Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Oscars

As of earlier today, 3 million or so people were unable to watch the Academy Awards because of corporate greed. Disney/ABC wanted more money from Cablevision, and as a result, the cable company was no longer broadcasting ABC to about 3 million customers, which would have meant no Oscars tonight. Once upon a time, cable customers could simply unplug the cable from their TV or VCR, attach a pair of UHF/VHF antennae (remember the rabbit ears?), and let these behemoths fight it out. Since the shift to digital broadcasting, however, unless you went out and got that converter box or had one shipped to you (they're about $20 at some discount retailers, I believe), you're out of luck. ABC would certainly obviate this problem by not trying to cadge more money out of Cablevision, but they could also simply set up a live feed on their Website. But that's too simple, obvious and thoughtful, so, as a result, it was going to be no Oscars for many, unless of course they were able to go to someplace with a different cable carrier, or the DTV box.  Shortly before or as the Oscars broadcast began, Comcast and Disney reached an agreement, and the show was on.

I don't have Cablevision--in fact, I had only one choice of a carrier at my new place in Chicago; monopoly!--but I had originally planned not to watch tonight's show.  Not only am I not interested in them this year, but I have hardly seen any of the films up for contention, with the exception of provocateur Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon and District 9, which shouldn't be up for any award except for cinematography. Best picture? What a joke!  I still haven't seen Precious: Based on the Novel by Sapphire; Avatar; Up in the Air; The Hurt Locker; Julia and Julia; Inglorious Basterds; A Serious Man; or Up. I haven't seen Invictus; Crazy Heart; The Last Station; An Education; The Lovely Bones; The Messenger; Nine; The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus; Sherlock Holmes; The Young Victoria; Bright Star; Coco avant Chanel; Star Trek; Il Divo; Fantastic Mr. Fox; Faubourg 36; The Princess and the Frog; Ajami; Transformers; Coraline; The Secret of Kells; Food, Inc.; The Cove; Un prophète; La teta asustada; El secreto de los ojos; The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers; Which Way Home; or any of the nominated short documentaries, short animated films, or live shorts.

What films have I been watching so far this year? Outside of Haneke's menacing period piece and the disturbing South African sci-fi film above, the last few films I've watched include 35 Rums; My Blueberry Nights; Yesterday's Girl; Barton Fink; Year of the Dog; Medicine for Melancholy; Kill Your Idols; Devotee; Gomorrah; Trouble Every Day; Videodrome; Alexander Nevsky; Away from Her; The Servant; This Is England; Sugar; Games of Love and Chance; The Class; The Earrings of Madame de...; Notebooks on Cities and Clothes; and Human Resources. And a number of films on TV, especially during the summer and fall. These include a heavy helping of older films, foreign films, and rewatches here, but I've come to find over the least decade or so that I'd much rather try out films at home than spend $10+ in a theater and be disappointed. Still, I do go from time to time, but this past year, or at least with this spate of nominated, and in some cases, heavily hyped films, not so much. In general I find the narrowness, in terms of the racial, ethnic, religious, gender, and above all socioeconomic perspectives, that Hollywood films present to be unappealing. I also don't like the troweled on music, into which far too much syrup is always poured; the narrative overexplanation which, if absent, turns into hyper-irony and smarminess; the shopworn colonialist narratives that don't even raise an eyebrow among too many filmmakers; the not-so-subtle promotions of consumerism and branding; the lazy liberalism, perhaps most vivid in Crash, which should not even have left the studio; and, to top it off, the sense that this is the best Hollywood can do because the bottom line is the bottom line. (The addition of pre-film commercials, which I don't even like to watch on the TV, really is the last straw.) I'm not saying that other sorts of movies don't emerge, and I've listed a few in my list above, but in general, when I do go to the cinema and watch the previews, I often find myself groaning or wincing rather than feeling genuinely excited by what's coming.  And the wincing sometimes comes from the deafening sound; sometimes I wonder if the studios are in collusion with the makers of Miracle Ear and like products.

I nevertheless did watch the Oscars. C commented on a red-carpet personage, I clicked on the TV, and I didn't click it off.  The Alec Baldwin-Steve Martin pairing seemed rather flat; Alec Baldwin kept flapping his left arm as if it were a light sword and pre-reacting to cues, while Steve Martin recited his lines as if through a fog of sheer boredom. It was rather strange. The awards themselves also seemed pre-ordained: Sandra Bullock for Best Actress, Mo'Nique (above right, Getty Images) for Best Supporting Actress (her speech, honoring the late, first black Oscar winner, actress Hattie McDaniel among others, was superb), Jeff Bridges for Best Actor, Christoph Waltz for Best Supporting Actor, The Hurt Locker for Best Movie, Kathryn Bigelow (above left, with Barbra Streisand, Getty Images) for Best Director (though she is the first woman to receive this award, so extra congratulations to her!). Perhaps these weren't bandied about as much as I recall, but maybe they were. At any rate, I felt like there was no suspense. Except for the Best Adapted Screenplay honor, which went to Precious: Based on a Novel by Sapphire wordsmith Geoffrey Fletcher, who became the first black person to win an Oscar for screenwriting. The 39-year-old was so stunned he could barely get his speech out. This was, remarkably, Fletcher's first feature film (he's directed many shorts--and, I just realized, I know him and was a classmate of his older brother Buddy in college, and we're double fellow alums), and here's to hoping that he writes many more films, that he wins more awards, and that opportunities open up for screenwriters of all colors and genders to write films which show a far wider array of lives out there than are currently visible. Of course wishing that this will happen, just as wishing that more women will win Academy Awards and similar honors for directing, is fine up to a point; now we, as viewers, have to ensure that this happens. Tonight constituted good first few steps.  Now, can anyone explain why Farrah Fawcett and Bea Arthur, both of whom acted in films, were left out of the tribute to the 2009 deceased? Or did I just miss them?

Having written this, I'll now have to watch many of these films. In fact, I've already added a good slew of them to my Netflix list.  The more that are instantly watchable the merrier, but those DVDs are portable too. Here's to watching, and congratulations to tonight's honorees and nominees!

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