Monday, March 3, 2014

Reactions to the 2014 Oscars

So there you have it, last night's Oscar telecast is now in the books.  So what were my personal thoughts on the night?  It was an enjoyable show that was classy, but is fairly unmemorable in the bigger picture of Oscar telecast history.

Ellen Degeneres was a fine host, who was funny and unconfrontational in her humor.  While some Oscar pundits felt that Degeneres was a safe host, in all honesty, the gig of hosting the Oscars is one of the most thankless jobs in entertainment.  If you're nice, like Degeneres, then you're too safe, if you're too mean, then they don't like you either.  There is no way to satisfy every critic out there who holds the classic hosts like Bob Hope up on a pedestal, but I can't help but think that if Bob Hope hosted a modern Oscar ceremony, he'd get hammered by the cynical media the same as any other modern Oscar host.

While Ellen seemed a little nervous during her monologue at the start of the show, she really came alive when she started going out and interacting with the audience.  The whole pizza and Twitter crashing madness were hilarious.  While some pundits felt that was all boring and drew attention away from the show, the bottom line is that it was funny, entertaining, and took the nerves out of the room, which is what a good host is supposed to do.  She played the room very well and managed to get many of the bigger stars in the room to play along.  When you see the usually taciturn Harrison Ford grabbing for pizza, or Brad Pitt handing out paper plates, you realize that Ellen did her job well.

As for the production of the show itself, it was the standard award formula with no real creativity to how it played out, but when it's an award show, you can't really fault them for doing that.  Hey, not everything can be like that fantastic 2009 ceremony hosted by Hugh Jackman, which was one of the best produced stage shows I'd ever seen on television.  The only two things that I really felt the Oscarcast producers let fall through the cracks were their supposed theme of movie heroes and their tribute to The Wizard of Oz.

Both of those things felt like an afterthought and felt sloppy in their execution, with nothing that really highlighted why they were important to this particular Oscar ceremony.  Had they tied each nominee into the theme of movie heroes, then perhaps it might have worked, but instead we just had video montages that were too heavy on modern movie heroes of the past five or so years and not enough of the classics (no Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Smith).  Plus, they left out Christopher Reeve as Superman in their montage featuring superheroes.  That's like a cardinal sin right there.

Then, The Wizard of Oz tribute was, once again, an uncreative tribute that really begged the question as to why it was important to this year of movies.  The Wizard of Oz is one of the most classic films of all-time, and it does deserved to be remembered, but if you're going to single out one movie's anniversary, then you need to pay tribute to all the other 75 year anniversaries (Gone With the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, just to name a few).

Personally, rather than celebrating a classic film's anniversary, I would have much rather the producers done what was done a few years ago where they simply honored every movie released over the past year via montages broken down by genre.  While that's still not the most creative idea, it at least keeps the focus of the show on the point of it, to honor the past year in film, and what better way to honor it than to give time to every movie that got a nomination, and to everyone that didn't as well.

On the award front, everything went exactly as planned with no surprises whatsoever.  I went 22 for 24 in my predictions, missing only Best Film Editing and Best Short Film (Animated).  While I still wish Gravity had won Best Picture, it did win 7 out of 10 Oscars, including director Alfonso Cuaron finally nabbing the Best Director Oscar, which I was over the moon about.  While I love having my best prediction total I've ever had, I do wish the Academy had thrown in a few surprises and upsets, alas, there was none of that.  I mean, would it have been too hard to ask for The Wind Rises to win Best Animated Feature instead of Frozen?  But that's just me.

So another Oscar season has come and gone, and with that is the promise of a whole new Oscar season.  Looking forward to next year, what I really want to see most of all is just more surprises.  Come on, Academy, be more creative in your voting.  While I would love to see a more creative stage show next year, if there are at least two or three major surprise winners, I think that would make the whole night sensational.

As for host, I'd personally let Ellen do anything she wanted, but I doubt she'd agree to back-to-back years, and I don't know if most Oscar pundits would like that either.  Personally, I've become such a big fan of Jimmy Fallon, first on Late Night and now on the Tonight Show, I'd ask him to host.  He'd be funny, classy, and would play the room well.  His fellow celebrities like him, he's nice and not mean, and he can also do a variety of skits, songs, and even a few dances.  He'd be perfect, but that's assuming he'd want to do it.  You really must have a thick skin if you're to host the Oscars, because no matter what you do, there are going to be people who hate it, but maybe Jimmy would be up to the challenge.  If not Fallon, perhaps Kimmel.  Jimmy Kimmel might grate a few people with his all is fair in love and comedy style of humor, but he'd be another good option.

Of course, I have talked long enough, and so I'll wrap up today by doing my first set of predictions for the 2015 Oscars!  I know, a year out from the show and I'm going to try and predict who will get nominated for Best Picture?  That's real dumb, but it's all in good fun.  A fair few of the movies I'll mention will wind up not being as good as they look on paper when finally released, and a few might not even get released this year, given the usual delays you sometimes run into while making a film, but perhaps at least one of these films I mention will be next year's big Oscar victor.

In my mind, the film to beat, from this far out, is Angelina Jolie's second directorial effort, Unbroken, detailing the inspiring true story of Olympic runner, Louis Zamperini, who was a POW detained by the Japanese in World War II.  The first trailer that premiered during the Sochi Olympics was stunning, featuring superb cinematography and some surprisingly intriguing shot choices by Jolie.  Could Jolie be the Best Director of next year, or could this just be another movie that looks great from far out and fails to deliver?  Both of those options are plausible, but as of right now, this is the movie to beat.

Following that, there's director Ridley Scott returning to the sword and sandals world with Exodus, starring Christian Bale as Moses in a more action-oriented take on the Ten Commandment story.  While I still think white people playing Egyptians is weird, the more Gladiator-like approach that Scott is taking with the material is something that's different than the usual bible movie.  Will it be too violent for most expecting another Cecil B. Demille styled biblical epic?  We'll see, but this December release is another to watch when it comes to Oscar.

Other big contenders from this far off are the Olympic wrestler murder tale, Foxcatcher, starring an almost unrecognizable Steve Carrell, as well as David Fincher's adaptation of the best selling novel, Gone Girl.  Plus, you'd have to be stupid and bet against director Christopher Nolan with his new big budget film, Interstellar, detailing a group of astronauts who travel into the far reaches of space via wormholes.  Could it be another 2001?  Knowing Nolan, it'll at least be an entertaining thrill ride and might get him his first ever Best Director nomination.

Rounding out the field are countless other candidates that all have potential Oscar aspirations.  Never discount Wes Anderson's Oscar chances after Moonrise Kingdom, so perhaps The Grand Budapest Hotel can ride the nearly year long journey to a nomination?  As well, there are two Broadway musicals being brought to the screen this upcoming year with Into the Woods and Jersey Boys.  Into the Woods is directed by the guy who did Chicago and stars Meryl Streep.  Whether it will be another Nine, time will tell.  As for Jersey Boys, it's a nice change of pace for director Clint Eastwood.  We'll see if this musical biography about the Four Seasons will bear any Oscar fruit for Eastwood.  Then there's the Nicole Kidman starrer, Grace of Monaco, where Kidman portrays Grace Kelly.  Will the Academy fall victim to the biopic yet again?  I don't think so, but it's definitely in play until said otherwise.

As for a few wildcard picks, keep an eye on Rosewater, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show's directorial debut, where he tells the story of a journalist detained in an Iranian prison and tortured for 100 days.  As well, there's The Judge, where Robert Downey, Jr., plays a lawyer who returns to his hometown to attend his mother's funeral to learn that his father, the town's judge, is suspected of murder.  Then there's Boyhood, the Indie favorite on the circuit, having already premiered at Sundance.  The story tells the tale of the same boy from the age of 5 all the way to 18.  Shot over the course of thirteen years, watching the cast literally grow up in front of the camera, this very well might be director Richard Linklater's best chance ever at an Oscar.  And for a final wildcard pick, keep your eyes on The Fault in Our Stars, the adaptation of the popular Young Adult novel by John Green.  The story of two teens with cancer who meet in a cancer support group is surprisingly funny and emotional, and is one that may very well play to both the young and old's heartstrings.

So that's that.  Here are my first predictions for 10 films that I think might be nominated for next year's Best Picture:

Gone Girl
Into the Woods
Jersey Boys
The Grand Budapest Hotel

I'll leave you all with the current Best Picture frontrunner's trailer, Unbroken.

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