Sunday, March 7, 2010

Oscars: Hooray for Conventional Wisdom

The fabulous 82nd annual Academy Awards handout is now in the history books. It was a triumph of Hollywood Conventional Wisdom, a perfect sort of ceremony that featured no real surprises. Okay, there were a few:

• Somebody made the strange decision this year was to start the Best Actor and Best Actress nominees with encomiums from peers and co-workers: we were treated to Tim Robbins talking about Morgan Freeman (funny), Colin Farrell toasting Jeremy Renner (embarrassing, but also funny), Stanley Tucci gassing on about Meryl Streep, etc. This process ate up over ten broadcast minutes, and it was deadly. Time stopped.

But there was a sound reason they decided to structure these categories that way: the undeniable force of Conventional Wisdom. Everyone in the Kodak Theater knew who the winners were. Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock were just plain due for Oscars, period. No Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls snubs tonight! So the surprise in the end was how well the ceremony was engineered to make two solid locks seem downright magnanimous.

It wasn't exactly a fix, but Conventional Wisdom was too strong this year (as were the "for your consideration" campaigns) to allow any other outcome. When the Best Actor segment was over, I turned around to the people watching the broadcast with me and asked: "Think fast: what film did Jeff Bridges just win for?" "Uhhhh... Country Heart?" Giving everyone a moment to be personally celebrated, to have a moment of unshared spotlight, probably seemed like the least the Academy could do. Gotta keep Oprah happy...

• Conventional Wisdom made it's shadowy presence known again a few moments later, for the Best Director award. Okay, can you tell me what presenter Barbra Stresand would have done if a white male had won that Oscar? Tarantino as Taylor Swift and Babs as Kanye West, that's what.

And they played Katherine Bigelow off to "I Am Woman." What the hell? Jon Stewart calls the Oscars "The Gay Super Bowl:" Maybe there was a need to bury the needle on the kitsch-o-meter at least once during what was otherwise a rather restrained evening. I mean, the dancers were wearing-- quelle horreur-- street clothes!

• Speaking of what the hell, during the "rollcall of the dead" or whatever they call it, the Academy acknowledged Michael Jackson-- but not Farah Fawcett, who passed away on the same day. She was in nine theatrical releases: He was in two, and he was dead for one of them.

• Since Barbra was appeased by the selection of a female director, The air was let out of the Best Picture category as quickly as possible. Tom Hanks practically trotted out to the podium, tore open the envelope, barked out the winner (The nominees were not listed!) and quickly moonwalked back to allow Bigelow to retake the stage. (I really liked seeing Hurt Locker stars Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty take the upper stage, howling, laughing and doing The Bump. Spontaneous and fun-- and, with all due respect, I doubt they'll ever be up there again.)

• A few surprises were to be had, my favorites being two blatant displays of bitchery. Roger Ross Williams, winner of Best Documentary Short Subject, came up on stage and started gushing in the emotionally overwhelmed way most lower-level Oscar winners gush. Then an apparition wearing a sparkly shower curtain-- Elinor Burkett, the category's other winner-- came in stage right, pushed him aside and said, "Ain't that just like a man?" She then started in with her grand, swinging-for-the-fences speech-- and the mike was abruptly cut off. 45 seconds, people! The long shot afterward showed the presenters trying to shoo her off the stage.

Sandy Powell won her third Oscar for Costume design. She slowly slinked to the stage, fairly broadcasting the fact she made her own gown. Her speech went something like this: "This my third Oscar, so it's not quite as surprising to get it. I would dedicate this to all the new talent and designers just getting into the business, but I'm keeping this."

• In some of the podium presentations, there was a strange, rather prominent noise going in the background, a roaring, clunky commotion. It was in the parts where the nominees were speaking into the podium mikes, which were pointed upwards and were likely catching machinery noise in the massive flyspace above the Kodak Theater stage. Or it was, for the first time ever heard by the public, the great gears of The Industry meshing. The great gears grind slowly, but they do grind everyone.

• My wife summed it up best: "Everyone got what they deserved: the nominees, the audience, everyone."

ADDENDA: Dana Stevens of Slate had an interesting interpretation of Sandy Powell's speech: she may have been signaling that the Academy can stop giving her awards, thank you. And from what I have read on the Washington Post, the Elinor Burkett stage shove was the end result of some amazing offstage action.


  1. I've been waiting years for Sandy Powell's statement. Good costuming augments story by providing clues to the character; except in historical drama where you have no idea WHAT the costumes mean. And that's exactly what always wins because people think if it contemporary it's not a costume, like the actors just showed up in that shirt.

    I know what you're thinking but hey, why NOT care?

  2. By the way, I'm still shivering at the thought of Tarantino as Taylor Swift. Damn you for that image. Damn you!

  3. No, you're absolutely right. Best Costume tends to go to historical dramas for the painfully obvious reason that the actors seem to be wearing costumes. As Powell specializes in British historical dramas, she may as well put up a sign: "If office is closed, please deposit Oscar in mail slot."

    As I read elsewhere, that was Sandy Powell's third statue-- and if she is going to show her gratitude that way, probably her last.

  4. I just realized - people think that best costume equals BEST TAILORING. "OMG, Pitt's sleve length was PERFECT in that movie!