The 87th Academy Awards Review: A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villany

Posted in The Screening Room by - February 23, 2015

Alright, I guess let’s do this. Yesterday, the 87th Academy Awards aired live on television. Our Editor in Chief, Chris Stachiw, forced me to watch them since we needed someone to write a coverage article. He was watching wrestling and our senior staff writer was trapped in North Carolina, and so, unfortunately, the task of suffering through the Academy Awards fell to me. I have never watched an Academy Awards show all the way through, and I never want to again. My highest ambition is to work as the head of one department or another on a full-length motion picture, and yet I can not get behind the three and a half hour long industry wide masturbatory pleasure orgy that is the Academy Awards. For this review, I will first provide a short list of the more notable category winners in case you have not already found that list in some other less angry article, along with the categories on which I have some personal comment. After said list, I will write a portion of this review that features all of the things I hated, and the very few things I enjoyed about tonight’s Academy Awards. As an aside, biopics blow chunks.


The Results

The best foreign language film went to Ida directed by Polish auteur Pawel Pawlikowski.

The best documentary short was awarded to Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1.

Interstellar won the award for best visual effects.

Big Hero 6 was selected for best animated feature film.

Best original score was given to Grand Budapest Hotel.

Birdman won best original screenplay.

Imitation Game won best adapted screenplay.

Alejandro González Iñárritu won best director for Birdman.

Micheal Keaton was awarded best actor for the same.

Julianne Moore got best actress in a leading role for Still Alice.

And finally, best picture went to Birdman.

In total, Grand Budapest Hotel won four awards, Birdman and Whiplash walked away with three each, and Boyhood, a film I have heard nothing poor about, received a resounding one Oscar award in best supporting actress.


Thoughts on Winners and Nominees

Now for the commentary. Again, if all you wanted was a list of winners and possibly some light and tasteful commentary, go find another review.

The first thing that has to be said about the Oscars is the make up of its voting body. An L.A. Times study from 2012 found that 94% of the population was Caucasian, 77% were male, and the median age of an academy award member was 62 years. I am sure that these statistics have slightly changed in the last three years, but not enough to dissolve the issue, which is less that the Academy is racist, and ore that they are losing their grip on modern culture. Yet some how the world believes that this organization, who tries its damnedest to keep their membership records a secret, is the premier voice of the public when it comes to the analysis of film.

                                                             and it isn't racial diversity in the nominees

                                                             and it isn’t racial diversity in the nominees

Now that the nasty issue of representation is out of the way, lets look at the issues I had with the nominations and awards specifically. For best Adapted screenplay, Whiplash was thrown in to the mix with the likes of Imitation Game, American Sniper, and the Theory of Everything, despite the fact that the work is was “adapted” from was literally a proof of concept short created by the same cast and crew in order to raise funding for the already written and under production version of the film. I have not seen Whiplash, so I can not say for certain if it’s inclusion in the original screenplay section would have altered the outcomes, but the fact that the Academy is so inflexible as this calls in to question the validity of the award ceremony as a whole. Another example is Birdman‘s exclusion from the category of best original score. The soundtrack for the film is more than 50% original percussion pieces, accompanied primarily by classical sets to add more harmony to the film when necessary. This qualifies it for, at the very least, consideration for the award for best original score. Unfortunately, an incomplete listing of the musical pieces was first sent to the Academy, and when the updated version was sent to replace it, the Academy refused to change their decision, barring the film from nomination. The Academy’s inflexibility is a trait often associated with the elderly, affluent, white males who spends most of his time out of touch with the rest of mankind, unforgiving of mistakes , and unwilling to accept fault for their own.

Another example that shows, less the out of touch state of the Academy as a whole, and more the out of touch status of the key faces in modern cinema is a series of shots after an acceptance speech. Keep in mind that when I explain this series of minor statements and camera shots, I do not insinuate that those involved were intentionally offensive or self aggrandizing, but simply so out of touch with the modern day men and women that they saw no other option for their behavior then to focus on themselves. When the best documentary short film winner was announced as Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry made a point to thank those private citizens that volunteer their time in order to provide the support and care that struggling veterans require to acclimate back in to the civilian world. The cameras then cut away from these speaking women, voicing a statement on a matter that was important to them, in order to focus on Bradley Cooper, an actor who I very much enjoy.

                                                    If you think this man is a veteran, well shame on you

                                                    If you think this man is a veteran, well shame on you

It felt to me as though the Hollywood citizens that were running the Oscars thought that pointing the camera at a man who portrayed a veteran would work to show the audience how aware they are of the struggles of the men and women in the Armed Forces. As a prior active duty member myself, I felt it was insulting to use Bradley Cooper as an example of a coping veteran as though he was the closest thing they had to a real serviceman or woman. To add to this awkward series of decisions, one of the two women followed up by mentioning her son, who she lost due to suicide, before stating that the country needed to have an open conversation about the issue. The duo were played off the stage at the exact same moment, and Neil Patrick Harris was forced to proceed with his scripted joke, eyes wide, desperately hoping that the world wouldn’t find the lack of time between serious commentary on loss and flippant humor offensive.

The award for best actor was assigned to Eddie Redmayne for his role as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. While I can not say that he was not exceptional in the role, nor can I even suggest it, considering that there are few Oscar nominated items that are truly appalling, I would like to mention that portraying a living, breathing human being that has been in existence, has been recorded on video and tape, and has been captured in film for the entirety of their life would seem a detriment, in my mind, to their consideration for best actor. However, that must not be the idea of the Academy, since the only nominated actor who did not portray an existing human being, deceased or still living, was Michael Keaton in Birdman. I would love to sit down with the leading members of the Academy and ask them what part of portraying a character you can visit and speak to is more difficult or impressive as an actor than the embodiment of a fictional human whom the actor must create in their own minds in order to connect with in a believable way. 

                                                                             Redmayne didn't listen

                                                                             Redmayne didn’t listen

In the category of visual effects, Interstellar beat out Guardians of the Galaxy. This was an unsurprising, but still frustrating decision on behalf of the Academy Awards. Opinions about the films themselves aside, I feel as though Guardians had far superior visual effects. Certainly Interstellar contained epic wide shots of their cast in the vast emptiness of space, along with grand views of expansive, solitary wastelands, but so did Guardians of the Galaxy. The shots as the Guardians approached “Knowhere”, the floating celestial head, revealed an equally expansive depiction of space. The opening scene takes place on a devastated planet of tinder and ash, as depressing and bleak as those of the ice planet from Interstellar but with a less solitary tone thanks to the upbeat soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy. At the same time Guardians included gigantic, bustling metropolises, aliens, crashing space ships, zero gravity prisons, flying robot escape attempts, a flying spear controlled by a man’s gap toothed whistle, and, lets be honest, way more explosions then Interstellar. There’s a common idea that the Oscars has a problem with films that make money, but I believe that the truth is the Oscars have a problem with films that aren’t depressingly serious or monotone. 

I also find myself forced to mention the animated feature film category. I watched a majority of the films nominated, and while I loved almost all of them without exception, and am happy to see a piece of cinema like Big Hero 6 get some recognition I have to mention what anyone who came here intentionally looking for an Oscars article is already aware of. That is, the snub of The Lego Movie. Perhaps the Academy simply thought the film was a corporate shill piece of no value and disregarded it as a potential contestant, or perhaps they had other reasons to ignore it for contention, but The Lego Movie may have been my favorite over all movie of last year, let alone animated feature. As much as I enjoyed Big Hero 6 and Boxtrolls, I can not find it in my heart to choose them over The Lego Movie. The fact that one of the songs performed for entertainment was a mash up of various Lego Movie songs performed by an eclectic group of artists almost seemed to be adding insult to injury, suggesting that the Academy was aware of the entirety of the movie and still felt it deserved less recognition than other animated films.

Personally, I feel that the most interesting acceptance speech of the night came from Pawel Pawlikowski, who won the award for best foreign language film with the picture Ida early on in the evening. It was the first time a Polish film had ever won in the category, and only the second time in history that a Polish film was nominated. The most obvious aspect of the speech was the fact that Pawel had so many people to thank that he spoke through two separate musical cues to wrap up and exit the stage. It was endearing and humble on his part. However, the part I found most interesting was a possibly unintentional commentary on the award show itself. He exclaims that he has no idea of how he reached this point, saying that it was humorous, because his film was “about, as you saw, black and white, the need for silence, a withdrawal from the world, and contemplation, and here we are, at the center of noise and world attention… Life is full of surprises.” I found it surprising to see such self awareness from an Oscar nominee, even if it was not, perhaps, intentional.


Thoughts on Everything Else

Now I’m going to discuss the travesties that occurred in between the winner announcements, which include the presenters, the entertainment, and the everything in between. If I haven’t pissed you off yet, I almost certainly will here.

I want to talk about the award presentation system. One or two well known actors or actresses will enter on stage following a quip from the host, who this year was Neil Patrick Harris. The first issue I found was that, almost without exception, the music that accompanied the presenters’ entrances were awful. The Oscars are accompanied by a full, live orchestra, and yet the music they chose for the walk-ons included orchestral versions of “Let It Go”, Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling”, and other similarly recognizable songs butchered into subdued classical compilations. For talented, trained, experienced actors and actresses of often high popularity and impressive note, many of the presenters failed to project the idea that they had any reason to be there. I am unsure of how the Oscars work, but from the majority of the performances I witnessed, I would hazard to assume the presenters were reading off of cue cards or a teleprompter.

Similarly the humor was lacking in any real passion. Neil Patrick Harris, an actor who I have intense respect for despite his part in the piece of shit that is How I Met Your Mother, performed safe, inoffensive comedy designed to reach the maximum number of viewers regardless of the strength of the laughs gained. Even the jokes made by the presenters were bland and unimaginative. Like the majority of nominations for best picture, the humor was written and chosen specifically to avoid any sort of offense that might be taken away from the already sullied 2015 Oscar ceremony. The closest I came to actually enjoying a joke was when NPH used David Oyelowo, snubbed by the Oscars for what some presumed to be racial reasons, in order to make surprisingly tame black joke. When the joke failed to land well, NPH thanked Oyelowo, which was backed by a room full of applause. Neil responded to the applause by saying “Oh, now you like him”, an obvious reference to the speculation of racism in the Academy. It was topical, timely, and relevant, and avoided being one of the stale jokes about how old an actor is getting, or how John Travolta finds himself incapable of pronouncing names that are not entirely white in origin.

                                                                             Nope, it's totally racist

                                                                             Nope, it’s totally racist

Additionally, the Oscars are sprinkled with notable speakers and presentations. These speakers are often workers in the film industry, and their subject matter seeks only to showcase Hollywood’s inability to understand the middle or lower classes due to their almost insultingly high quality of life, as well as their often self perpetuated senses of self worth. At one point a speaker went in to a spiel about how important films and the theater were to bettering the human race by bringing people together from all over the world in order to enjoy cinema. The presenters opened their time on stage with reach-arounds for the other branches of film, with actors discussing how important sound mixers are to the world, and with other actors talking about how inspiring and emotional the performances were of other actors nominated for awards. At one point a woman came on stage and said, “Only at the Oscars do we take a break in the middle of our award show to talk about another award show.” at which point the Oscars preceded to discuss, at length, the winners of the Academy Scientific and Technical Awards. This self referential humor only serves to suggest that those involved are aware of the absurdity of their system, and instead of fixing it, decided a joke would work as a temporary fix.

The musical components of the ceremony were absurd. Scarlett Johansson provided a preparatory speech for a compilation video of various songs from the film The Sound of Music, after which Lady Gaga stepped on to the stage, dressed in a surprisingly normal white gown. She sang her own separate compilation of various songs from the film, after which she introduced Julie Andrews, who had been scheduled to present an award. At this point I would like to point out that Julie Andrews really seems to be keeping it nice and tight, especially considering that she is seventy nine years old. Equally frustrating was the reaction that the audience had to the live performance of “Glory” by Common and John Legend. While the song itself deals with considerably important material, the Oscars contained what felt like an obvious over sell, to use a wrestling term. After the song concluded and the audience gave a standing ovation, the camera switched to a shot of Chris Pine with a single, solitary tear, its trail glistening on his pale white cheekbones. I went in to the Oscars thinking they were going to suck, but that they weren’t racist, but this shot felt as though the Academy planned the incident. It felt as though they thought “People think we’re racist. To prove we aren’t racist, we’ll intentionally show a white member cry after a rap song is played, but he can’t cry to much, because that would be obvious.”

                                                              Ladies: Chris Pine is a single, emotional, man

                                                              Ladies: Chris Pine is a single, emotional, man

Another issue that should be covered is the commercials. The Oscars are full of so many commercial breaks that I almost stopped watching the show, despite knowing that Kulture Shocked needed some kind of article about the whole hot mess. These commercials are clearly sold to the businesses as Oscar air time, because like the Super Bowl, many of these ads are tailored specifically toward cinema-themed campaigns. For instance, McDonalds created a black and white text ad that contained quotes from famous films, followed by the “I’m Loving it” catch phrase that has become synonymous with the fast food giant. It felt as though every thirty minutes of award show included three or four separate commercial breaks. At one point, the show went to a commercial break, came back, showed a tribute to industry workers who had passed away, had a singer sing in tribute to the tribute video, and then went to another commercial break. I am aware of the desire to honor the dead comrades of your industry, but to spend an entire segment of the show performing two separate tributes can only be an intentional attempt to use the deaths of celebrities in order to sell commercial air time.

The final comment I have on the happenings of the Oscars is the tendency for winners to use the acceptance speech as an attempt at political commentary. I have my doubts as to the speech’s effect on the hearts and minds of people who don’t already feel the same way. At the same time, there are aspects of the Oscar ceremony that seem to counteract any expression of caring or good intentions toward those in need, suffering from disease, suicidal, or recovering from mental trauma. The losers of the top six categories, a grand total of 21 people, were provided with complementary consolation prize bags with $168,000 each. Combined, that equals $3,528,000 dollars sunk in to things like a $20,000 astrology reading, a $11,500 nine night vacation to Italy, and a $250 laser vibrator that induces orgasm without contact. If anyone at the Academy actually gave a single fuck about the less fortunate who find themselves incapable of taking nine days off from work to go to Italy, or the people who volunteer their time at suicide hotlines, or wounded warrior programs for injured vets, they would take the money from these exorbitant gift bags for affluent actors and donate it to the charities of the nominees’ choices. All the mentions in People magazine interviews can’t compare to $168,000 in donations to keep the lights on at a suicide hotline, ya self righteous pricks.

                                                                                  You tell'em whitey

                                                                                  You tell’em whitey

The Oscars Final Rating: The Precipice Overlooking the Seventh Circle of Hell 

 

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Born in Arizona, he currently resides in Denton, Texas. When he isn't watching movies he's playing board games and drinking whatever he can get his hands on. John watches Djimon Honsou movies because he likes Spawn, which had Michael Jai White.
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