Oscars: Jon Stewart nibbles the hand that feeds him

Now that Ive had some time to actually think about this, it seems to me that Jon Stewarts rebound from his fairly weak start was something of a considered rebellion. All along, we heard that Stewart wasnt going to do what previous hosts such as Chris Rock and David Letterman had done, which was shoehorn their sensibility into the Oscarcast, one reason being their efforts werent considered successful.

And, indeed, Stewart initially did the opposite he inserted himself into the spectacle of the Oscar ceremony. There was that fairly lamentable opening short film, in which previous hosts for various reasons eschew the job, followed by lowly Jon Stewart getting the gig and the chance to lounge in a bed with George Clooney and Halle Berry, besides. His opening monologue was hit-and-miss, with the bigger laughs coming from material that in fact wouldnt have been out of place on The Daily Show.?

So Im guessing that hes a quick learn, and figured out that whatever he would do for the rest of the broadcast would have to represent more his acerbic sensibility and less the sort of institutional once-over-lightly that defines most Oscar programs. After all, Stewart has built his reputation for puncturing self-important windbags, not coddling them.

Which I think accounts for how he conducted himself thereafter. There was an interesting friction between the ceremonys dreary same old same-old montages, trying too hard on the production numbers, etc. and his responses to it. He had wittily cutting comments about the montages that had been lovingly massaged by the shows producers: I cant wait til later,? he said after a particularly pointless one, when we get Hollywoods salute to montages.? He poked fun at the fairly pretentious production of the performance of Best Song nominee In the Deep.? He was just sharper as the show went along, so whereas the personal approach was what torpedoed Letterman and Rock, it was what rescued Stewart in the end.

ABCs post-game show crew is giving Stewart high marks, too a B+, to be precise but, hey, whats ABC going to say? We were idiots to hire him?

Oscars: In a (Jack) Twist, “Crash” crushes “Brokeback”

So now we know why Hollywood shouldnt make any issue? flicks: Because the Oscar will invariably go to the most obvious one of the bunch. Crash? beat out what to my mind seemed a largely superior roster of movies for the Best Picture trophy; it was easily the least nuanced and tricky of the bunch, letting viewers know precisely how they were supposed to feel every step of the way, even having characters baldly state its themes. But, hey, now that its officially 2005s Best Picture, heres something that makes me look a fool.

Crash and burn, baby, burn

If you think thats bad, heres a really virulent and, to be honest, much better argued, attack on the film:

Crushing Crash

Oh, well, good on Lionsgate, the little studio that could. But this does kind of point out how the Oscar campaign can be affected by the time frame in which its conducted, how Academy voters can be put off when they hear too much about how a certain movie is a shoo-in. (In a way, though, its reassuring to know that even Hollywood can get sick of hearing about itself.) Brokeback Mountain? won virtually every major (and minor) award there was to win this year, except the one that counts, the one that puts it in the history books. This is kind of reminiscent of the year Saving Private Ryan? was considered the prohibitive favorite until it wasnt, and Shakespeare in Love,? tortoise-and-hare-like, slipped away with the Best Picture trophy.

No rule changes need be made, Id say, because quality? is hardly an objective, uh, quality, and people whose favorites fail to win Oscars are usually over it by the next morning. But there might be a lesson here for future Oscar campaigners: Dont strive for frontrunner status too early; dont be a juggernaut (be glad if other groups spread the wealth by honoring other films); and, for Gods sake, dont make a movie that both manages to commandeer the Zeitgeist and provide late-night comics with endless one-liners, because by Oscar night, people will be absolutely sick of hearing about it.

Oscars: Final Destination

Jack Nicholson looked surprised as he announced “Crash” was Best Picture. Which was the only speech cut off by the orchestra all night — huh?
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It sort of begs the question: Where was the tipping point where Academy voters tilted from the mainstream, which it hasn’t done of late, and ignored “Brokeback Mountain” in favor of “Crash?” Had the voting been cut off sooner, would the result have been the same? Apparently, there’s a downside to being the presumptive winner for so long — people just kind of get bored with hearing the same old same old and say, ‘To hell with it, I’ll vote for something else.’

Winning Best Director, Ang Lee told his Oscar: “I just can’t quit you.” That alone kind of suggests he deserved not to win Best Picture.

Final thoughts on Stewart: Bumpy start, but overall, well done, sir.

Oscars: Writers should write better acceptance speeches

Finally, some political commentary: Larry McMurtry, winning Best Adapted Screenplay for “Brokeback Mountain,” championed “the culture of the book, which we mustn’t lose.” Like they’re California condors or something.

Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for “Crash.” A nervous speech about hammers and mirrors, which I took as a concession that the film lacks what some might call subtlety.

So Best Picture, if what the prognosticators earlier in the evening weren’t just blowing smoke out their backsides, is still a tossup.

Oscars: Memoirs of a dark horse and a Witherspoon

At this point, who has the most Oscars? Memoirs of a Geisha is sweeping everyone else, winning three technical trophies, for art direction, costume design and cinematography.

Jon Stewart with a pointed Oscar count: “Martin Scorsese, zero Oscars. 3-6 Mafia (Best Song winners for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”), one.”

Again, as expected, Reese Witherspoon is named Best Actress for “Walk the Line.”

“I never thought I’d be here in my whole life!” she enthused in a Southern accent she had lost quite a while ago and promptly proceeds to lose anew as her speech proceeds. Of her character, she noted, “She’s a real woman.”

Kind of the quintessential acceptance speech — too many names thanked, emotional without really being affecting, rambling without completely falling apart, a requisite bit about self-empowerment, even nailed the humanizing moment where she told her kids to go to bed. (Wasn’t that parodied in Tom Hanks’ film at the beginning of the evening?)

She declared her intention to “make work that means something to somebody.” Which explains “Just Like Heaven” and “Legally Blonde 2.”

Oscars: See more Hoffman

As has been expected by just about everyone for the past three months, Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Best Actor Oscar for “Capote.”

Probably the most rambling speech of the night — “I’m in a category with some great, great, great actors … and I’m overwhelmed,” he said, being equally repetitive when thanking “(director) Bennett Miller and (screenwriter) Danny Futterman, whom I love, I love, I love, I love…” His homage to his mother was sweet, though.

Only five more awards to go. Barring any more montages, we should be done in under a half-hour.

Oscars: Another $#!%&*@ montage

What is up with all these montages? Chuck Workman did one a decade or two back that did kind of stir you in its evocation of decades of film history in five or six minutes, but that’s no reason to do it every damn year. The idea, of course, is to get you all nostalgic about film, to say, ‘Gee, you know, movies really are magic; I think I’ll go to the movies every week!’

Except, well, if you’re watching the Oscars, you’re quite likely already a film fan, so they’re just preaching to the choir here. All these things do is prolong an already overlong production.

Again, Stewart seems to agree: “I cant wait till later when we get Hollywoods salute to montages.”

Oscars: Sid, vicious

Sid Ganis, president of the Academy, is ladling out the requisite long-winded self-congratulatory hooey. He’s going on about how stirring the montage of scenes from issue-oriented movies was, apparently having missed Stewart’s wonderful dismissal of said montage as it ended: “And none of those issues were ever a problem again.”

And he’s saying, (I’m paraphrasing because I was too bored to listen closely), “No actor ever finished a scene and said, ‘That’ll look good on the DVD.’” Actually, I’ll bet there are a lot of them who say that these days.

Hey, Brokeback Mountain won its first Oscar — best score, Gustavo Santaolalla, who gave what may be the longest acceptance speech to date.