Hollywood's Hangover

February 25, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

First, let me say that I enjoyed "I'm Fucking Ben Affleck" more than the entire Oscar ceremony. Okay, so it wasn't as good as "I'm Fucking Matt Damon," but it was about as good as a rebuttal could be. Also impressive was the star power Jimmy Kimmel managed to pull in – Ben Affleck, Cameron Diaz, Harrison Ford, and Robin Williams (among others). They aren't the B-list celebrities who normally occupy the guest slots on his show.

Using a DVR, I watched the Oscar telecast in 65 minutes, and I don't think I missed much (other than montages, film clips, and Best Song performances), which supports my contention that the show could easily be two hours if the fat was trimmed. Still, it clocked in at about three hours fifteen minutes, which isn't bad considering how long some recent shows have been. I believe the program's producers need to eliminate the opening monologue, however. It's a clone of how the late night hosts start their shows.

Assessing Jon Stewart's performance is difficult because it has become apparent that the Oscars strive for mediocrity in a host. I doubt Stewart has much creative freedom. I'm not sure that bringing in someone "outrageous" would solve the problem. We've seen Steve Martin and Chris Rock neutered by the experience. The Academy is afraid of Robin Williams because they're not sure they can control him. I favor the multiple host approach; it at least provides variety. Or how about having Michael Moore fill the function? I can't stand the guy but he certainly would liven things up. Still, given the restrictions hampering him like an albatross, Stewart did okay. He balanced off duds with zingers and avoided saying or doing anything that would make him persona non grata for future shows. (Rumor is, though, that Billy Crystal might be willing to work next year's show, and if Billy's interested, Oscar won't look elsewhere.) Here's a thought: How about a Sarah Silverman/Jimmy Kimmel tag-team? They could bring along Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

The 80th Academy Awards didn't have many memorable moments. For me, two instances stood out: Marion Cotillard and the Once singers. Cotillard's emotions were so unrestrained that I couldn't help but be moved. In an era when reactions are carefully controlled and speeches turn into thank-you lists, her tearful acceptance represented the evening's highlight. The leads from Once showed a similar exuberance; I don't think they expected to defeat Disney, but it's likely that the Enchanted vote got split too many ways. As for Tilda Swinton... What was that costume? Is she auditioning for the role of Heat Miser in a live-action version of The Year without a Santa Claus?

There's irony to be found in that one of the montages celebrated 80 years of unexpected happenings at the Oscars. The irony is, of course, that the production has become so pre-packaged that spontaneity has been wrung out of the experience. Oscar night used to be an evening full of surprises or potential surprises. No longer. Now, the only question is how many acceptance speeches will be cut off by the band.

Ethan Coen delivered the best acceptance speech of the evening when he went on stage to accept the Best Director statue. His brother ruined the effect a little by rambling. There's still room to beat Hitchcock, however. When the Master of Suspense received an honorary award in 1968, he used two words: "Thank You." "Thanks" is still available for anyone who wants to claim the new record. It's sad that so few Oscar winners have anything worthwhile to say. Now, it's just a long list of thank-yous.

Had No Country for Old Men done better in the technical awards, I would have had an excellent night of predictions, but the film lacked coattails, so I messed up a bunch of the "lesser tier." My final tally was 13 out of 21 (62%), which is about par for the night. Five for six in the major awards group isn't anything to be excited about since only two (Lead Actress, Supporting Actress) were in doubt. That puts me at 50% there, although I'm aware a lot of pundits were 0-for-2 (having predicted Julie Christie over Marion Cotillard and Ruby Dee or Amy Ryan over Tilda Swinton).

Finally, a thought about the Best Picture. No Country for Old Men deserved the win - it was the best of the nominations. But how will history remember it? My sense is that it will fall in the middle ground of half-remembered titles. It won't end up in the "What were they thinking?" category, which includes The Greatest Show on Earth, Around the World in 80 Days, Out of Africa, Shakespeare in Love, and Crash. But it won't stand above most of its fellows, either. When it comes to remembering 2007 in a few years' time, I suspect the titles that will come to mind will be Transformers and Juno. No Country for Old Men may have won the two biggest awards but Juno won viewers' hearts. Not to downplay the Coens' victory, but that lasting affection will ultimately mean more than all the gold statues the Academy can hand out.