Monday, February 28, 2011

83rd Academy Awards: High Tech Traditionalism

The 83rd Academy Awards is in the books, an impressively long broadcast which tried hard to skew young and relevant-- only to end up as traditional as any Oscar ceremony I've seen in a long time.

Some random viewing notes:

• When the nominations were announced a few weeks ago, I called almost all of them. the only acting award I missed was Melissa Leo rather than Amy Adams for Supporting Actress, but I still get half-credit because both were for The Fighter. This isn't clairvoyance, it's just the application of brute sociology. For instance, the Best Picture win was easy to predict: The popularity and the award push for The Social Network peaked in fall, while The King's Speech was gaining momentum in January. It's a sad conceit, but it's been long observed that Academy voters have the memories of goldfish, and here's the proof.

The nature of the stories told in the above two films may have been a factor as well: A story of friendship bridging a social chasm versus a story about a bunch of privileged Ivy League types suing each other. This was excellently observed in a column I read in the San Jose Mercury about The Social Network, a sort of tech geek take on things. The takeaway quote: "The Social Network is a film about social networking made by people who hate social networking."

• Melissa Leo's rambling, sort of skeevy acceptance speech is what would happen if your favorite neighborhood bartender was awarded an Oscar. From this perspective, her F-bomb was actually obligatory. Are we sure she wasn't one of the Lowell, Mass. folks hired as local color for The Fighter?

• The co-hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway were a pair of pretty clouds that drifted further and further apart as the evening progressed.  It became apparent that Franco had mentally checked out of anything but the most mechanical aspects of hosting by mid-point (web speculation was that he was rockin' the ganga a little), which left poor Anne having to shuffle and dance and try to pick up the slack.

• I actually got a big kick out of the ending: the stage of the Kodak was stormed by the PS 22 chorus (from Staten Island) who sang "Over the Rainbow." They were joined at the very end by the Oscar winners, waving their gold statuettes. A nice little note to end on.

As fun as this was, it made me finally notice an ongoing problem with the way the Oscars are structured: Winners are shooed backstage, never to return to their seats (this year, they were kept backstage to provide additional web-only content, apparently). This means that as the telecast progresses, the orchestra seats are eventually filled with-- and there's no better way to put this-- losers (and seat fillers). This is probably the reason why the energy level peaks so early. Why not let the winners sit back down with their peers? They could pass their Oscars around, shout encouragement and imprecations from the audience, and generally keep things lively. I'm sure Melissa Leo would have livened things up.

• Ricky Gervais was nowhere to be found.

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