Can You Stay Awake through the Whole Thing?

February 21, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

That's the most pointed question I can think of regarding the Oscars. My solution is to record the thing then watch it late at night, skipping over commercials, filler, and speeches that turn into lists of names. When you think about it, that's probably 80% of the telecast. The Oscars have become so controlled and carefully programmed that the chance of anything spontaneous happening is close to nil. Even such minor moments of unplanned glee - the Palance push-ups, the Benigni route to the stage, the Brody kiss – are frowned upon by today's circus masters. Tight control and whitewashed predictability have become the defining characteristics. Never again will a David Niven be surprised by a streaker, a George C. Scott refuse an Oscar, or a Sasheen Littlefeather take the stage. Gone are the little things that once gave the Oscars a sense of the unknown and provided the ripe potential for something unexpected. These days, we know exactly what's going to happen - right down to who most of the winners are going to be.

Are the Oscars still relevant? Yes, but not in the same way they used to be. Once upon a time, it meant something to win an Oscar. Not so much any more. Now, Oscar winners make their speeches then end up appearing in Daddy Day Care or Catwoman. Anna Paquin keeps her Oscar in the bathroom, which probably says more about the award in general than she intends. Even the Best Picture winner suffers from here-today-gone-tomorrow syndrome. How many non-die-hards know that The Departed won last year, or that Crash won the year before? Ask ten random people that question. Last year, I did that to see who remembered Crash's victory. It was largely forgotten (10%). In fact, more people thought Brokeback Mountain had won (30%). That says a lot about Oscar's relative prestige value.

People have called the Academy Awards the "Superbowl for Women" (before women started watching the Superbowl). Now, it's more like the Amerian Idol finale, except the audience doesn't vote. Viewers are more interested in wardrobe than winners. Consider 2001. What won Best Picture? Who knows (looking it up, it was Gladiator)? Who hosted? Best guess: Billy Crystal (oops... it was Steve Martin). Who created the biggest wardrobe stir? That one's easy: Bjork. This year, you'll hear Vera Wang mentioned more often than Viggo's wang. The Oscars are a big deal Sunday night for ABC and Monday morning around the water cooler. (Do those exist any more?) Then they're forgotten. Next February, ask a few random movie-goers what won Best Picture in 2008 and the likely replies will be: (a) "What do I look like? A film encyclopedia?" or (b) "Something like No Old Men Allowed." There will be more of the former.

Before I get to my predictions, I have to gripe about the selection process for the Best Foreign Language Film nominations. For those who are unaware, here's how it goes. Step 1: Countries submit entries. Step 2: A select group of people see all 60+ entries and choose their favorites. Step 3: The "finalists" become nominees. This year, this maligned process resulted in FOUR films being rejected for various reasons. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days was knocked out because the committee didn't vote it in. (An omission called "a travesty" by the committee's own president.) The Band's Visit was declared ineligible because, despite being an Israeli film, it contains too much English. Lust, Caution and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly weren't allowed because there was too much American involvement in the productions, although neither movie is in English. Every year, the Academy tweaks the Best Foreign Language Film process, yet this is the result. It's time to stop tweaking and go for an overhaul.

Here are the predictions for those who like to play along and earn the bragging rights of saying they're more savvy than I am... (I do not pick the short subjects)

Actor (Supporting): Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men)
Actor (Lead): Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood)
Actress (Supporting): Ruby Dee (American Gangster)
Actress (Lead): Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose)
Animated Feature: Ratatouille
Art Direction: Sweeney Todd
Cinematography: No Country for Old Men
Costume Design: Atonement
Director: Joel & Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men)
Documentary: No End in Sight
Editing: No Country for Old Men
Foreign Language Film: The Counterfeiters
Makeup: La Vie en Rose
Musical Score: Atonement
Music (Song): "Falling Slowly," Once
Picture: No Country for Old Men
Sound Editing: No Country for Old Men
Sound Mixing: No Country for Old Men
Visual Effects: Transformers
Writing (Adapted): No Country for Old Men
Writing (Original): Juno