Usually on the post-Oscar blog I get extra snarky. But not having seen many movies this year, and not feeling all that “funny” these days, I’m afraid I can only offer a more global analysis that puts this year’s winners in a broader historical perspective. Anyway, here goes:
1) Yes, the light musical comedy is in fact on its way back somewhat, as the talented Mr. Jackman and the overrated Ms. Knowles sang at us a bit too insistently. But a good article I read in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks back put it in perspective for me: musicals and Shirley Temple and “escapist” movies were a very significant coping mechanism for a nation that was on its heels during the Depression of the 1930s. So when the big Oscar number featured a throwback Busby Berkeley style chorus line, top hats and tails, I just took it as a somewhat mercenary, post-modern reclamation project. Same old crap, repackaged for a depressed and desperate American population in our current crisis days. Musicals may be on their way back, but now that the claim has officially been made, the boom is now over. It must be. And unfortunately all we have to show for it is dreck like what Baz Luhrman has done (Moulin Rouge, Australia, and last night’s cheesy Oscar production number). By having the hubris to proclaim their glory, the Academy instead sealed their fate, and musicals will drop off the map again shortly. A shame, really. But what we genuinely need in a hungry era is solid nourishment: innovation, not same old same old, or High School Musical Parts 4 through 20. So the forthcoming remake of Fame for a new generation promises to suck… big time. It will be the nail in the coffin, or I’ll eat my Michael Jackson Smooth Criminal white fedora if it ain’t.
2) By contrast, Slumdog Millionaire — sort of a musical, but not really — is clearly the wave of the near future. It’s a “world” picture, and the accepter of their award for sound mixing (I think that’s who said it) put it very well when he talked of it like a passing of the baton to someone of his stature and background. Last year’s La Vie En Rose, a similar situation. Before that: Ray, Walk the Line, Dewey Cox (very underrated)… none of them true musicals, but all making good use of songs sung onscreen (i.e. not as background music).
2.1) Folks at my party were distracting me during Danny Boyle’s director acceptance speech. (I bet the talk on their cells in a theater, too.) Did he go out of his way to credit Loveleen Tandan, his co-director? There’s been a minor stink lately, especially among feminists and internationalists, about the DGA’s rules, how they only allow one listed director for live action films. I hope fairness won out somewhat, even though Tandan herself was humble and never asked for any special credit or changes to the industry’s way of doing things.
3) At my sister’s Oscar party, I was the only one able to call the Penelope Cruz win in advance. Why? A) the Woody Allen Factor: he’s still so respected by the Hollywood establishment, that even his mediocre work still gets a nod now and then, and this was the one category where that could realistically happen. B) Cruz herself, and her overall body of work – she’s foreign, but not TOO foreign. She’s therefore exotic, yet she has shown herself to be more than just a pretty face in the hands of the right director. But she’s getting older, and so has a closing window of opportunity for those scenery-chewing love interest, dutiful daughter, or jealous ex-wife parts. When faced with the “is it her time?” question, voters had the good sense to see this may have been Cruz’ s last chance for an Oscar… or that she’d at least have to wait till her Dame Judy Dench years before having another shot. C ) Hollywood sometimes hates itself and its systems at Oscar voting time, or at least hates itself enough to vote in favor of the indie films and fringe-y actors like Cruz.
4) The majority of 2009 winners and nominees will get cast aside from here on out, of course… or haven’t you noticed the lack of top-quality follow-up projects that Cuba Gooding, Adrian Brody, Halle Berry and many other “surprise winners” were offered in the years after their wins. Not always true, but the multi-nom track record of the Denzel, Tom Hanks, Sean Penn, Winslet, Blanchett, Sally Field and/or Streep crowd is actually pretty common. Whereas the one-hit wonders, like Kim Basinger (LA Confidential, 1987, Best Supporting) are more rare… they’re winners for sentimental or temporary reasons, they catch lightning in a bottle, and then never again rise to that level. Plus voters don’t always use an exceptional amount of courage or imagination in nominating or picking a winner. And casting pros and directors aren’t much better (the Coen brothers and a handful of other risk-takers notwithstanding). But TRULY gutsy voters would probably have given Frank Langella this year’s Oscar, instead of one of the two favorites (Penn or Rourke). But a vote for Langella would have been a vote that was antithetical to the big, likable “Access Hollywood” news stories and the entire profit motive of Hollywood, which always skews toward “the young” when faced with these choices.
5) What do we make of the fact that Adrian Brody (The Pianist, Best last night was not even recognized by the security guys at the Governors’ Ball: a prime example of how the “15 minutes of fame” thing usually works. Brody was not even allowed inside for almost 30 minutes (his father had the actual tickets, and apparently they got separated). He laughed it off as much as possible, but that he talked about it on camera on E! is a sure sign that there’s a two-tiered hierarchy at work, and those in the lower tier –who are just as talented but get some kind of weird rep –can get fairly ticked off about this sort of elitism (and the fickleness of the viewing public). So, for another example, Mickey Rourke’s famous struggles to be a “team player” may also have to do with the rules not being so fair in the first place. Hollywood’s always had a dozen replaceable but un-talented Ronald Reagans and Tab Hunters for every Marlon Brando. Even a steady star as big as George Clooney is smart enough to have been quoted calling himself the “flavor of the month” in the past (i.e. any little scandal or flop could mean a permanent drop into the “untouchable” caste).