Oscar the Grouch

Some years, we make the effort, and this was one. After the Oscar Nominations, I printed out the list and we made a good faith effort to see all the big stuff. By this past weekend we’d seen all of the Animated Features, most of the acting nominations (sorry, Penelope Cruz), and all the best picture nominees but one.

So, Saturday night, we gave Drive My Car its due. I’d heard many things: mostly that it was lovely and made many serious people’s top ten list, but also that it was slow (and subtitled) and rewarded attention. I wasn’t sure that either of us were up for such a thing on a Saturday night – particularly since C tends to fall asleep on the couch after dinner for a while – but as it turned out, we were both really caught up in it and had no problem getting through it, or really really enjoying it.

The heart of the movie is about our hero, a stage actor whose wife died suddenly, dealing with his grief – and it’s beautifully handled. But as a theater person, I was intrigued by the mechanics of the ostensible plot. He’s clearly a serious actor – we first see him on stage doing Waiting for Godot (in Japanese), and then later on playing Uncle Vanya (again in Japanese). His wife has made him an Uncle Vanya cassette to run his lines with (she reads every part but his, and leaves gaps for him), and I loved that because that’s how I learn and run lines too, although I haven’t had to do that in a long long time.

But then he gets a gig in Hiroshima directing a different Uncle Vanya, this one deliberately reaching out to actors of different backgrounds, with the idea that every actor will perform in their own language (with projected subtitles). (He has the option of casting himself as Vanya, but does not, and that has story implications which I won’t spoil here.) So some actors are speaking in Japanese, some in Korean, some in Filipino, and one notable cast member is signing in Korean sign language. (She’s hearing, but seems to be otherwise mute, and this is never explained, although it’s not important.) When they do table reads (and they do more of them than you would usually do in a play rehearsal), each actor taps the table to indicate they’d finished their line. (I was wondering if this was a Japanese custom, but then realized that for any given line reading, half the actors around the table didn’t understand the language being spoken, so they needed that signal.) All of that it incidental to (although supporting of) what the movie’s actually about, but I found it really interesting.

Anyway, it’s a lovely movie, and it ended up taking Best International Film, although not Best Picture, and I was very happy about that.

Sunday night, we resumed our annual tradition of going to our upstairs neighbors’ to watch the Oscars. They supplied awesome appetizers and soft drinks, I brought bubbly and ordered us a pizza. It was a lot of fun!

The show itself – I liked the Beyonce number on the tennis court in Compton, although it was completely over-the-top. (Charles: it’s Shen Yun! Me: bwahahaha.) I said, this is perfect Oscars, it’s either ridiculous or fantastic and I can’t decide which one. The ‘orchestra’ (no doubt miming) all had yellow instruments to match the color scheme of all that outfits.

The hosting trio of Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes was basically OK, but hit or miss as these things are. (I thought Amy Schumer was most successful, and she’d be great as a host on her own in a future year.)

Best supporting actress: nominees were Kirsten Dunst, Ariana Debose, Judi Dench, Aunjenue Ellis, and Jessie Buckley. I didn’t have a strong favorite. I thought Kirsten Dunst’s role was poorly written. I didn’t think Debose’s performance was as star-is-born as everyone else seemed to. Judi Dench – wasn’t sure why she got nominated at all, not much of a role (I would have liked to see maybe Rita Moreno in that spot.) Ellis was excellent, and Buckley was wonderful. (OK, maybe she was my favorite.) Anyway, delighted for Debose, who looked fantastic. Had not realized she was a queer woman, that’s kind of neat. Also dismayed/amused by the fact that only two Latina women have won acting Oscars, and it was for the same role.

Best supporting actor: nominees were Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee, Troy Kotsur, Ciaran Hinds and JK Simmons. The only performance I puzzled about being in the list was Plemons (although I thought he was fine), and I really liked all the others. I thought KSM would win until I saw CODA, then I was a total Kotsur fanboy all the way. Check out this article: I particularly liked, “When he’s angry at the fishmongers who take a hefty cut of the fishermen’s earnings, the subtitles say, “I’d give my left nut to tell them to go screw.” But Kotsur describes taking off his testicle and transforms it into a grenade, pulling out the pin with his teeth and throwing it over his shoulder at the warehouse.”

Anyway, last year’s Best Supporting Actress Youn Yuh-jung (for “Minari”, which we still haven’t seen) gave the award and was just as endearing as possible, particularly when she opened the envelope, gasped in delight, and signed to Kotsur before making the announcement. And then taking the Oscar back from him so he could fully sign with both hands. So awesome.

Then there was a whole lotta crapola, most of which I don’t remember now. I can’t say I disliked the truncated versions of the technical awards, but I would have preferred seeing the honorary oscars given over the dumb celebrations of anniversaries of older movies. I was happy to see “Encanto” win for best animated film, but I liked all five of them very much. (“Flee” didn’t win any of its categories, but it’s admirable that it was nominated in three quite different major categories: International Film, Animated Film and Documentary.)

Then the Will Smith thing happened. We were all agog, couldn’t figure out what it was about. I don’t need to go into it, and every possible take has already occurred, but basically, Chris Rock’s joke was a bad one and worth taking offense over, but Will Smith’s reaction was completely inappropriate. Aside from everything else that this Pandora’s Box opens up, Jada Pinkett-Smith is perfectly capable of defending herself, I’m sure.

And of course that threw off the rest of the evening, and led to that cringeworthy Will Smith acceptance speech. I thought Will Smith was fine in the role, but I thought Cumberbatch was really the strong one in this category. Andrew Garfield was a delight in his movie, Denzel is always fine (but was not going to win for Shakespeare) and Bardem – well, he was miscast and it wasn’t the best movie. Yeah, should have gone to Cumberbatch, but he’ll get his eventually.

I didn’t have a strong favorite for best actress, either. Hadn’t seen Penelope Cruz. Nicole Kidman had the same issue that Bardem did – somewhat miscast and the movie wasn’t great. Although if they were going to nominate the leads, they really should have nominated Nina Arianda (as Vivian Vance), who was as wonderful or more than the other three. Chastain was good in a biopic about a woman I did not care about – I was also surprised that this was only her third nomination, but I think I was confusing her with Amy Adams, who has been nominated twice as much with no wins. Kristen Stewart was really good, but you couldn’t help comparing her to Emma Corbin in “The Crown”. Olivia Colman is fantastic, but that was one weird movie (and of course she just got an Oscar a couple of years ago). So… I would have probably given it to Colman, but Chastain is fine. Her speech had its heart in the right place, but was long and rambling and I don’t know if anyone paid attention after the Smith debacle.

Jane Campion for Best Director? Absolutely, fantastic film, no problem here.

Then the Lady Gaga/Liza moment. I agreed that (a) watching someone whose faculties are not all there on live TV is disturbing, but also that (b) Gaga handled the whole thing with Liza with grace and charm. I like Gaga as a performer and a person the more I get to know her. And then CODA won, yay! I was rooting for it. This was my opinion of the other nominees:

  • Nightmare Alley: really disliked it, although I like everyone in it
  • Don’t Look up: a lot of fun, not a contender though
  • Dune: eh, it was pretty
  • Drive My Car: see above.
  • Belfast: I did not care.
  • Licorice Pizza: hated it
  • The Power of the Dog: very much admired it, it was my favorite until I saw CODA
  • West Side Story: an unlikely success and excellent, but not a new property. I didn’t think of it as a contender.
  • King Richard: I liked it a lot, also not a contender as far as I was concerned.

But CODA is the only movie that unashamedly left you feeling fantastic afterward, and that I’d watch again in a heartbeat.

On reflection, I agree with my Linoleum Knife podcast buddies Dave and Alonso that this seemed to be the Oscars that liked to dis movies, and we’d rather see Oscars celebrate them. And for technical awards, other Oscars have made them very interesting – like “here’s a clip before sound editing, here’s the same clip afterward”. Assume you’re playing to people who love movies and give them fan service for that.

Now delighted that we’re off the Oscar treadmill and can finally see Turning Red and The French Dispatch and Death on the Nile and other movies that’ll just be fun.

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