Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Five Oscar Highlights

Okay, let me say from the outset that I thought Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony was a decidedly lackluster affair. Host Jon Stewart’s jokes were, for the most part, lame, and the evening’s slate of nominees failed to reflect some of the better films and acting achievements of the past year. Still, the Oscars are the Oscars. And so, as in past years, I had some friends over to watch the ceremony.

Before the broadcast started, we all completed an Oscars ballot – nominating who we hoped and/or thought would win in the various categories. We then settled in to enjoy the show.

Following is my own highly subjective, and in some ways, lighthearted, list of “five Oscar highlights”:

Highlight Number 5: Getting to see and hear Kristen Chenoweth, who performed the Oscar-nominated “original song,” “That’s How You Know,” from the film Enchanted.

The reason this was a highlight for me is that Chenoweth is set to play my favorite vocalist, the late, great Dusty Springfield, in a forthcoming biopic. Accordingly, I’ve long wanted to see her in performance and, more importantly, hear her sing. Physically, the blond and petite Chenoweth could certainly pass as Dusty, and she definitely has a good voice. Yet it’s a Broadway voice, whereas Dusty was perhaps the quintessential pop/soul voice of the latter half of the twentieth century. Accordingly, I’m hoping that the film’s producers opt to use the real Dusty’s voice for their biopic. Yet judging from previous movies about singers like Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash, using original recordings of great vocalists doesn’t seem to be the Hollywood way.

Highlight Number 4: The calling back of Markéta Irglová to make her speech.

Here’s how Entertainment Weekly writer Gary Susman explains this highlight, one that he considers the “classiest moment” of this year’s Oscars: “Usually, once conductor Bill Conti has the orchestra play you off the stage, your speech is through; there are no do-overs. But Markéta Irglová, who co-starred with Glen Hansard in Once and co-wrote and performed the winning song ‘Falling Slowly’ with him, did get a second chance, as Conti had played her off before she even got to open her mouth. After the commercial break, however, Jon Stewart brought her back out onstage and let her give a lovely speech, which she dedicated to ‘all other independent musicians and artists that spend most of their time struggling.’ The victory for her underdog film in this category, she said, served ‘to prove no matter how far out your dreams are, it's possible.’ ”

Highlight 3: Freeheld winning best “documentary short.

Freeheld, directed by Cynthia Wade and Vanessa Roth, follows the story of Lieutenant Laurel Hester, a lesbian New Jersey police detective, who while dying from cancer, battles the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders to leave her pension benefits to her life-partner, Stacie. It’s a fight she ultimately loses as homosexual couples in most places in the United States are yet to be afforded the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples.

I thought it was both ironic and somewhat amusing that the nominees and ultimate winner of the “Best Documentary Short” category were announced via satellite by several U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq. I mean, with its “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the U.S. military isn’t the most gay-friendly of establishments. And yet here it was announcing a decidedly pro-gay rights film as the winner! A further twist: as more than one of my guests observed, one of the young soldiers who was part of this particular segment definitely came across as a “friend of Dorothy”!

Highlight Number 2: Alex Gibney’s acceptance speech after his film, Taxi to the Dark Side, won “Best Documentary Feature.”

Director Alex Gibney’s film explores the story of an Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar, who was beaten to death by American soldiers while being held in extrajudicial detention at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. The film also examines the broader issue of U.S. policy as it pertains to torture and interrogation, and specifically the CIA’s use of torture and its research into sensory deprivation.

Following is Gibney’s powerful acceptance speech, which, without doubt, served as the most politically-charged moment of the evening:

Wow. Thank you very much, Academy. Here’s to all doc filmmakers. And, truth is, I think my dear wife Anne was kind of hoping I’d make a romantic comedy, but honestly, after Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition, that simply wasn’t possible. This is dedicated to two people who are no longer with us. Dilawar, the young Afghan taxi driver, and my father, a Navy interrogator who urged me to make this film because of his fury about what was being done to the rule of law. Let’s hope we can turn this country around, move away from the dark side and back to the light. Thank you very much.

And finally, Highlight Number One . . .

. . . the beautiful Javier Bardem!

Bardem won “Best Supporting Actor” for his role in the Cohen brothers’ film, No Country for Old Men, which, at the end of the evening, won the Oscar for “Best Picture.” I’ve yet to see this film, so really can’t comment on it. I can, however, say that Javier is one sexy man (and my friend Franco totally agrees!). Oh, and I thought that it was so cool that he brought his mother along to the Oscars!

Following is Bardem’s acceptance speech:

Wow. Alright, this is very amazing. It’s a great honor for me to have this. I want to . . . and I have to speak fast here, man. Thank you to the Coens for being crazy enough to think that I could do that and put one of the most horrible haircuts in history over my head. Thank you for really proving my work. I want to share this with the cast, with the great Tommy Lee Jones, with the great Josh Brolin, with the great Kelly MacDonald. And I want to dedicate this to my mother, and I have to say this in Spanish, and I’m sorry . . . Ama, estos para ti, estos para tus abuelos, para tus padres y la familia Matilde, esto es para los comicos de España, que han traido como tu la dignidad y el orgullo a nuestro officio. Esto is para España y esto es para todos nosotros. Thank you very much!

Here’s the English translation of that part of Bardem’s speech dedicated to his mother: “Mom, this is for you, this is for your grandparents, for your parents and the Matilde family, this is for the comedians of Spain, who have, like you, brought dignity and pride to our profession. This is for Spain, and this is for all of us.”

If, like me, you’re in the Twin Cities area, you might be interested to know that Landmark is currently screening all of the animated and live action short films nominated at this year’s Academy Awards.

Oh, and one last thing while I’m on the Oscars: Two people involved in the film industry who died during the past year and who were honored by the Academy during Sunday’s broadcast have been the focus of two previous Wild Reed posts. They are actors Deborah Kerr and Heath Ledger.

Recommended Off-site Links:
The 80th Annual Academy Awards: A Mostly Routine Affair - Hiram Lee, World Socialist Web Site, February 26, 2008.
An interview with Alex Gibney, director of Taxi to the Dark Side - Democracy Now, February 26, 2008.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Problem with Juno
Reflections on the Overlooked Children of Men
Pan’s Labyrinth: Critiquing the Cult of Unquestioning Obedience
Reflections on Babel and the “Borders Within”


crystal said...

Thanks for posting this - I missed the Oscars. I'm glad to see Taxi to the Dark Side. was recognized. I posted something about it a few days ago, though I haven't yet seen it.

Terry Nelson said...

I like your choices - but I disagree with your assesment of John Stewart - I thought Stewart was very good - I thought he was funny - a good host. I like the Oscars more toned down, which others may interpret as lackluster. In fact, I wish they would go back to the dinner club format.

Chenowith isn't just petite - I think she's a dwarf - sorry - "little person". Nothing wrong with that though.

I was extremely pleased with the major awards, Best actor/actress, and so on. I hope you noticed how right on I was with my pics. ;)

I wrote about Tilda Swinton, but took it down - I thought she was fantastic.

Okay - I'm done.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Terry,

Thanks for stopping by. And congratulations on the number of winners you accurately picked. If you were at my "Oscars party" on Sunday night, you may well have won the prize I'd arranged for the person who predicted the most winners.

I guess by "lackluster" I mean what Hiram Lee said about the program: "The broadcast was scripted and stage-managed to a point where any sense of spontaneity or liveliness was largely drained out of it." Then again, it's Hollywood, so what can one expect?

As for the dinner club format, that sounds very elegant and classy.



Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Crystal,

Good to hear from you.

Thanks for your comment and for sharing what you did about Taxi to the Dark Side on your blog. It was a very interesting and informative post, as is your entire blogsite!



Terry Nelson said...

Yes - that is true - the spontaneity is definitely absent.