I'll buy the CDs. And it just goes on and on -- what are they trying to do, play every single past Best Song winner??

In an ideal world, the Oscars would be over by now... but only about half of the statues have been given out. That doesn't bode well for the ending time.

11:15 pm EST:

Foreign Language Film: All About My Mother
4 for 10. A lock from the beginning. It would have been more interesting if Run Lola Run had been eligible (although I suspect Mother would still come out on top).

Original Score: The Red Violin
4 for 11. This one really surprises me, and I'm at a loss to figure out how or why it came about. The composer says he didn't think he'd be up there, and I'm sure he's not the only one who felt that way. By the way, I really love the Cider House score, but I didn't expect it to win. Of the five nominated scores, that's the only one I have the CD for.

11:30 pm EST:

Dead People Tribute: I always watch this to see whose obituary I might have missed. Unless I missed something, there was at least one omission: DeForest Kelley (who had a career before Star Trek). Of course, George C. Scott received the loudest ovation.

This is what they meant by "A long day's journey into night."

Art Direction: Sleepy Hollow
Gee, I finally got one right that wasn't a lock! 5 for 12.

Editing: The Matrix
5 for 13. At least it wasn't The Sixth Sense (which I want to go home with zip).

11:45 pm EST:

Thalberg Award/Tribute to Beatty: A few funny comments from Jack Nicholson. I can't really call this filler, but it has taken them long enough to get to it. And there are still seven more Oscars to give out.

Midnight EST:

Cinematography: American Beauty
Well, since The Matrix wasn't nominated here, I thought maybe American Beauty had a shot... Long-winded speeches are not what we need at this time of night. 6 for 14.

Adapted Screenplay: The Cider House Rules
7 for 15. Irving's victory was another one that just about everyone predicted.

12:15 am EST:

Original Screenplay: American Beauty
8 for 16. Finally up to 50%. In my opinion, American Beauty's win here is an indication that it should do very well in the final four categories.

Looks like things will wrap up around 12:30, give or take a few minutes. Last year's running time, which was a record, was 4 hours, 2 minutes. It will be close...

Now we have to deal with Benigni... ugh.

Actress: Hilary Swank, Boys Don't Cry
8 for 17. I thought this one would be close; I just leaned in the wrong direction.

12:30 am EST:

Of far greater interest than the final three winners is whether this year's telecast will set a new record. At this point, I'd say it's a lock. Probably about 4 hours, 10 minutes. (Congrats to the person who e-mailed me with a guess of 4:15.)

Actor: Kevin Spacey, American Beauty
9 for 18. And on this one, I leaned the right way.

Director: Sam Mendes, American Beauty
10 for 19. At this point, I would bet all of the equity in my house on American Beauty winning Best Picture.

12:45 am EST:

Picture: American Beauty
Final Tally: 11 for 20. 55%. Considering how badly I started out, that's not a bad total.

Final Running Time: 4 hours, 10 minutes. A new record, beating last year's record by eight minutes. At this rate, the ceremony will be 5 hours long by the year 2010.

Frankly, not many surprises in the major categories. An American Beauty almost-sweep. Hilary Swank's win wasn't a shocker, but it would have been amusing to see Annette Bening attempt to climb the stairs. In minor categories, The Matrix did very well while The Phantom Menace struck out. And The Insider, The Green Mile, and The Sixth Sense were all blanked.

Is it just me, or did Peter Coyote have more dialogue that Billy Crystal? I wonder what it would be like with John Cleese as host?

I can't guarantee that I'll be doing this again next year. The idea of taping the show, then watching it the next morning with my thumb on the fast-forward button is almost too tempting to resist.

© 2000 James Berardinelli

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