I saw more movies-in-theatres this year than I have in ages, but still managed to miss a number of important nominees in various categories – which of course, doesn’t stop me from having opinions about the Oscars in general, and this year’s telecast in particular. So here are some observations…
- 90 minutes of pre-Oscar drivel is too much even for me, though I thought Robin Roberts comported herself with characteristic dignity and grace (not that those are necessarily the qualities you want in a pre-Oscar interviewer). Lara Spencer, on the other hand, seems like an imbecile.
- Yet, it was Roberts at the helm for the most awful moment of the evening, though it probably wasn’t her fault. Roberts asked the widow of Chris Kyle (on whose life American Sniper was based) how he would have felt about this evening. “He would have been blown away,” she replied. Really. (As Anna Russell would say, “I’m not making this up, you know.”)
- The opening number – an Into the Woods / general Sondheim riff – was pretty good, especially Jack Black doing a send-up of the Witches’ Rap. It seemed a promising start. (The promise was broken almost immediately after. It was downhill from there.)
- Adam Levine – why?
- I was happy with both supporting actor Oscars – J. K. Simmons for Whiplash, and Patricia Arquette for Boyhood. First of all, I’m always glad for those rare occasions when veteran middle-aged actors who have many fine performances behind them finally get some recognition. That’s certainly the case for Simmons, who’s been great on stage (Guys and Dolls) and television (especially Oz, but Law and Order, too). I guess Arquette, too, now falls into the middle-aged category, and certainly, she was marvelous in Boyhood. Both of them gave heartfelt, touching speeches.
- Embarrassment surrounding the lack of nominations for Selma seems to have motived Oscar producers to make a special effort to recruit many African-American actors as presenters, etc. A good idea in theory, but often it backfired. Poor Octavia Spencer was assigned some silly shtick where she was supposedly guarding a briefcase, a repeated, demeaning gag – essentially, she was cast as a security guard or a maid – that, had this been 1940, might have been assigned to Hattie McDaniel. And why should the Oscars throw a coveted spot to Terrence Howard, whose domestic violence charges (yes, plural, with several of them undisputed) are well known. (Adding further to the cringe-factor, as a presenter, Howard was a weepy, incoherent mess.)
- The fake baby in American Sniper may be plastic, but it is nonetheless more lifelike, and with a more realistic skin tone, than Nicole Kidman.
- Lady Gaga’s 11 o’clock number (in this case, literally at 11 o’clock) was both welcome and surreal. It was a nice opportunity to hear that she has a broad range of vocal styles, as well as a significant instrument. But I couldn’t quite figure out what she was doing – was it camp? Genuine appreciation for Sound of Music, with all its kitsch? A little of both? Also, I wish that a music director or vocal coach had worked with her to get more sense of line. I have no doubt that LG could do this superbly, but as it was, she often seemed at sea rhythmically, and frequently broke up words to sneak in an extra breath.
- Julie Andrews fakes sincerity better than anybody else in the business.
- Eddie Redmayne was a surprise to me as as Best Actor – I assumed it would be Michael Keaton, which (though I’m a major non-fan of Birdman – see below), I would have respected. On the other hand, much as I like Keaton, I don’t think what he does in Birdman is anything special, and the sense that he’s this great actor coming out of a slump has been overplayed (since 2012, he has eight credits in IMDB). I didn’t see The Theory of Everything, but Redmayne is certainly a terrific actor – when I saw him at the Almeida in Albee’s The Goat, he was a revelation, and almost (almost) made me think that tawdry play had merit.
- I’ve opined before about Julianne Moore’s over-reliance on tears (see here), but she’s a very fine actress, who certainly deserves an Oscar – whether for Still Alice or not, I can’t say, since I haven’t seen it.
- It’s a travesty that Boyhood – a profound, genuinely great, and truly unique film – lost out to the jittery, hipster mess of Birdman, a movie ostensibly about theatre but with even less authenticity than you would find on the silliest episode of Smash. If you care to read more of my thoughts on Birdman, you’ll find them here.)
- I’m sure this will be my most unpopular opinion, but – Neil Patrick Harris is a dinner-theatre caliber talent, promoted far beyond his gifts. Once famous as Doogie Howser – the boy with an adult brain – Harris now has the opposite problem: he dispenses a smirking, self-satisfied boyishness that’s unbecoming for a man over 40.
So… what did you think of the Oscars?