Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Snooch to the Nooch!

So, uh, yeah. The Oscars were last night. Here are my thoughts.

Viva La Resistance!

Brian Skutle

What Was Good:

1. The winners were widespread. Four movies tied for the most Oscars with a paltry three each (not a surprising high mark considering the most nominated film only had 8). That two of those films were not Best Picture nominees- “King Kong” and “Memoirs of a Geisha” deservedly dominated the technical awards- was a surprise, though given the competition they were up against, it wasn’t a shock to see the two Best Picture nominees that were shut-out- “Good Night, and Good Luck.” and “Munich”- end the evening empty handed. Just a bit of a disappointment given their considerable merits. Overall, in the 21 feature film categories, 13 films won Oscars- a pretty sizable amount given- in recent years- the Academy’s tradition of heaping great rewards on big nominees (see “The Return of the King” and “Chicago”). This indicates a level playing field that these type of awards usually seem to lack. Looks like the Academy is finally coming around.

2. Jon Stewart. In all honesty, I was looking forward to “The Daily Show’s” performance as host for the evening as much- maybe even a little more so- than the awards themselves. After a somewhat rocky start, he performed admirably. His commentary on some of the nominees could be pretty sharp- not sure how Spielberg felt about his crack about a “Jewish tragedy trilogy” (in light of “Schindler’s List” and “Munich”)- but he had some moments of funny as well that were nice to see. Props to not only the “Death to Smoochy” reference in the beginning but also the fake campaign ads during the show- an inspired “Daily Show”-esque idea that worked well. Good job Jon. Not great. Good. Bonus points for bringing the show in under 3 1/2 hours. That means it was shorter than past Best Picture winners “Gone With the Wind,” “The Godfather Part II,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” and the extended version of Best Picture winner “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” For that, you have our thanks.

3. What won, by and large, deserved to win. In the 21 feature categories, I can honestly say that I felt, given the competition, that 11 of the winners deserved it more than anything else. And of other 10 winners, 4 of them were personal runner-ups in their categories. Overall, I correctly predicted 15 of the 24 categories (the short subjects dragged me down most, as I missed all three), including 7 of the 8 major categories. Not my highest percentage ever, but not bad. In other words, bravo to the winners…most of them at least.

4. Robert Altman’s Honorary Oscar. This was just a nice moment for a movie buff. Very cool. Just wanted to acknowledge it.

What Was Not-So-Good:

1. The sort-of-surprise at the end of the show. I should have know Oscar wouldn’t be ready to give “Brokeback Mountain,” and its’ openly homosexual love story, Best Picture. GIven the film’s front-runner status, the announcement by Jack Nicholson at the end of the show that Paul Haggis’ L.A. story of racism “Crash” (which also trumped considerably more deserving nominees in Best Original Screenplay as well) was the Best Picture of 2005, and not “Brokeback Mountain,” was the biggest upset since “Shakespeare in Love” topped “Saving Private Ryan” in 1998, and the biggest shock in a night that didn’t really have any. My thoughts on “Crash” and “Brokeback” are well-documented online, you anyone who still isn’t sure why this is under the not-so-good category can check my thoughts out there.

2. John Williams canceled himself out. That this wasn’t surprising shouldn’t be surprising to anyone at this point; that he lost for “Geisha” means I doubt we’ll ever see Williams- the greatest of all film composers- on the Oscar stage again, and he will just have to settle on adding more nominations to his staggering total of 45. What was surprising was the winner. Well, OK, that “Brokeback Mountain’s” quietly lyrical score won over Williams’ isn’t a terrible shock, and it does stand in a quiet tradition of honoring little-known talents from outside the Hollywood system (see “The Red Violin,” “Il Postino,” “Life is Beautiful,” “Finding Neverland”) instead of major nominee scores or major talents on smaller projects. But I was expecting “Pride & Prejudice” to be the spoiler. Still, “Brokeback” is far from a bad choice. I just would have liked to have seen Williams onstage for his amazing creative year.

3. That Atlanta has to wait to see Foreign Films and Short Subjects. Really, there aren’t too many disappointments this year. As I mentioned earlier, most of the films and people that won deserved their Oscars. This is more a rant than anything about the problems a movie buff has with when his region gets to see some of the more specialized nominees. To date, only one of the Best Foreign Language Film nominees have hit Atlanta theatres, and it wasn’t the winner, and how exactly are we expected to know the short subject nominees when we have no way of seeing them before the awards? I also have this issue with the way Atlanta is down the list when it comes to getting some movies with Oscar prospects, or doesn’t get movies at all. Where’s the love folks? Sorry, just had to get that off my chest.

4. What was with the montages? And the blatent self-promotion? I thought Hollywood shuned that on its’ big night? OK, so I know Hollywood has been in this box-office slump for a year now, but good Lord, wasn’t Oscar night always supposed to be more than the financial bottom line? Trying to get people back into theatres with speechifying and endless montages of classic moments from great movies we’ve seen in the past only makes you look greedy. It also points to one of the reasons people are moving away from movie houses, and that’s because you aren’t making movies like you used to (the fine list of nominees last night were exceptions). The other, arguably bigger, reason is out of your control, and that is with the way the theatre-going experience has deteriorated over the years. And speaking as a manager at a movie theatre, it’s not all OUR fault folks. Hollywood and its’ partners in the movie exhibition industry have some major soul-searching to do if they’re gonna turn this around. Lecturing us about it and showing us images we can watch anytime on DVD- which evidently they don’t embrace quite so much anymore- isn’t the way to win the audience back.

What Was Surprising:

1. The best song- and the boldest one- won. I was really not expecting much from Best Original Song this year (especially last year after that “Motorcycle Diaries” oddity). I hadn’t heard any of the nominees, and didn’t expect I could back any of them. But the moment I heard “Hustle & Flow’s” terrific beats and power in “Pimp,” I knew I had a horse in this race I could get behind. That its’ production number was as bold as its’ content made for an unusual moment when it deservedly won over safer choices from “Crash” and “Transamerica,” giving Stewart some unexpected material, and audiences like the one I watched with last night with a lot to think about. Give the Academy credit, more than I have recently- the music branch is getting this category right in the end more often than not.

2. That not much was surprising…at least on the surface. Seriously folks, there weren’t that many shockers last night. It was just a pleasant evening of self-congratulation on the part of Hollywood. Live with it, and hope it happens more often in the future.

Oscar 2005 Final Winners List
Best Picture: “Crash”
Best Director: Ang Lee, “Brokeback Mountain”
Best Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Capote”
Best Actress: Reese Witherspoon, “Walk the Line”
Best Supporting Actor: George Clooney, “Syriana”
Best Supporting Actress: Rachel Weisz, “The Constant Gardener”
Best Original Screenplay: Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco, “Crash”
Best Adapted Screenplay: Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana, “Brokeback Mountain”
Best Original Score: Gustavo Santaolalla, “Brokeback Mountain”
Best Original Song: “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from “Hustle & Flow” (Jordon Houston, Cedric Coleman, Paul Beauregard)
Best Animated Feature: “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”
Best Foreign Language Film: “Tsotsi” (South Africa)
Best Documentary Feature: “March of the Penguins”
Best Visual Effects: “King Kong”
Best Sound Mixing: “King Kong”
Best Sound Editing: “King Kong”
Best Cinematography: “Memoirs of a Geisha”
Best Film Editing: “Crash”
Best Art Direction: “Memoirs of a Geisha”
Best Makeup: “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”
Best Costume Design: “Memoirs of a Geisha”
Best Short Film- Live Action: “Six Shooter”
Best Short Film- Animated: “The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation”
Best Documentary Short Subject: “A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin”
Honorary Oscar: Robert Altman (“The Player,” “M.A.S.H.”)

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