Monday, February 26, 2007

79th annual Academy Awards

It was a good night for Martin Scorsese, the Spitting Image puppet that ate Al Gore (and everything else) and bearded Mexican men.

You are forgiven if you forgot the part about the bearded Mexican men. They starred during the first third of the telecast, the part dominated by technical and artistic awards. Unfortunately, the whole show wound up pushing four hours.

For all I know it was the same bearded Mexican man holding up Oscar again and again. Or maybe it was a Spanish man. If host Ellen DeGeneres, who introduced herself to the world-wide audience by flubbing Penelope Cruz's place of birth, can't tell her Spaniards from her Mexicans why should I be able to?

Overall, I thought DeGeneres overcame paper thin material to do an OK job. That is a well-qualified OK. Since I'm not schooled in her comedy, I'm not sure if she is always this minimalistic in her approach, or if she was told by the Academy to dispense with any proper joke writing or topical references and instead just humorously putter about -- which she did.

Speaking of a show about nothing, Jerry Seinfeld, who presented crowd favorite Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth the Oscar for best documentary, strikes me as a perfect candidate for a future Oscar host if the Academy wants to play it safe like it did tonight. We know Jerry has the time, and there is nobody better at making the benign hilarious without losing his edge.

But, as you always realize when you watch the Oscars, after the opening monologue the host becomes a very small part of the proceedings.

This wasn't a great year for the movies critically, and only few of the films nominated for best picture or the acting awards made the slightest dent at the box office. So to redeem itself and the year the Academy needed to give Scorsese the individual recognition that had eluded him for so long.

With The Departed already grabbing trophies for adapted screenplay and editing, and with Spielberg, Coppola and Lucas -- the three other faces on Scorsese's generation's directorial Mount Rushmore -- picked to present the best director trophy, there was even less suspense than there would have been otherwise. And even less than that a few minutes later when The Departed took the ultimate prize.

It was a bland night without a signature moment or any surprises -- save a hairless Jack Nicholson and the reminder that Reese Witherspoon is an Academy Award winning actress.

And, yeah, it was way too long. Only I don't know what the producers could have done to make it that much shorter.

The speeches and presentations were kept to a minimum. When the third part of the winning best sound mixing trio attempted to add his thank yous not only did the music play but a large man slid into the frame.

I tend to like the movie montages and, whatever I think, the musical performances are here to stay.

I guess the honorary lifetime achievement Oscar -- the one where Clint Eastwood forgot his glasses and the honoree forgot how to speak English -- could have been (and should have been) chopped.

Of course the best way to shorten the telecast, and alter it radically, would be to get rid of all the art direction, make up and sound awards. Talented bunch or not, if entertainment value is valued what is the logic in giving such an obscure group of people such an incredible audience?

This year axing the technical and artistic awards wouldn't have gone over well in Mexico. Or was it Spain?

But it would have allowed the rest of us more time to appreciate the wizardry of the human shadow puppet. And cherish the first stop on Al Gore's beg-me-to-run-for-president tour. Who knows, Gore may still have them begging by the time the 2008 Oscars roll around. Unless that great wave of former icebergs sweeps us all away.

Such a fate would be a tiny bit less tragic, now that Scorsese has his Oscar .

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