Oscars 2011 Post-Mortem

For at least the past decade, the Oscars have been the same every year: a boring ceremony lacking in spectacle or pageantry that drags too long and ultimately disappoints. The excitement generated by the Oscars is never actually justified by the show that we end up with. It’s been the same for the longest time, and I can’t remember when it was last great. My most vivid Oscars memory is Billy Crystal’s intro to the movies of 1998, and my most violent Oscars protest was seeing Brokeback Mountain for a second time instead of watching the ceremony as a way of boycotting Crash (what an outrage).

 

But no, the Oscars are not a good show any more. We’re going to keep on doing it ad infinitum, and we’re going to find excuses for the severe lack of entertainment occurring. By the time we got to the In Memoriam phase of the evening, a lot of people on Twitter were saying that it should have contained “90% of the show” or at least James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Now, this isn’t fair. Franco and Hathaway did the best they could with what they were given, but the ceremony is so bloated that regardless of their performances people will just blame them for every shortcoming.

Observe Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin last year: a lot of people hated them, even though they were kinda funny. The identity of the host is mostly irrelevant, although some, like Jon Stewart, are undeniably worse than others. They simply don’t matter.

The hosts show up at the start of the show and introduce the evening, and then they occasionally come out just to remind you that they’re the hosts. Because they’re the sole focal point of the show (and this year they couldn’t even stick to their weird conceit of “let’s celebrate Gone With The Wind and stuff” beyond a few seconds), people focus on them. We blame Franco and Hathaway for the lack of momentum, for the rigidity of the system.

If we’re Ricky Gervais we somehow make it all about ourselves, writing a bizarre script suggesting that all of the jokes would be made at our own expense rather than talking about movies – a fine way of doing oneself absolutely no favours beyond the salvageable damage of the Golden Globes. One would think Gervais would be smart enough not to personally attack Franco and Hathaway, but … he’s not.

 

So let’s ignore the show. The show was boring, beyond a few key speeches. Let’s look at results!

 

Let’s just say it felt like a weird night. I didn’t make a lot of concrete predictions, but the only real upset was the romping home of The King’s Speech. Because The King’s Speech is both a late-2010 upstart and a British production, it’s been getting a lot of flack from people who think that it should have been roundly ignored. The Social Network had, of course, been the big favourite. That someone would dare make a film about the dreaded monarchy of the UK set in a time when the symbolism and power of the throne meant considerably more than it does today was an affront to steadfast and true American patriots and small r republicans the world over. The Nazi smear, popularised a couple of years back to throw the scent off Kate Winslet, proved ineffective.

While you should prepare yourself to weather a huge storm of backlash the likes of which have not been seen since Slumdog Millionaire, keep in mind The King’s Speech is actually a well crafted boutique or cottage film. I don’t mind it winning Best Picture, because this was a strong selection of ten and the movie was very good indeed. Firth definitely deserved his Best Actor nod, although it could just have easily found its way into Bridges’ hands. Many have railed against its direction, but I think that everything was perfectly measured. It’s not that strange a selection, but I would have expected Best Director to go to someone more flashy, like Aronofsky or, more likely, Fincher.

 

What went wrong with Fincher? I should make it clear that now The Social Network did not end up the winner I feel kind of sad for it. It had all of its hopes riding on it and it’s sad to see it punctured. It’s amazing what a difference 24 hours can make, but I’d like to see it again. Now that it doesn’t have the official overall backing of the Academy maybe I can appreciate it for what I always knew it to be: a well made movie about awful people that I thought was okay if nothing special (I’m listening to the Academy Award winning score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross right now and frankly it’s not doing that much for me). Poor kid.

At least Aaron Sorkin won his award, even if his source material for adaptation was surely very loose indeed.

 

The Fighter’s contingent was the obvious pairing of the rather boring Christian Bale and the ultra-mother Melissa Leo. Bale failed to surprise and the truest victory would have belonged to John Hawkes. Leo redeemed her dull if entertaining victory with the best speech of the night, because it’s always fun when someone forgets that American ears are too delicate to process profanity without opening a portal of sin and immorality in the mind. Leo’s speech almost justified a victory that should have gone to any one of the five in the field – although it would have been really nice to see Jacki Weaver take that stage. All of the clips that they showed for the other actresses were standard issue, but Weaver’s excerpt from Animal Kingdom was electric.

 

The Blackest Swan of them all was of course Natalie Portman, the most foregone conclusion of the entire event. I think that we won’t see a lot of performances like this one in attempts at Oscar bait simply because of the physical and emotional demands entailed. It would have been nice to see Nicole receive recognition for Rabbit Hole, but all of these actresses save Bening deserved the award, so I have no regrets.

 

The last film deserving of mention is, of course, Inception. It took away some technical awards and I guess you can’t say fairer than that. It was a movie of fine tuning and physical crafting.

 

The Oscars as a ceremony left me feeling empty, a sensation that I experience every year but conveniently allow myself to forget so that the magic of Oscar can live in my heart. The results, however, are not terrible. I can get behind these statues … and far away from school children singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

 

Oscars 2011: Woody’s Roundup

The Oscars! The one night of the year when everything is grand. This year they have corrected the error of having to scrounge to find ten Best Picture nominees to present a pretty good spread. I’m hoping for some upsets, because if everything plays out the way it has been going, I will be sorely disappointed. Let’s go into the hopefuls in the categories that I care and know about!

Mistborn: The Final Empire

 

When it comes to fantasy, “accessibility” is a watchword. So often, good ideas are buried so far beneath dry prose and leaden world building that they are scarcely given a chance to surface.

It’s not so much a problem of an impatient reader as it is the impenetrable density that some authors thrive on.

 

Brandon Sanderson does not believe in making the reader wrestle with his prose until the story gets interesting or until the bitter, bitter end; instead, he presents something readily palatable and understandable. I will admit that my knowledge of the fantasy canon remains minuscule, but I would suggest that Mistborn: The Final Empire, the first in a trilogy, is a good book for beginners and veterans alike.

Maybe the Moon

Maybe The Moon is Armistead Maupin’s biggest deviation from type in his career. The first non-Tales book he wrote, it’s a paean to a departed friend and gives Maupin a chance to reveal a different voice. This voice can be charming, but it eventually gives way to a second hand anger that belongs to an entirely different book. It’s hard for me to know what to make of it, even a week later.

 

Cadence Roth, at 30 years old, stands 31 inches tall and the best years of her acting career are already behind her. Maybe The Moon is presented in the form of a diary documenting her attempts to revitalise her career, find love and reconnect with old friends.

I Am Number Four (novel)

Young adults! Why do we write fiction for and about them? All they care about is pretty girls and punching bullies! Or pretty boys and standing up to bullies, possibly through punches, as the case may be.

The point stands: your average teenage boy or girl is easily the worst candidate for saviour of the universe, yet we place the burden on them all the time. When someone who isn’t a slave to their hormones could more easily save the day, children burdened with “destiny” have to take on the elements and win.

So too is the case with I Am Number Four, a cynical exercise in teen pandering and film tie-ins: the worst possible person is charged with the most important task. We identify with him because we too go to school and have overwrought feelings for girls! Dive in!

I Shall Wear Midnight

I’ve finally done it. I’ve run out of unread Discworld books. No more Discworlds until the next one. This used to be the case with me all the time from 1998 to 2006, but the flavour of “no more Discworld for now” is different in 2011.

I Shall Wear Midnight is not the final Discworld book, and nor should it be read as such. It is possibly not even the final Tiffany Aching book, but it certainly brings this part of her story to a close.

A lot of people don’t like Pratchett’s “Discworld books for Younger Readers”, because they don’t consider themselves “younger readers”. As it is a long established fact that the only people who read Discworld books are eleven year olds named Kevin (“I am an eleven year old named Kevin and so is my wife”), these people need to stop cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

Mary Ann in Autumn

Michael Tolliver lives! … Again!
A three year gap is significantly less than eighteen years. On top of that, this is the first Tales of the City book that I have read contemporaneously. Do you have any idea how strange it is to shift from Maupin speaking to people who predate me to him speaking directly to me, the world in which I’m living? It’s a stretch.

I think that Tales of the City books work best as capsules of their time, which of course means, except for Sure of You, they improve with age. That Maupin now speaks of Twitter and Facebook with varying degrees of understanding feels strange to me. Did readers thirty years ago think that D’orothea and DeDe’s involvement with Jonestown was simply bizarre (well, it was by default, but … more bizarre?)?
All this is not to say that Mary Ann in Autumn is a bad book or disappointing. For me, at least, it is essential for its service in returning Mary Ann to her figuratively ancestral home. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I tell you how badly betrayed I felt by her in Sure of You. Mary Ann is not absolved of her sins, but it seems she may well be redeemed.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

It’s hard to tell what Amy Chua was thinking when she wrote Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Is she seeking approval for her parenting methods, which she unwittingly but directly claims has successfully raised approximately 1.3 billion of her fellow “countrymen”? The fact that Chua was born in America and that her parents explicitly and repeatedly condemn multiple aspects of her parenting style as too harsh and unthinking kind of undermines this theory.
Chua tries to help us out from the start with her intro (also featured on the cover!):

This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones.

But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.

What does this mean, precisely? It means that you have to read about 90% of terrible decisions and harping before Lulu, Chua’s younger daughter, snaps and tells Chua that she’s doing everything wrong, and that her overbearing nature has meant that she has taken the fun out of everything that was once loved. Chua responds to this by giving Lulu a small degree of choice, which she herself manipulates from the shadows. It takes her more than sixteen years of parenting to accept even the smallest change, and even then the thought of Lulu doing her own thing without parental intervention “pains [her] every day”.

Kill the Dead

What if they threw a zombie outbreak and nobody cared? Sure, there are people dying in the streets, but they’re just humans. They don’t even know how to do magic? Who gives a damn about them?

That seems to be the concept of Kill the Dead, a book almost wholly lacking in the human element. Every character is above the mass slaughter of the citizens of their surrounds, because they’ve got bigger problems elsewhere: Heaven and Hell are far more important than the concerns of 4 million people in danger of being eaten.

Unseen Academicals

When you read a Discworld book, you read it on two levels: its worth in the overall Discworld canon and its worth as a single cohesive novel. When I started my undertaking of rereading the entire Discworld set a few years ago (I got caught up on The Last Hero for a while despite the fact that it is literally a less than two hour read), the only Discworld novel I hadn’t read was Wintersmith. Since then, Unseen Academicals and I Shall Wear Midnight have joined that shameful list. When I read Wintersmith, I felt great shame. That I had yet to read Unseen Academicals until today is not so much a cause for shame as one for sadness.