2013 Oscars in numbers: the Academy need to get their priorities straight

oscars

Watching last night’s patchy Oscars ceremony, one issue stuck out like a sore thumb: the appalling practice of the orchestra ‘playing people off’, interrupting their acceptance speeches, mid-flow, in the interests of time management. This is standard practice at most big awards shows which are meticulously planned, and everyone expects it. But it seemed particularly unfair last night, for two reasons.

First, for some reason, the orchestra elected to play the Jaws theme, which made everyone laugh, but seems especially humiliating and uncharitable to the winners for whom this is the highlight of their career. And second, if they were really that strapped for time, there were so many superfluous, tedious, obnoxious, excruciating segments that could have been cut instead. Evidently, the show’s producers couldn’t tell the difference between wheat and chaff.

I’ve combed through the ceremony again and highlighted what I think are a few rather shabby disparities.

  • Average time allowed for acceptance speeches: 1 minute
  • Number of award categories: 12
  • Time that Life of Pi‘s technical team were allowed to speak for their acceptance speech for Best Visual Effects before the Jaws theme started playing: 56 seconds
  • Time that VFX artists spent protesting poor working conditions on the streets outside the Dolby Theatre where the Oscars were held: 4 hours
  • Current worldwide box-office gross for Life of Pi$583million
  • Current status of Life of Pi‘s lead visual effects studio Rhythm & Huesbankrupt
  • Time that Anne Hathaway was allowed to speak for her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress, without interruption: 2 minutes
  • Anne Hathaway’s screen time in Les Misérables: 40 minutes
  • Time Rhythm & Hues spent working on Life of Pi: 3 years

And here’s what the Academy thought deserved more time than acceptance speeches:

  • Seth Macfarlane’s unfunny opening bit: 17 minutes
  • Octogenarian William Shatner in unfunny opening bit (a bid to win young audiences?): 4 minutes 10 seconds
  • Jaw-droppingly sexist showtune ‘We Saw Your Boobs’: 1 minute 36 seconds
  • “James Bond tribute”: 6 minutes 10 seconds
  • Seth Macfarlane’s Ted character getting some free advertising: 1 minute 50 seconds
  • Tribute to “movie musicals of the last decade”, including Russell ‘Rusty’ Crowe lip-synching 11 minutes
  • Barbara Streisand singing “The Way We Were” like a cruise ship entertainer: 3 minutes 30 seconds
  • Michelle Obama’s bizarre, cliché-ridden appearance by satellite: 2 minutes 50 seconds
  • Red carpet warm-up: TWO BLOODY HOURS

The Academy (and by extension, the industry at large) have always mistreated behind-the-camera crew, but this is just ridiculous. FOR SHAME, ACADEMY!

Oscars 2013: Best Picture Round-Up!

Ah, the Oscars! The indulgent, masturbatory highlight of the entertainment calendar, in which pampered millionaires gather together to award each other golden statues for who is the best at pretending. A night of bad jokes and stomach-churning sentimentalism; of overlong speeches and vacuous fashion commentary; of extreme frustration and frequent boredom; of sleep deprivation and exhaustion for British viewers; of little-to-no merit whatsoever.

I’m not a huge fan. But I’m totally complicit. In spite of myself, I watch eagerly every year, swept up in the pageantry and spectacle. This year’s nominees fit the usual specious criteria for what constitutes award-worthiness, not to mention the usual outrageous snubs – where was Moonrise Kingdom? The Master? Holy Motors? The Imposter? – but in spite of all that, it’s a better-than-average crop, and a more-open-than-usual field.

Academy voters pick the Best Picture based on a weighted system, giving their choices in order, and I’ve done the same below, as if I were a voter. (You need me, Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.) And this evening I’ll be on Twitter, ‘live-tweeting’ the whole thing like a twat, with my winning mix of sarcasm, caffeine, and a general sense of resignation. Join me! (I mean that in an abstract sense, please do not physically join me in person.)

lesmWhat in bollocks’ name is this even doing in the shortlist? What in bollocks’ name is it even doing in the longlist? One of the worst films ever to be nominated for a Best Picture OscarLes Misérables is a tedious and hollow melodrama that spends the best part of three hours on its knees, pleading that you’ll shed, at minimum, an imperial gallon of tears, or at the very least garnish it with some nice awards. And the singing… Oh, the singing. Always with the singing. A boring, irksome bit of filmed musical theatre with no interval should never be allowed near the Oscars again. (Anne Hathaway deserves her inevitable Best Supporting Actress win, mind.)

lincJust as America’s favourite president flaps about attempting to extract enough votes from the House of Representatives to pass the 13th Amendment and ban slavery, so, it seems, Spielberg and Day-Lewis are flapping about, doing everything but beg on-screen for votes from Academy members. The history might be fascinating, the cinematography stunning and the acting (Sally Field notwithstanding) exemplary, but the execution is drearily worthy. Even a supposedly warts’n’all portrait comes out sugary and reverent with Spielberg at the wheel. Probably best watched on American soil.

argoAKA, ‘the winner’. I mean, really, any discussion about who will win the big prize is pretty much futile. Riding the surge of momentum – and the crossover of voters – from the SAGs, the DGAs, the BAFTAs and countless others, Ben Affleck is the man of the hour (if not the Best Director, thanks to an odd Academy snub), and barring a shock twist, this will almost certainly be crowned Best Picture of the last 12 months. But it quite demonstrably isn’t. It’s a strong film, sure; funny, suspenseful and entertaining, a thriller in an old-school mould. Even the acting from Baffles himself, whose front-of-camera record is haphazard, does a fine job. It’s a good film. Perhaps even a great film. But it just isn’t the best film.

life of piOnce again, Ang Lee delivers a captivating tale with a sweetly optimistic outlook on humanity – and he does so with an animated tiger. Source material and director are perfectly matched, as Lee, sometimes accused of being visually dull, dives headfirst into aesthetic bravado with some of the most beautiful and effective CGI imagery you will have seen. (As the technical team noted when accepting the special effects BAFTA, it was a rare opportunity to use their skills for art.) A faithful adaptation of a faithful book.

beastsThis, a confident and dazzling debut from Benh Zeitlin, came in for criticism from some corners for resurrecting the old ‘noble savage’ blueprint. It’s a fabular tale, depicting optimistic Southern peasants living off the land in near-future Louisiana, at a point when rising sea levels have cut a community off from mainland US in an area now known as ‘the Bathtub’. Whether or not it’s another cinematic manifestation of white guilt is open to debate, but it is inarguably infused with magical jubilation and childlike wonder throughout, thanks in large part to adorable 9-year-old lead Quvenzhané Wallis. She won’t win Best Actress tonight, but she damn well should.

zeroRiddled in ambiguities, Kathryn Bigelow has probably surrendered any chance of Oscar glory with the reams of negative commentary on the those torture scenes. As a historical account of recent real-life events, I had no problem with their inclusion – Mark Boal’s script is a meticulous piece of journalism, and it’s an honest, frank portrayal of Bush-era foreign policy. Politically, I still felt slightly uncomfortable at the less questioning depictions of extreme military heroism. But cinematically, it hit every note, intensely and self-assuredly.

silverA dysfunctional rom-com about dysfunctional people, Silver Linings Playbook is something I should hate, and on paper, I do: mismatched outsiders find love through a dance contest? I think I’ll pass, thanks. But the genre tropes here are immaterial – this is an intriguing, engaging, sporadically joyous character study from David O. Russell, of the kind he does best. And he wrings blistering performances from every corner. De Niro hasn’t been this watchable in years. No wonder it’s the first film in 31 years to get nominations in every acting category.

djangoEffectively the third in his unofficial ‘revenge trilogy’, Tarantino retreads pretty similar paths from Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds. But who gives a rat’s ass when he’s on this sort of form? Easily his best effort in a decade, this is a beautifully shot, delicately measured, and blindingly entertaining, a delicious slice of pure pulp cinema. Quentin may get his conciliatory Best Screenplay Oscar but it’s simply too much fun for the Academy to deem appropriate for full honours.

amourAs far as I’m concerned, none of the other films on this list hold a candle to Amour. Here is a devastating and wrenchingly powerful piece of filmic art which lingers long in the memory and delivers a guttural emotional punch, thoughtfully pontificating on the human condition and manning a quiet assault on the senses while it does. It’s impressive, given their horrendous track record, that the Academy even acknowledged a modest European film about death starring a couple of octogenarians, but Michael Haneke can at least be proud of the nomination. Beyond the slow march of mortality, it’s a film in which nothing much happens for two hours. And yet, it’s gripping: a desperately moving account of love, life, family and sickness. It deserves to win everything and probably won’t win anything. And really, isn’t that what the Oscars is all about?

Trailer review: The 84th Academy Awards

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXGI9suAyBI]

We’ve been given our first glimpse of the biggest night in the self-congratulatory calendar, and it’s a veritable smorgasbord of meh.  If you weren’t already underwhelmed about the upcoming Billy Crystal-hosted backslapfest, this should probably do the trick.  The minute-long trail stuffs in plenty of budget and moderately big names, but it’ll be lucky if it induces so much as a wince of a pitying smile. Let’s conduct a post-mortem.

Our heroes are Josh Duhamel, who so memorably played the character ‘Male Human 12B’ in the Transformers saga, and Megan Fox, who thrilled audiences as her ‘Attractive Female Human 1’ in the first two classic instalments of that same critically lauded, Oscar-winning film series (might want to check this is right – Ed). Both appear to reprise their roles from Transformers, i.e. Josh provides all the exposition and Megan keeps quiet and looks pretty.

This unstoppable duo are told to track down a host who has gone ‘off the grid’ by legendary he’s-been-in-everything character actor William Fitchner, who unforgivably is only given three measly seconds of screentime here.  Still, off our two heroes embark on an Indiana Jonesian adventure, “charged with tracking down a legend” as Voiceover Guy helpfully notes.

Their journey takes them to see the decorated Oscar veteran Vinnie Jones, once again displaying his effervescent acting versatility after the success of his British Heart Foundation ad explaining how to give CPR in a manner that East End gangsters will understand.  (Watch the ad if you haven’t seen it, it’s mindblowing. “No kissing!” he instructs, “you only kiss yer missus on the lips” – i.e. “I AIN’T NAH POOF OR NUFFINK”.)

On Vinnie’s recommendation Duhamel and Fox travel to the “furvest location on earf”, where a bearded Robin Williams does one of his funny foreign accents. For the only actual Oscar winner amongst this cast, Williams’ segment is perhaps the biggest dud.  The music even does an abrupt-pause-for-expected-laughter moment for the “He transformed into a Yeti!” line.  Yeesh.

Then finally, the payoff. What we’ve all been waiting for.  “Are you the one they call…the host?”  A lens flare obscuring a scruffy man’s  face suggests a big reveal is coming.  Billy Crystal, our replacement host, the true hero, is to be revealed.  It’s going to be a  massive punchline.  A hilarious punchline

[youtube http://youtu.be/9SK0QyHcCIw]
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