The Oscars: A Wrap-up

(Above is the reaction no one had to the 85th Annual Academy Awards)

Well, as usual, I managed to correctly guess all of the major categories for this year’s Oscars. I mean, Christopher Waltz? Can you say obvious. Ang Lee? Geez, take a chance Academy! Tarantino? Borrrring.

None of this is true. Out of the 11 categories I predicted I was right for seven of them. I think that’s a C- in Canadian universities. My parents would not be proud.

Here’s the full list of winners.

Were the surprises good ones though? Well, not really. Argo was clearly going to win Best Picture and I was never happy with that idea. For three years running now merely competent films have been awarded the top prize (The King’s Speech and The Artist being the other two films I’m referring to).

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Argo as a well-made distraction (as I did Speech and Artist), but shouldn’t we ask for more out of the BEST MOVIE OF THE YEAR?

Even if you’re going to pick the Oscar bait movie, shouldn’t you pick the best one, which was Lincoln?

The first big surprise of the night was Christopher Waltz winning Best Supporting Actor for Django Unchained. Undeserved? No, I don’t think so. He was fabulous in the movie. But he won only three years ago for a similar role in Inglorious Basterds and it would have been nice to spread the love.

Still, it’s hard to hold a grudge against a man that charming.

Django Unchained took another surprise win for Quentin Tarantino’s screenplay. Again, not undeserved, but I believe Zero Dark Thirty should have been honoured here. It’s also a strange day when Quentin Tarantino winning an Oscar feels like a soft choice. Not sure how I feel about that. Turn, turn, turn and all that I suppose.

Ang Lee won his second ever Best Director Oscar for Life of Pi, and good on him. I was rooting for Spielberg, but thought each equally deserved the honour. Pi is an exquisitely beautiful and well directed film.

The award show itself is slightly controversial. And that’s sarcasm. My Twitter feed has been going ballistic since the ceremony started yesterday and hasn’t let up.

People are up in arms over Seth MacFarlane’s hosting, calling his schtick sexist, reductive and, worst of all to him I’m sure, lazy and humourless.

I don’t disagree with all that, but what did you expect? I actually liked the moment near the beginning when he made it look as though he was going to do a standard hosting gig, and then got all MacFarlane-ie all of a sudden with Shatner showing up. I stuck up for him then.

And then he did a song about boobs. Even that I didn’t think was terrible at the time, again given what the Academy was obviously going for.

I think it was the overall tone of the show and the fact that MacFarlane couldn’t do anything BUT schoolyard humour jokes that ruined his hosting. If all he had done was the boob song it would have been a one chuckle, ‘oh that Seth MacFarlane’ type moment, but he went on and on, what with the flu joke, and the Rhianna joke, and the Kardashian joke, and the Aniston stripper joke etc. etc.

By the end we had heard so many jokes about women needing to look good or existing as sexual objects for men (never mind jokes about Jews, Latinos, etc.) it just got…boring, never mind offensive. If he had put the slightest bit of wit or interesting context to any of these jokes they might have gained some traction and we might have been able to forgive him. But they were all crude, simple, lazy one-liners, intended only to get the “I can’t believe he said that!” reaction.

Some would argue the parasitic intolerance found in many of the Best Picture nominees had already set up a night celebrating “the other.” Arabs in Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, the use of the “n-word” in Django, the lack of African-American characters in Lincoln, the inherent white man’s guilt tone of Beasts of the Southern Wild, the depiction of mental illness in Silver Linings Playbook.

While I don’t agree with all of those points of view, I think they all have some arguments and I’m wondering if we need to look deeper, into ourselves and the industry, to see where the nastiness MacFarlane so exemplified has its roots.

I’m going to stick up for him and the organizers of the show in this one way: at least they tried. Billy Crystal was embarrassingly old fashioned and dull last year as the host and proved that things need to change. I’m the only person in the world it seems who at least thought Anne Hathaway and James Franco brought something fresh, even if it didn’t always work. I like these attempts at freshening up the awards.

They haven’t found the right formula yet, but at least they’re looking.

So what I’m saying is I liked MacFarlane better than 2012 Crystal, but not as much as Hathaway and Franco. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment to any of those people.

One thing I would like to say is that I had to take a break from Twitter during the middle of the broadcast (lost my internet access), and I was sort of glad. While I’m no innocent here, I’ve been becoming less and less enamored of Twitter. I still think it has many great uses, and I will continue to use it, but the black-and-white view of EVERYTHING it breeds does get to me.

Every award handed out last night was either the worst thing to ever happen to mankind or the most apt recognition of a movie in the history of film. Every joke MacFarlane made was either the lamest, stupidest thing ever uttered by a human or…actually no one disagreed with that.

The negativity is getting to me. I know nastiness breeds nastiness, and people had valid reasons to be upset with MacFarlane’s jokes, but we all, myself included, need to settle down sometimes and try to find something positive to focus on, or talk to one another like human beings. Because while reading all our Tweets it’s sometimes hard to see that we all love movies and love talking about movies.

And I assume we do. Maybe we should try to show it a little more. Call me a softy if you like.

So let’s all watch this, the most delightful Oscar-related clip from last night: Jennifer Lawrence meets Jack Nicholson.

Until next year…

Ted (2012), directed by Seth MacFarlane

Take This Waltz (2011), directed by Sarah Polley

I recognize that these are two pretty strange films to look at side by side. But I saw them both this weekend and I’m going to squeeze out some potentially thin thematic connections. Mainly though, I only had time to write one post. Anyway, don’t give me any grief about it.

I went into Ted with high hopes for an outrageous, stupid, foul-mouthed, immature blow out. With MacFarlane at the helm I figured it wouldn’t disappoint. I was wrong.

Here’s my main problem with Ted, and really, with a lot of MacFarlane products. While on one hand it tries to be subversive by making fun of everything and tearing popular culture a new one, it also revels in pop culture, which unfortunately in this means framing the crude, unusual humour in a plot that is so cliched, overwrought and overbearing (pun intended) that it ends up ruining the humour.

I mean, really MacFarlane? A story about an immature man having trouble growing up with a shrew of a girlfriend riding his back to be more of a responsible adult?

I don’t find the use of the word “fag” offensive in MacFarlane movies, because it’s used so ubiquitously that you know he’s doing it to get a rise out of you. For some reason I can appreciate that. It’s intentional and flies in the face of political correctness. It may be discomforting but it’s supposed to be. I like immature humour.

But to have all that in such a weak sauce plot really ruins the whole thing. Could MacFarlane really find nothing better for Mila Kunis to do than give Wahlberg a hard time and demand he stop being friends with his cool, talking Teddy Bear? Could we not find anything more interesting for this plot to revolve around than a guy struggling to stop just smoking weed everyday and become an “adult”?

It’s just such a tired premise. And MacFarlane does nothing new with it. Having that same old story only with a living Teddy Bear doesn’t offer any new perspective or comment or joke on the same old story. It’s just the same old story. With a Teddy Bear.

That said, I still somewhat liked it. The bear is hilarious, I love Wahlberg in comedies, all the Flash Gordon stuff is great. There are some genuinely funny moments and lines. It should have been a fantastic comedy.

But then there’s the rest, including the tacked on, ridiculous kidnap plot with Giovanni Ribisi. I don’t know, it just kind of ruined the whole thing for me.

And so that brings us to this movie’s opposite. The very serious, meticulously crafted, mature Take This Waltz.

Surprisingly it’s better than Ted. That is such a snob thing to say, but if you knew how much I wanted Ted to be better than Take This Waltz you might not see me as a snob. Unfortunately this review might solidify that view.

Take This Waltz is Canadian treasure (and serious CineFile crush) Sarah Polley’s second directorial effort, after the much applauded Away From Her. It stars Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen as a young married couple in tough times. In comes dark, handsome Luke Kirby as Daniel to get Williams all riled up. Things get complicated.

This is a very bittersweet movie. It’s bitter because it’s all about relationships failing and a young woman who just can’t seem to be happy. It’s sweet because you understand what she is feeling and you like the characters and how honest they are with each other. At the end of the day though it’s mainly frustrating.

It’s a beautifully filmed movie, and with a wonderfully careful, honest look at relationships that really touches a note. The performances are complex and rich. Williams is fabulous as a character that you may not like, but will probably understand and sympathize with.

I know I didn’t like her. She does nothing to help herself. She relies totally on the men in her life to make her happy. She barely works. She acts like a needy child, which as Rogen’s character shows, can be both endearing and also incredibly annoying and frustrating.  She means well but doesn’t seem to have the capacity to know how to function in life. I wondered at times if she wasn’t slightly disabled.

I think some will have trouble getting past that. But I don’t think the movie owed us a character we like wholeheartedly. I enjoyed aspects of her, but even with her frustrating personality traits I still felt sorry for her and took away a lot from her relationships with men and friends and life. There’s a needy, childish, unsatisfied little Michelle Williams in all of us I guess. And at the same time all the other characters are imperfect. And that makes them compelling and relatable.

I really liked this movie, all told. Polley is a wonderful director with a great eye for visuals and a deep understanding of characters and tone. It’s an immersive experience, watching it, and one that you feel the better for having gone through. Even if, at the same time, you kind of want to jump off a bridge.

That said, it was a little long and could have used a little more humour.

In a perfect world they would have combined Ted and Take This Waltz. That way it would have been an interesting movie with a compelling plot AND have a talking Teddy Bear.

I warned you there would be weak links in this review.

Both movies are in theatres now.