Tuesday, February 26, 2008

IT'S THE COENS' COUNTRY AND WELCOME TO IT: Last-Minute Thoughts on Oscar 2007

There’s an otherworldliness to watching the red carpet parade and the Oscar ceremony itself, even when you live in Los Angeles and watch the madness as it begins with the cordoning off of streets one week before the big show. But when you see the Oscar telecast in a setting largely untouched by everyday Oscar fever and hype—say, Eugene, Oregon, where I saw Sunday night’s trophy give-away—it seems even more remote than ever. Saturday night my best friend, his wife and I took in a packed showing of No Country for Old Men at the local mall septillion-plex as a way of setting in motion the Oscar steam engine that would pull into the station round about that same time tomorrow. It was, however, a bit of a surprise to me when several members of the audience for the film were vocally derisive when the screen went to black after Tommy Lee Jones’ dream monologue, not a great harbinger for general audience acceptance of No Country despite it being the Coen Brothers’ biggest hit to date. And the reaction was certainly a big difference from the movie-hip reverence with which the movie is more typically greeted down here in Tinseltown. There was laughter, some hissing, and the woman behind me was complaining loudly: "That's up for an Academy Award? Jesus Christ, we wasted the opportunity to see a good movie tonight!" I'd like to think she took me completely seriously when I turned around and suggested she run straight to the 9:45 showing of 27 Dresses in order to get the taste of the awful piece of shit she just endured out of her mouth. (Update: My friend Blaaagh is the one who accompanied me, and as he reminds me in the comments column below, the majority of the audience seemed to be with the movie. If I made it sound somehow as though there were a riot about to break out, I apologize.)

I still believed going in that No Country would reign supreme on the night; but I also had pretty good reason to believe, given the fact that neither Transformers nor Pirates of the Caribbean 3 were nominated for major awards, that the show itself would be a ratings dud. (In fact, reports Tuesday confirm that it may be the lowest-rated Oscar show ever.) But since I’m not an ABC executive, I can’t see any good reason to agonize over that. Oscar will honor whoever Oscar will honor, hit or no hit, ratings or no ratings.

And that was proven out immediately when the costume design Oscar went to Elizabeth: The Golden Age, a movie I thought the Academy would work strenuously to ignore this night. It was also an instant severe blow to my chances in the office Oscar pool. But in a strange way, knowing I’d screwed up so early kind of took the pressure off of following my own pool ballot and wondering if anyone else was doing as well as I was. Well, Elizabeth: TGA turned out to be a nasty surprise to just about everyone, which meant that all was not lost just yet re my movie-centric gambling. And aneurysm-inducing Diablo Cody prize notwithstanding, the rest of the night had many nice surprises, a couple of wince-inducing ones, and only a few bumps of any note along the way.

One of my favorite moments of the night was the encore appearance of Best Song co-winner Marketa Irglova, whose mike went dead after partner Glen Hansard’s effusive and sincere thank-you (“Make art! Make art!”). First, Stewart’s brilliant off-the-cuff remark: “God, that guy is soooo arrogant!” Then, whether Stewart prodded for it (I’d like to think he did) or it was a producer’s idea, Irglova coming back out to finish what she never got started was a perfect people’s Oscar moment, and well-deserved. I just hope it makes Sid Ganis, Gilbert Cates and the other showmen behind the Oscars realize that playing off the winners before they’ve had a chance to express themselves—in essence bowdlerizing before the fact the very reason the Oscars are held in the first place, to honor specific achievement in film and give the winners their moment in the spotlight— is an unpleasant manifestation of Hollywood arrogance. Hopefully, if the Irglova Experiment proves anything to these folks, it’s that the acceptance speeches should be the last things cut or otherwise mercilessly truncated.

If they're looking for Ocar flab to trim, well, I for one almost always get squirmiest during the Best Song performances. Only rarely does the category offer anything close to the caliber of Hansard and Irgolva’s moment. The song from August Rush was probably better than the movie, though the three Enchanted numbers were deadly dull. I thought it was fairly brave of Amy Adams to go out there, basically in the character of Enchanted’s Princess Giselle, and chirp out a number that skirts satire, but ultimately backs away from it, like “Happy Working Song.” But I have to admit alliance with Kim Morgan when she said that Adams’ charmed innocence act is getting a touch thin. How about her and Patrick Dempsey in a remake of Panic in Needle Park for a change of pace, eh?

Kim reminds us of some truly wonderful moments, though. Javier Bardem’s win, and then his heartfelt acceptance speech, half of which he dedicated to his mother in Spanish, had my tears flowing early on. And in addition to Tilda Swinton making me look like a much better prognosticator than I really am, her gobsmacked speech, which began with a very sincere-sounding “Oh, no,” quickly spun into a riot of sideways Clooney worship, a big noogie from a freshly Oscar-winning co-star to her leading man that was utterly disarming.

And I would agree with Kim also that I did not need to be reminded of Jerry Seinfeld and Bee Movie again—how much did DreamWorks/Paramount have to spring for that little appearance, which amounted to little more than an ad for the upcoming DVD, I wonder. But, that said, any bit that gets a clip from Irwin Allen’s The Swarm into play on Hollywood’s night of nights is a-okay in my book. The writers made excellent hay of a clip from the ersatz disaster pic, as the climax to a bit in which Seinfeld’s bee points himself out in famous movies bee scenes (including the attack on Bill Murray from Rushmore).

But it also reminded me that, back in the spring of 1979, Oscar actually invited The Swarm to the real party. Allen’s go-to costume designer Paul Zastupnevich, whose career with the disastermeister stretches back at least as far as Lost In Space, got the second of three Oscar nominations he would get for his arguably undistinguished work on Allen’s movies for The Swarm-- the first being The Poseidon Adventure, the last being, appropriately enough, When Time Ran Out…

As far as the host goes, I thought Jon Stewart was pretty much right on the button most of the night; only going flat a few times over four hours is a pretty good track record. In addition to the great cracks about Clinton and Obama (“Normally when you see a black man or woman president, an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty. How else are we supposed to know it’s the future?!”) and Norbit (“Even Norbit got a nomination, which I think is great. Too often the Academy ignores movies that aren't good."), he even took time to play a match of Wii tennis with the 11-year-old vocalist from the August Rush song. And then there’s that whole bring-back-Marketa business, the goodwill off of which I think he’ll be riding for a good long time.

Of course the Coen Brothers were at once benignly cracked and expectedly short-winded (“Thank you,” murmured Ethan upon conquering his mile-wide grin after their first win of the night) and sincerely eloquent (“Thank you for letting us play in our little corner of the sandbox.”) These two were only slightly uncomfortable and seemed to really enjoy this strange moment that they so clearly deserved, punctuated as it was by cuts to Joel’s wife Frances McDormand, who was beside herself with delight, and the unexpected sight of Cormac McCarthy himself in the audience, surely seated near the No Country, giving his tacit blessing to the coronation of this blistering and brilliant adaptation of his work. (One only hopes that director John Hillcoat, of last year’s The Proposition, matches the standard set by the Coens with his own McCarthy adaptation, that of The Road, the filming of which is what accounts for the robust beard attached to Viggo Mortensen’s face on Oscar night.)

And if I might get a little E! channel for a moment, I was most delighted to see Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Marion Cotillard, Katherine Heigl and Jennifer Garner amongst the females looking especially lovely Sunday night. The boys were best represented by Javier Bardem, George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Viggo Mortensen and Josh Brolin, who I wish I could be on Oscar night just so I could sit next to Diane Lane. And a special shout-out to Gary Busey: Hope you enjoyed the festivities, friendo, as it’s probably the last one you’ll ever be invited to!

Finally, since she made writing this piece ever so much more difficult by trumping all my own reactions and doing so in such an entertaining way, I will leave my last word on Oscars 2007 in the capable hands of Kim Morgan, who counts herself with me in the anti-Juno brigade. I had my aneurysm, to be sure, and I knew it was coming, so now that the threat of major Oscar damage is past I wish Juno Godspeed on its way toward an enormously successful DVD which I can completely ignore. But before I do, here’s Kim on Diablo Cody:

“Diablo Cody, beloved hipster-ex-stripper-screenwriter-goddess, wins Best Original Screenplay for the indie hit Juno, a movie soaked with forced, overly quippy one-liners that either delighted or seriously exasperated audiences (I was one of those exasperated)-- and all she can come up with is, ‘I especially want to thank my fellow nominees.’ Or, ‘This is for the writers!’ Diablo! Honest to blog! Where was your arsenal of smarty-pants wisecracks and pop-culture Soupy Sales-isms? This is the Oscars, Home Skillet. This is your time on stage. As you wrote, this is ‘one doodle that can't be un-did.’ But hey, you pulled off the leopard dress, tats and your Louise Brooks bob. So at least you looked great. But... another thing. What was with your glum exit offstage? Was Harrison Ford taking you to Oscar detention?”

Ah, Diablo in Oscar detention. What an image. That’ll definitely last me until next year!


Anonymous said...

Sure, they gave props to THE SWARM, but where was THE BEES???


I haven't seen THE BEES since probably 1985 (nor has anyone else; It's one of those movies that seems to have vanished), but to this day the awesome score is still stuck in my head.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

God, Bandit, you're one of only two people I know who would ever remember The Bees! Blaaagh and I almost got ourselves kicked out of a little cracker-box Springfield, Oregon multiplex back in college, so hard were we laughing at that one! If anyone ever double-bills it with Irwin Allen's opus, I dare say no viewer could be expected to survive!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful recap, Dennis--not as wonderful as spending Oscar night, and a great long weekend, with you!--but still mighty enjoyable. I have to get over and read Kim's recap now.

In defense of my fellow Eugenean moviegoers, I have to say that my perception was, there were only a handful of vocal reactions during and after the film. Before I saw NO COUNTRY, I had heard almost exclusively positive and thoughtful reactions from those who had seen it here. I spoke with my colleague Andy, who's our backlist book buyer at the UO Bookstore, today about the film--she was the first person I talked to who saw the film upon its release here and raved about it--and today she told me she had read the book first (in an advance copy), and had reacted with shock and disgruntlement to the ending. So, by the time she saw the film, she appreciated the deliberately unconventional resolution, and had much to say about it in conversation. As I expressed to you yesterday, I still think it's a good idea to give a little break to those in any audience who react with anger, surprise, confusion, etc., to the ending of the film. I think it's natural to feel frustrated, shell-shocked, assaulted, and I think most thinking people will work out their thoughts and feelings about their experience with the film in their own time.

I'm still thinking about this movie days later, and working out my feelings about it. Think I'll read the book!

Oh, and to The Bandit: THE BEES provided Dennis and me with one of our most memorably hilarious moviegoing experiences of our college years! Can't remember the score, though.

Ali Arikan said...

I see The Swarm, and I see The Bees, and I raise you EMPIRE OF THE ANTS! Giant ants and Joan Collins. Throw in a couple of glasses of Mojitos, and you have my Saturday night.

I loved Jon Stewart's line “Someone just took the lead in their Oscar pool based on a guess” after the Bourne sweep.

Anonymous said...

I'll see your EMPIRE OF THE ANTS and Raise you PARASITE in 3D.

Greg said...

I have nothing to raise so I'll just call.

Sorry about the crowd reaction to NCFOM. I'm lucky enough to have the AFI here so I see all my good movies there with a crowd full of movie snobs who, even if they don't like the movie, will pretend they did to save face. Kind of like the guy waiting in line behind Woody in Annie Hall.

bill said...

I've had some bad movie-going experiences, but I've never encountered the kind of audiences I read about on-line; the kind who, when the film is over, storm out of the theater bellowing "That's the worst piece of crap I've ever seen!! We could have gone to see 'Balls of Fury' again instead! Come on, Mildred, we're getting our money back!!"

Never happens to me. Where are all of you going to see your movies, for God's sake?

PS - Word is, it was Colin Farrell who got Marketa Irglova back onstage, not John Stewart.

Greg said...

Where did Colin Farrell get the clout to override the Producers of the Oscar broadcast? Seems like Jon Stewart would have more pull in that area. Wait a minute, you didn't hear this from Mildred's husband did you? Cause that guy's always making up shit.

bill said...

Several sources on-line have said it was Farrell's move. They don't say how they know this, so it could be bogus, but that's what I'm hearing.

And I initially assumed it was Stewart's decision, but even though he's the host I don't know why he would have any more pull when it comes to a decision like that than anyone else. Generally speaking, I don't think the producers give a rat's ass what the host thinks about how the show should be run. At least Farrell is more likely to threaten someone with bodily harm.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Let me just say that what Blaaagh said is true-- it's hardly that a riot was about to break out after the showing of No Country for Old Men in Eugene-- people had been vocal in the ways that the movie was affecting them throughout, and several people around us reacted vocally about the ending. But for the most part, I got the feeling that people liked the movie. And Blaaagh's polling of students and others who reacted positively to the movie certainly reflects the kind of open-minded atmosphere that I'm familiar with from living and going to school in Eugene for four years. I think it's probably more that I'm used to seeing movies, as is Jonathan, apparently, with audiences who pretend to like something if it has a cachet of cool, even if they have honest reservations, rather than go against the tide and risk coming off like a rube.

As far as the influence of the host goes, I can certainly see Stewart raising the question as to whether Irglova might be allowed her time on stage, but I can much more easily see Farrell storming backstage, pissed off and twirling like an Irish-Tasmanian devil and making his demands.

Greg said...

Not to go too far with the Oscar thing but whether it was Stewart or Farrell the real hero of the moment would be the On-Sight producer/coordinator of the broadcast, whoever the hell that is for agreeing to it, because frankly no matter how big a star or how angry you are there's no threat you can make against the Academy. I mean really, what the hell is Farrell going to say? "I'll never present an award again." "I'll shut you down." Come on, let's get real, the Academy is its own Banana Republic with strict state control. No matter what happened backstage the actual producer of the show made the decision to let it happen and it was a sound decision indeed.

Anonymous said...

This subject totally caught me off guard, but ironically I spoke with a friend of mine who worked as a PA on the show and he said that it wasn't either of those guys. Would you believe it was Tom Hanks who went up to one of the stage managers and "politely" asked to speak to the director via the guys headset. This whole thing unfolded ina matter of minutes with Tom and John Steward sending about 3 PA's to find Marketa Irglova and get her back in the wing so she could get her time to speak.

Can't corroborate any of this but that's what I was told.

I'm not sure where in the show Tom was slated for his time on stage, but my friend tells me you can actually see Tom leave his seat to head backstage immediately after Marketa Irglova left the stage.

Anybody have a copy of the show to review?

bill said...

"Would you believe it was Tom Hanks who went up to one of the stage managers and 'politely' asked to speak to the director via the guys headset."

As a matter of fact, I would. But never forget, people, that if Farrell was involved, he would have been throwing around a lot of words like "fookin" and "Jaysis". These are powerful words.

Greg said...

In my perfect world it would have been a liquored up and pissed off Brian Dennehy waving around a half-empty bottle of Dewers yelling, "Get that damn piano girl back out there NOW!"

Anonymous said...

Jonathan - Once again you managed to make me almost spit coffee all over my computer screen with:

In my perfect world it would have been a liquored up and pissed off Brian Dennehy waving around a half-empty bottle of Dewers yelling, "Get that damn piano girl back out there NOW!

Ha, ha! A backstage cut to that imaginary scene would have made the show a hell of a lot more entertaining!

Dennis - A couple of random thoughts:

You obviously enjoyed the show more then I did, but it was interesting to read your overview of the event. I almost turned it off during the second Enchanted number. I guess Amy Adams thinks she's the new Julie Andrews? Someone needs to explain to all the new starlets and stars that they need to find their own identity and quick.

I have to disagree with you about the best dressed boys. I thought Daniel Day-Lewis looked rather awful. Maybe the current look is for a role he's currently filming, but he needs to wash his hair and get a new tailor! I did like his earrings though. On the other hand, for my money Helen Mirren was the best looking lady at the event.

Greg said...

Kimberly - One of these days I'll pony up for a sneeze guard for your computer screen should I cause any actual damage.

That reminds me: I've got to work Dennehy onto one of my banners. Ever since 10 he's been a favorite.

Anonymous said...


I too have wet myself!!!

Greg said...

And a little retro-Oscar griping: Belly of an Architect should have garnered him a nomination.

Okay, I'll shut up now.

Anonymous said...

To quote a certain critic who's been argued about ad nauseam lately: "[Brian Dennehy] is the kind of actor John Wayne would have been if he'd been an actor."

But someone please tell me, what exactly did Gary Busey do?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

dm494: During the E! Channel's red carpet pre-game show, Ryan Seacrest was in the midst of a typically scorching interview, this time with Laura Linney and Jennifer Garner, when suddenly Busey appears from the right of the frame and begins trying to engage Seacrest in some sort of conversation. Just as it looks like he's going to leave them alone, he comes back in, approaches Garner and hugs her, leaving her visibly flustered and annoyed. Seacrest desperately glances around looking for help, which does not come, and the two women eventually take off. You can see the whole thing here. Hey, at least Busey refrained from massaging Garner's breasts! (Though it appears Seacrest was peripherally involved in this incident too!)

Anonymous said...

dm494: I didn't witness the Gary Busey moment, but my wife did, and I found this record of it on YouTube:


Anonymous said...

Ulp--Dennis scooped me!