Oscars Recap: One Flew Over the Oscars Nest

ImageOnce upon a time, I was an Oscars junkie. I loved everything about the evening: the red carpet build up, the opening monologue, the early acting awards, the major technical awards, the best picture nominee clip packages, the musical numbers, the forced pairings, the uneven feel to the entire proceedings. As a movie nerd, the Oscars were my holy grail, because it allowed me to measure my tastes and judgment against the Hollywood elite. More often than not, I found we had different sensibilities, but on those occasions when Oscar and I agreed, I felt like one of the in-crowd, affirmed for my aesthetic perspicacity.

Over the years, Oscar and I have grown apart. Part of it is life situation: being a parent, there aren’t that many nights when you have the energy to trot out to the local multiplex and catch a flick. And even when those nights do come around, finances are an issue. When it costs $25 just to get in, the number of trips to the cinema drops dramatically.

But the real reason I quit going to the movies is because they kind of pushed me to the side.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of cussing and nudity in movies. Even more recently, graphic violence has also turned me off. Even watching the clip package for Django Unchained on last night’s Oscars left me feeling queasy. Maybe it’s my old age. Maybe it’s things like Newtown. Maybe it’s just the fact that I see enough blood and guts in my news feed every day. I don’t know. And while I know that not all movies are slammed full of cussing and nudity and exploding body parts, I know that some of the ones feted as the best of the best last night had plenty of one or the other.

I didn’t see Silver Linings Playbook because multiple friends said that the F-bomb was prevalent. I didn’t see Django because of the violence (and, let’s face it, Tarantinian dialogue is often fraught with choice words). Same with Zero Dark Thirty (even though I enjoyed Bigelow’s Hurt Locker). I didn’t get around to Lincoln because…well, I never got around to it. Life of Pi seemed like a great rental (no offense to Ang Lee and his golden statue). I wanted to see Argo, but got warned off because of language. Les Miserables was a non-starter for me (I don’t really like movie musicals, no matter how awesome it is to see someone as all-around talented as Hugh Jackman). And honestly, no one I knew had even seen Beasts of the Southern Wild or Amour.

I don’t mind the occasional coarse word or two; I get that PG language isn’t always used in real life. And lest you think this is one of those “bash Hollywood as being out of touch with the mainstream of America”, I’ll tell you that I hear and see those words quite prevalently in the everyday language of our younger generation. So it’s not like I’m a prude when it comes to the reality of American speech.

I’m the same way with violence (less so on nudity). I get it as an artistic choice. And I don’t think we need to scrub movies of anything that might be offensive (otherwise, we’d miss out on some fantastic and thought-provoking work).

What I’m saying is that my life and my values make the Oscars an also-ran. What once would have been appointment TV is now a cultural temperature reading at best and an intellectual curiosity at worst. Even if Morgan Freeman hosted, I’d probably only watch it in pieces, flipping back and forth for the big awards. Last night merely confirmed that fact for me.

I’ll be blunt and say I found Seth MacFarlane tedious at best. EW.com’s Owen Gleiberman has a better assessment of his hosting gig (and overall telecast) than I could ever produce, and his note about the broadcast vacillating between snark and sincerity is spot on. I guess for me, the snark took center stage, and for the first time I found it not only unfunny but unpalatable as well.

It would be hypocritical of me to take people to task for their snarky comments when I spent the majority of my time live-tweeting my own attempts at humor and sarcasm during the telecast. I have no problem with sarcasm as a whole; I understand that in our day and age it’s the stock and trade of our popular culture, and some people carry it to the edges. It’s one thing when you’re using snark to push the boundaries of our corporate fuddy-duddiness as a way of encouraging us to relax and laugh more. It’s another thing when you use it as a blade to slice people out of genuine dislike. Last night, I felt like MacFarlane was slinging his blade very wide.

But hey, that’s the point of this post: what someone thought would make for a good Oscars telecast was outside my comfort zone, which just proves that both the Academy and I have changed. We’re no longer simpatico.

And that’s cool. I saw several people bashing on Twitter last night, and while I can agree with the perspective that might have driven some of the tweets, I can’t agree with the tweets themselves. It does no good to lambaste Hollywood with the same snark it lambastes others. Everyone loses.

My three favorite moments were the last three awards: Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook), Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln) and Best Picture (Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Grant Heslov – Argo). Each of the winners showed a humanity that was touching; whether it was Lawrence’s unfortunate trip up the stairs, Day-Lewis’ uncharacteristic humor, or Affleck’s barely contained joy, each moment reminded you of what the movies have always represented: the chance to flesh out dreams.

That’s what I miss from the overall Oscars ceremony: the human reminder that dreams can come true, on film and on that awards stage.

Maybe that’s the beginning point of my disconnect with Hollywood: I miss the humanity.


Learning from Hollywood: The Cautionary Tale of John Carter

Golly - given how lame this poster is, I don't understand how John Carter ended up as a flop...

The number crunchers for Walt Disney and its various movie subsidiaries announced today that their $250 million space epic, John Carter, will officially enter into the books as a bigger flop than Ishtar. All signs point to the n’er-do-well sci-fi dud to lose close to $200 million, once all factors are considered.

For some reason, exactly nobody was surprised.

I mean, how could a film based on source material that only the geekiest of sci-fi geeks know about, starring a humanoid that only the geekiest Friday Night Lights fans knew about, and featuring more computer animation than Finding Nemo and Wall*E put together, possibly go right?

(And for those who have no idea about the references in the above sentence, the correct answers are: Edgar Rice Burroughs The Mars Trilogy; Taylor Kitsch; and the past two films of John Carter‘s director, Andrew Stanton.)

So another can’t-miss, Hollywood blockbuster goes splat. What’s the big deal?

I think it’s a cautionary tale for all of us, especially this election year.

Bigger is not necessarily better. Not for government, not for spending, not for promises, and certainly not for number of doo-doo flinging attack ads. This might be the perfect year to sit back, play it small, and let the facts do the talking.

Except that even our facts get conflated. On both sides of the aisle. As does the rhetoric, hyperbole, name-calling, finger-pointing, blame-shifting, and other political campaign standards.

“Barak Obama is the worst president to ever hold the office! He should be pilloried from pillar to post and voted out of office by at least 50 bajillion votes! He wants to steal your money and give it to Cadillac-driving, no-education-having, crack-smoking, malt-liquor-drinking, illegally-immigrated, alternative-lifestyled, green-energy loving wonks who will bankrupt this country of money just like they bankrupted it of morals!”

“Republicans want to rip out your uterus and use it as a yo-yo! They want to tell you when you can have babies! They want to steal your money and give it away to big fat-cat businessmen who already have enough of their own money and drive gas-guzzling SUVS that emit invisible toxic fumes that kill baby rabbits! And, they can’t even decide which of their horrible cadre of unelectable candidates to trot out for certain November defeat!”

It’s special effects in place of story. Sizzle instead of steak. Show to hide the sham.

Now THIS is how you make a movie.

In short, it’s everything that critics have been saying about John Carter. The similarities are eerie: uncertain story; a seemingly endless budget; countless experts working on it; little sustained interest from the general public; breathless and sometimes convoluted advertising.

But perhaps the most painful similarity of all: characters you neither care about nor believe in.

Maybe the prescription for what ails John Carter is the same for what ails politics: a compelling cast of characters who, though flawed, fight for the good of all people in the midst of the apparent destruction of all civilized society. Despite their differences, they are united by the need for heroes, and with their combined strength beat back humankind’s destruction with perseverence, teamwork, and no concern for who takes the credit.

You want to know how to solve America’s political problems?

Be in theaters on May 4th.

Avengers assemble, indeed.

We Should’ve Cloned Ronald Reagan

If he had lived, Ronald Reagan would’ve turned 100 years old today. I’ve been looking at the various Facebook statuses, Tweets, blog posts and articles dedicated to the late president, and I gotta tell you: we should’ve cloned Ronald Reagan when we had the chance.

I mean, the stuff I’ve been reading – no disrespect to FDR or Washington – tells me that Reagan was our greatest president. He promised to cut taxes in ’81, and he did – the single largest tax cut in U.S. history (of course, he also raised taxes seven times after that initial cut so that in the end, the tax rate was exactly the same as it had been prior to the ’81 slash). He promised to spend the Soviet Union into bankruptcy and collapse, and he did. He promised to give the American people someone they could believe in, and he did. With Reagan, we knew exactly where we stood: with a man capable of getting things done, of reading the political climate and adjusting accordingly so that the American people bought in to his ideas. And he did all of this with the same calm and good looks that made him such a Hollywood figure.

In short, Reagan was a heckuva president. One of the best.

So we should’ve cloned him. I mean, could you imagine how he’d have handled Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden? How about the economic crisis of the last few years? I would have been mesmerized by his response to 9/11 – guarantee you he wouldn’t have been reading “Goodnight Moon” to a bunch of first graders.

I mean, it’s not like we didn’t develop the technology before his passing. We could’ve collected a grade-DNA genetic sample from Ronnie and been able to cook something up in the lab tout de suite. Imagine a world where Clinton, Bush 2, and Obama were never president. I can hear the combination sobs of joy and regret from the G.O.P. even now.

This is firmly tongue-in-cheek, folks – lest any of you think that I’m either serious or being disrespectful of Mr. Reagan’s legacy, let me say that I do have an admiration for what he was able to accomplish and the singular strength of his presidency. He’s the last president I really remember making me feel truly safeguarded by his administration. But he wasn’t a saint, and the people on the conservative right who want to make him out to be Jesus 2.0 need a heavy dose of oxygen. He had his faults (astrology, anyone?) and the 80s were the Me Decade, the Trickle Down/Reaganomics era, a fact best summed up in the character of Gordon Gekko, whose infamous motto was, after all, “Greed is good.”

That rings a little hollow now, don’t it?

I celebrate the centenary of Ronald Reagan and fondly remember his accomplishments and his legacy. But forgive me if I stop short of immortalizing him as our greatest president. For all he did, he can’t claim that title.

That Lincoln fella kind of stands in his way…