By The Late Mitchell Warren
There’s nothing quite as refreshing as millionaires giving each other gold statues, as the avuncular Billy Crystal pointed out at the 84th Annual Academy Awards Show. Except, of course, for said millionaires asking for your money. While most people perceived the 84th Oscar show to be about nostalgia (considering that big winners The Artist, Hugo and Midnight in Paris told stories from the early 1920s) what I observed was a collective of multimillionaires begging for my money in their own egocentric, larger-than-life sort of way.
Not only was the show broadcast for the first time on the Internet, but it also felt like an interactive, customized Oscar show, with awards going to your own preferred choices. Critical favorite and gimmicky silent film The Artist triumphed over more traditional Oscar fare like Warhorse and The Iron Lady. Meanwhile, the Academy made room to award the kid-friendly, 3-D theme park movie Hugo while also bestowing love upon sentimental jokester Alexander Payne (The Descendants) and even Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), for what could be his last hurrah at Oscar night. (And how could you even think he would show up to accept the award?)
The Academy also handed Meryl Streep her third Best Actress Oscar, shortly after giving Best Supporting Actress to Octavia Spencer of the crowd-pleasing racism dramedy The Help. It seemed as if everyone who was loved this year received something in return, except of course for traditional Oscar bait who felt the almighty snub from the usual gang of millionaires.
Oscar host Billy Crystal was back on demand, as was the theme of the night, and brought his usual Uncle Billy wit to the show, with zingers caustic only in thought, and delivered in such giggling senior moments no one could take offense. It was nice to see a host with no fear (Crystal’s ribbing of Nick Nolte and Martin Scorsese was the biggest laugh of the night) and yet nothing to prove, in contrast to Ricky Gervais, James Franco and Chris Rock of the Mean Millionaires Club.
Perhaps the most surprising twist of the night was the fact that the Academy Awards Show seemed very short, and almost (gasp) on time! They predictably cut the acceptance speeches of foreign technical artists short, while allowing big American actors (and at least one Frenchmen in Jean Dujardin) their full time in the sun.
One of the most popular decisions of the night was the Best Supporting Actor win from Christopher Plummer (Beginners) who became the oldest actor in Oscar history to win a competitive award. Christopher Plummer also gave the most eloquent acceptance speech of the night, and the victory of senior acting chops over 21st century irony (in grand display with unfunny presentations by Robert Downey Jr., Ben Stiller, and the usual fools) was inspiring. Only Will Ferrell and Zach Galapagos-Islands (Hey, he mispronounced it first!) came off as genuine smart-asses, as they demonstrated amazing commitment to shallow characters, worthy of a George Lucas or James Cameron film. All those comedy bits and all those scenery-chewing Best Actor previews were still trumped by Glenn Close’s performance as a woman starring in a movie as a woman playing a man who was still defeated for the umpteenth time by Meryl Streep. Take notes, kids. This is what a face of grace looks like covering over molten lava-level frustration.
The commercials were just as pandering, and featured all of your favorite celebrities hawking brands, like Ellen DeGeneres and Jerry Seinfeld. There were Muppets, there was a bizarre “leg-bombing” by Angelina Jolie (and appropriate mocking of said leg-bombing by unknown Documentary winners) and there were “upset” wins that we kind of demanded, like A Separation winning Best Foreign Language film from Iran. (The real question is, if Obama attacks Iran, will he swipe the Oscar for himself or just claim that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was respectfully buried at sea and send the Oscar back to the Academy?)
The Academy even did the unthinkable, no doubt listening to your complaints, and shortened the long-winded but sentimental Lifetime Achievement Awards by relegating them to an off-camera ceremony. (The winners got to wave to the people like Prince William and Duchess Catherine) Come on, you don’t want to let poor James Earl Jones on stage to say a few Darth Vader-esque thank you’s? Oh wait, the other winner was Oprah Winfrey. Yeah, probably a good idea to let those precious moments go untelevised.
Even the cruel death popularity contest was done away with, as all of your favorite ex-celebrities were featured in a fast moving montage reminiscent of The Borne Ultimatum with pin-drop silence instead of rising and falling applause. Dead celebrity quotes were also featured amid the tragic music. At one point, I hoped that Billy Crystal had inserted a gag clip of himself in the death montage, as it would have brought the house down. Then I remembered, no, this is a well-behaved Oscar show. These are multimillionaire starving artists doing what they do best and politely extending their hands for a tip.
The highlight of the show came from talents who are just barely cracking the millionaire mark, and some of whom might actually be only slightly wealthy if not completely poor. Cirque Du Soleil stole the show with a once on a lifetime tribute to the movies, and made the hall of celebrities give a standing ovation for the tenth time or so. Old millionaires standing up and sitting down for three hours…how can you not be moved? I can just visualize all the hand-to-mouth gestures that happened in the auditorium as Cirque Du Soleil, with their weird feats of strength and elastic choreography, reminded all these grown children, Barbie hookers, pseudo-activists and coke fiends what real death-defying talent and ability looks like.
All in all, I enjoyed Oscar’s faux tribute to nostalgia, which seemed to me more like an abbreviated Celebrity Telethon begging for your admission tickets. Yes, pity these millionaire unemployeds who make a living begging for your change by becoming customized prostitutes of the highest acting ability. They are being ravaged by Internet piracy, undervalued at the box office, and retired early because of our recessionary bitching. Robbing a celebrity of his/her money constitutes rape! I mean my God, people! Poor Jennifer Aniston had to show her tits on Wanderlust. What won’t these wonderful hookers do for us?
You missed the best part of the show, as it wasn’t televised. No, not the Academy kicking out Sasha Borat (er, Baron) Cohen off the red carpet and escorting him out (apparently because he messed up Ryan Seacrest’s suit, or was spilling fake ashes or something) but the heartwarming speech by Billy Crystal that was censored due to its overt advertising.
It was when Billy Crystal, with the dog from The Artist in his arms, spoke to the televised audience in a moment of grotesque sincerity.
“Ladies and gentleman, we in the entertainment industry are ailing. A few years more of cut salaries and no gross percentages and we’re going to be six feet under Jack Palace. No seriously folks, how is my grandson going to go to Harvard with this type of economy? It’s just like you 99%-ers to take up so much space. I mean come on, you know how much we had to pay George for another on-screen kiss? (Giggles at himself) I mean really, does your father really need Social Security? If Diane Keaton and Kathy Bates keep appearing nude in more films they’re going to kill the poor bastard. Okay, no more jokes. Please, come back to the movies, ladies and gentleman. It’s not just the magic or the memories we cherish. It’s not about the awards. It’s about the box office gross. And the cable proceeds. It’s about a little kid picking up Mr. Saturday Night at a pawn shop for two bucks instead of a dollar. I don’t know about you but back when I was a youngster—and back when Christopher Plummer first retired—I don’t remember ever buying a ticket for a dollar. Movies are so much more expensive than that. So long folks, and please for the love of God, our blouse is wide open, please leave us a tip in our giant, fake plastic cleavage! You look mah-velous, mah-velous!”
I applaud Hollywood for respectfully reminding us that this is a quid pro quo business and if we really want to keep seeing all of this great entertainment at a low price all we have to do is “love the movies.” They elegantly upheld their part of the agreement and gave us an Oscar show for the ages. Now it’s time for us to honor our traditions of going back to the movies.
It was a beautiful show. I didn’t get to see all of the Best Picture nominees because for some reason MegaUpload is not working. But I’ll be sure to catch them all on BitTorrent.