Coming on the heels of the great writer's strike in Hollywood, the 2007 Academy Awards ceremony began amidst wonder about what it would be like, after the Golden Globes, I think, was presented as a bare bones ceremony to which few people showed up. I didn't pay much attention to the writer's strike, partly because I'm living in the middle of China at the moment and partly because I just don't see what the big screaming deal is. Maybe it's because I work for a living so it's hard for me to understand the unjust plight of people who get paid 100 times what I make to sit at home and write jokes. Anyway, John Stewart, again the Oscars' host, introduces the show by exclaiming, "You're here! I can't believe you're here!" He then, of course, goes on to ridicule the whole fiasco, clearly touching some nerves but hopefully lightening the tone a little as well.
As usual, Stewart has some great jokes ("What a shame, Titler had some great ideas! He just couldn't get past the name .and the mustache "), and some that just clearly make the audience uncomfortable. But again, luckily we have the writers back so we can watch some of our most talented actors come on stage and tell jokes with all the animation and energy of a hockey puck. That's one of the biggest mysteries of the Oscars. Every year, we see the most talented people in the business come on stage and give astonishingly wooden deliveries of their highly rehearsed jokes and speeches. Maybe this is what happens when they don't have a good director helping them?
George Clooney, surprisingly, seemed to get just a little stuck once or twice during his speech introducing the outstanding 80 years of Oscar sequence. Maybe because of the deadpan response to his cheerful "Hi guys!" greeting to the audience. Maybe they were tired. I thought it was funny. The show could always use a little informality to lighten the tension. John Stewart doesn't exactly have the most perfect track record of delivering classic jokes on stage. He's a funny guy, but nearly half of his jokes must make at least half the audience squirm in their seats ("I believe Javier Bardem told his mother where the bathroom is "). I'm sure that high school kids failing their Spanish classes are still rolling over that one. The rest of us, not so much.
As always the awards are criticized for that ridiculous time limit imposed on the winners. It is certainly true that this show, and any awards show, is ABOUT the winners, and the majority of it should be given to them to give thanks to what is often one of the greatest honors of their lives. John Stewart has plenty of time to make bad jokes and often poke ridiculous fun at some of our most talented actors, yet those actors themselves are so often rushed off the stage by that incessant orchestra music, which is really no different from someone extending a hook onto the stage and yanking the speaker off by their neck.
Obviously, it's clear why this happens. The Oscars, unfortunately, are about honoring the greatest achievement in film-making, but more than that, they are a media frenzy. The show is designed to get ratings much more than to honor performances or achievements. This is why the greatest actors and animators and directors and costume designers and writers are shooed offstage so that Stewart can introduce another pointless montage that does nothing but eat up time. In this ceremony, he even mentions that, had the writer's strike continued, they would have had to "pad the show with even more montages" (Oscar Salute to Binoculars and Periscopes?? Bad Dreams, An Oscar Salute!??).
Pad the show!! What, was there a shortage of material?
After showing these film clips, which Stewart introduces as pointless, he quips about how great it is that they don't have to waste our time by showing them. What the hell is going on here? Is this what the winners are rushed off the stage for?
And by the way, best category announcement of the evening has to go to Forrest Whitaker, and best acceptance speeches? Tilda Swinton and Marketa Irglova. Definitely.
Note: John Stewart mentions the IMDb as he is introducing Nicole Kidman onto the stage. I think that's the first time I've ever heard anyone mention the IMDb at the Oscars. It's just too bad that he has become so famous as a political satirist, because political satire only has the tiniest place at an event like the Oscars. More importantly, it has made it nearly impossible for Stewart to offer genuine congratulations without sounding like he's going to crack some stupid joke afterwards (which half the time he does).
All in all, even though the Oscars seem to get more commercialized every year, they are still all about the love of movies, and this year is no different. It's an inspiring show no matter how many little bothersome things we have to deal with, and it's hard not to enjoy a lot of people experiencing their dreams literally coming true before our eyes. I particularly loved the occasional history of the Oscars montages that they would show in between awards. THAT is the stuff the show should be padded with. After all, remembering great moments in film is what it's all about.
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