Sunlight Shining Through Cloud

The Academy Awards: the show

Posted on: February 28, 2011

You will doubtless read and hear reviews of Oscar winners and losers in the coming hours.  I, too, have a few thoughts about this year’s statuette holders.  But first, allow me to share some observations about the show itself.

Let’s put aside the old snark that the show was too long.  It was scheduled to run for three hours, and it ran for three hours and about ten minutes.  End of snark.  Of greater import was that a minimum number of set pieces were used in this year’s show; a fact so remarkable that Lisa noticed it…not bad for a pedestrian.

But she went even further to observe that the set changes were done almost entirely with lighting.  She was absolutely right!  Massive arches hung like the colors of a rainbow from one side of the Kodak Theater’s stage to the other.  Upon these arches were projected lights and images.  Each segment was unique; each “set” design enormously appealing.  And while I’m on the subject of production values, some of the award winners were shot in dramatic lighting with a camera from stage left.  This close-up technique produced intimately satisfying results.

On the whole, I’d say it was a good show.  There were, however, some elements that should have been good, and weren’t.

Maybe with my deficient hearing, I should stay away from the subject of sound.  But the contrast between the audio clarity of the packages (taped pieces) and the muffled live stage mic’s was too great to miss or ignore.  On an occasion where technical excellence should be most on display, the live audio missed the mark, and people like me missed many heartfelt words.

I actually looked forward to this year’s Academy Awards show because it was to be hosted by two people for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration: James Franco and Anne Hathaway.  Anne sings and dances and remembers and delivers her lines and looks good while doing it.  James is not only a much-celebrated and prolific actor, he added to his schedule a crushing coarse-load as an English major at UCLA, got his Masters from Columbia University and his PhD from Yale.  He did all of this in the past five years ! How can we not hold him in the highest regard.

So my expectations were high for this year’s hosts.  Anne was pitch perfect in every way.  James seemed to sleep his way through the show.  Very disappointing.  The show’s opening had our intrepid hosts inserted into the scenes of top movies, interacting with top stars in ways that were never intended by the movie’s creators.  It was a good piece, but didn’t Billy Crystal make these show-openers famous for the eight years he hosted?  Couldn’t something fresh have been developed for this show?  And the writing; ugh.  The same tired, cliché-ridden schlock.

Now, the envelope please.

It’s a rare year that I can claim to have seen a fair number of the top movies.  Such was 2010.  Credit where it is due: Lisa and I discovered a low-price/first-run theater about ten miles away.  This made it possible for us to justify the cost versus what we perceive to be usually low value.

Before I get to the juicy categories, some technical notes: the only qualities of Inception that appealed to me were its visual effects and cinematography.  I was pleased that the movie captured Oscars in both categories.

Clearly, Natalie Portman earned her Oscar for Best Actress in Black Swan. She not only had to transform herself into someone she is not, but had to learn a skill she did not have: ballet.  For me, that’s acting.

The same can be said in reverse for Best Actor winner Colin Firth in The King’s Speech.  In this case, the actor had to un-learn decades of masterful elocution to become a stutterer.  Try it sometime: if you are, say, a great singer, try to sing badly.  It’s really hard to do.

As much as I liked The King’s Speech, I leaned toward The Social Network for Best Picture.  It’s story, pacing and current-day relevance captured me.  I especially enjoyed the device Aaron Sorkin (Oscar for Writing – Adapted Screenplay) wrote into the script where not one but two depositions were being taken against the lead character.  These legal proceedings served to bind together what might have been disparate pieces, and they offered opportunities to deliver some of the best lines of a movie filled with great lines.

That said, I was not at all unhappy to see the Directing and Best Picture Oscars go to The King’s Speech.  This was a movie made with a lot of love and not a lot of money – only fifteen million dollars.  It was never imagined to be a big, wide-release movie.  But it caught on, and word-of-mouth quickly propelled it to worldwide distribution and to huge, appreciative audiences.  Frankly, this story – about a man’s disability – was often difficult to watch; no great personal victory was achieved, and nobody lived happily ever after.  But it was quite obviously a story truthfully told, and one that correctly estimated the intelligence of the viewer.  And that, dear friends, will always win the prize from me.

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