On Saturday night, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences held its fifth-annual Governors Awards, a showcase for the special Oscars — the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, and some general lifetime-achievement prizes given to industry veterans for particular merit — that were routinely a part of the actual Oscars telecast until they were banished in 2009. One of this year’s four winners, the Italian costume designer Piero Tosi, was not present, but the other three — Angela Lansbury, Angelina Jolie, and Steve Martin — showed up, and each of their awards served, in its own way, to illustrate just how much damage has been done to the Oscars by surgically removing from the main telecast the sense of continuity and of film history that these prizes represent.
Finally, a trilogy everyone actually wants to see. (If this doesn't sound like you, please locate the X on your browser and click it. Or just grab a Sharpie and mark a fat X over your screen — that will also work.) Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, humor empresses and superlative Neil Patrick Harris hecklers ("Yo, NPH, take those pants off, America wants to see what you're workin' with!"), will return to host the Golden Globe Awards not just next year, but even the year after. The BFFs, who totally need their own celebrity portmanteau (is there one already going around? Is it Tinamy? Fehler? Amina Poehley?), brought 19.7 million viewers to the NBC telecast this past January, a six-year high for the show; there was also a 28 percent increase in the 18-to-49 demo. Meaning that, yes, signing Poehler and Fey for two more years was what they in the biz call "a no-brainer." (Surprisingly rare, though. Ricky Gervais hosted three straight years starting in 2010, but each uncomfortable performance was followed by waves of "he probably won't be back"/"I'm not coming back" chatter.) Folks — millions of 'em — will tune in for the next two Januarys with purpose, vigor, and high, boozy expectations.
When this vast, important film festival — street name: "TIFF" — moved its hub to downtown Toronto, it was a win. The streets are smaller. The food is better. And so are the multiplexes and nightlife. There are also fewer businesspeople to trip over and protests to avoid. (I'm not kidding: I have missed the start of many a movie because of some worthy-cause march.) The festival built itself the TIFF Bell Lightbox, which is in use year-round as a state-of-the-art moviegoing facility. Most years I leave sad I'm not Torontonian. But I think the downtown luster has begun to tarnish.
Here are the people who are going to be pleased by the choice of Ellen DeGeneres to host this year's Oscars telecast:
• Those who remember that DeGeneres actually did a perfectly fine job hosting in 2007 (and a spectacular one hosting the high-degree-of-difficulty post-9/11 Emmys).
• Those for whom any AMPAS press release that does not contain the name "Seth MacFarlane" is one giant leap for mankind.
• Pragmatists who have reconciled themselves to the fact that the job of an Oscar host is basically to come out and kill for the first 20 minutes, then do some funny specialty bit an hour later, and then show up one more time shortly after you realize you've lost your pool to remind you that the show still has a host.
Here are the people who are not going to be pleased:
Molly, Tess, and Emily had a long gabfest over cosmos this weekend about branding and gender identity and decided to rename the podcast Girls in Hoodies. Now that we finally have a name that won't possibly annoy anyone on the Internet, we can focus on more important things, like this week's Academy Awards, and why exactly it's pretty much impossible not to love Jennifer Lawrence. We also chat about the now-infamous Onion tweet and the pifalls of the infectiousness of Hollywood snark. Finally, we rehash Girls’ road trip to Manitou, where we thankfully didn't run into any murderous demon babies, but where there was still plenty of irresponsible behavior on display.
The Oscars' Best Original Song category is responsible for Juicy J having as many Academy Awards as Christopher Plummer, and yet I still hate it. That's how bad it is. We could have built an entire Oscar-travesties ballot consisting of nothing but egregious Best Song snubs and inexplicable Best Song winners. No Oscar category is more broken, or operates from a more antiquated methodology; Best Original Song is a travesty-generating machine. Given the choice in the first round, Grantland's readers voted pretty overwhelmingly that Samuel L. Jackson losing to Martin Landau constituted a bigger blot on the Oscars' legacy than the entire ignominious history of the Best Song category as a whole, which means we didn't get to fully explore said ignominy. So let's do that now.
Roberto Benigni's pair of over-caffeinated acceptance speeches from 1999 didn't survive the first round of Grantland's Oscar Travesty bracket. It lost to The King's Speech’s stealing what the cool, the young, the Fincher-besotted believe was The Social Network’s best picture Oscar. It is the greater travesty since Benigni's wins for foreign-language film and actor constitute no conventional travesty.
What exactly did he really do, anyway? Benigni wrote, directed, and starred in a film that Hollywood seemed to like. The movie, Life Is Beautiful, is a comedy in which an Italian family winds up in a World War II Nazi concentration camp, and the father concocts a parallel universe of comedy and fun to shield his son from the abounding horrors. The moral objections to the movie make sense — for one thing, it is predicated on a sort of Holocaust denial. But the film's tonal ingenuity resides in the deftly crafted necessity for that denial. We know what Benigni's up to. He recalibrates his famous clown persona to fit a story about altruism and doom. The game he constructs isn't for the audience. The second half of Life Is Beautiful asks us to watch two ways at the same time: as a desperate parent and as an innocent child. Having to apply that double vision is what breaks your heart.
In 1980, Raging Bull loses to Ordinary People. Sometimes we need a little time with our art.
During the 1980 Best Picture race, the Academy needed a standing eight count to clear its collective head. If it had gotten one, it would’ve seen the truth. Art can be immediate — instantaneous even — and a piece can stab you right in the heart the moment you see it. But it can also be too much to comprehend at the point of experience and the remove of time is required to fully appreciate it. That’s the story of the 1980 Best Picture.
It was The Wizard of Oz in 1939 that provided Hollywood with its most enduring depiction of the divide between the head and the heart. In their desperation to gain the organs they lacked, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man proved themselves willing to endure any indignity, from flying monkeys to grabby munchkins. No task was too great, no road too yellow or too long. Everything was worth it in their tireless quest to appear either smarter or more caring.
The Wizard of Oz didn't win the Oscar for Best Picture — the trophy that year went to some overheated epic about wind. But in many ways the shared journey of the Scarecrow and the Tin Man toward wildly disparate goals presaged every stupid Academy decision for the next 70-plus years. When given the chance, the Oscars always trip themselves up lunging for hearts or smarts, never rewarding actual artistic achievement when something tear-jerking or historical is there to get in the way. Hollywood, as one or two (million) people have blithely commented, is a wildly insecure town, its denizens desperate to be thought of as both relatably human (they are not) and inspirationally erudite (ditto). The Oscars, more often than not, reflect this; the final tally saying more about how the voters wish to be perceived than anything about the movies themselves.
Look, I don’t hate Dances With Wolves. Unlike most of my film-snob friends, I actually have a soft spot for it. I remember watching it in the theater and being moved enough to want to see it again. I cheered when the tatonka finally showed up and Kevin Costner’s Lieutenant Dunbar got to ride to the American Indian camp and rouse them to the hunt. And speaking of Costner, I really like him, too. From Silverado to Company Men to the vastly underrated Thirteen Days, Costner’s appearance on screen always brings a smile to my face. And he directed the film with craft and artistry. So I have no problem with Dances With Wolves (and Costner himself) getting nominated in 1990.
But if you’re asking me to be OK with the fact that both the film and Costner beat Goodfellas and Martin Scorsese? The answer would have to be: Go fuck yourself. Because that is undoubtedly the greatest travesty in Oscar history.
We're now waist-deep in awards season, and the Grantland staff would like to take this opportunity to remind all the Oscar, Grammy, and Golden Collar nominees out there that should they have to step up to that podium and take that mic on national television, they owe it to themselves to study up beforehand and see how the pros handle it. Here are our favorite awards show acceptance (and unacceptance) speeches from all corners of the entertainment world.
You can be honest. When Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone announced the Oscar nominations this morning, you were nervous they were going to go all Baseball Writers' Association of America and say, "This year there are no nominees." Of course, if you're Ben Affleck or Kathryn Bigelow or even Tom Hooper and Quentin Tarantino, isn't that kind of what happened? 2012 was a strong movie year, and that's pretty much demonstrated by the dozen or so legitimate candidates for the five directing slots, two of which, at least, seemed preordained for Affleck, who made Argo, and Bigelow, who made Zero Dark Thirty. But when the names of Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and Michael Haneke (Amour) and David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) were called alongside Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) and Ang Lee (Life of Pi), somebody in my one-person living room turned into the Retta Twitter feed and said, "Oh, no they didn't!" But they did. And what did they do?
It can be argued that Paul Thomas Anderson is America's greatest living director. That particular argument is not one we're about to undertake, because we're not looking to incite a cineaste melee in which various Criterion Collection Blu-rays are hurled to and fro like so many phosphorescent Tron death-Frisbees, but here is the short yet significant filmography of the man a certain excitable segment of the population likes to shorthand as "PTA": Hard Eight. Boogie Nights. Magnolia. Punch-Drunk Love. There Will Be Blood. And now, arriving with roughly the same level of anticipation in the film-obsessed community as behind-the-scenes footage of a drunk Orson Welles test-sledding six dozen Rosebud prototypes, The Master.
Anderson's latest divisive masterpiece was released on a handful of screens in New York and Los Angeles last week, shattering per-theater records in the process. Today, it expands to 788 locations, giving moviegoers in the rest of the country their first opportunity to partake in the Mastermania gripping artisanal-torpedo-juice-sipping coastal elites. But should you part with your hard-earned entertainment dollar on a movie that, at this moment, is a mere nine points higher on the Tomatometer than Dredd 3D? We once again are committed to answering the questions that will guide our readers to the best possible ticket-buying decision.
Scoff if you will at the release of a poster — a piece of advertising, even if it's an exquisite piece of advertising — being treated as news in certain parts of the kudosphere, but know this: Every golden bread crumb dropped between now and the close of Oscar balloting has been meticulously placed on the virtual red carpet that terminates at the Dolby (née Kodak) Theatre by expert awards consultants, people who would shiv you in the kidney with a stale shard of Wolfgang Puck crostino if it meant picking up a single extra nomination in a technical category. And so we must take today's debut of the one-sheet for Lincoln, Steven Spielberg's presumptive Best Picture favorite, very, very seriously. Two weeks ago, Team Lincoln fired the starter's pistol on Oscar season with the release of the first photo of Daniel Day-Lewis, an image so expertly composed it virtually assured DDL would be taking home his third Best Actor trophy come February, evoking as it did the chameleon craftsman's borderline insane dedication to total character immersion. The first poster, however, is another story. No more free passes. The Game has begun in earnest, and if you take it hard to the rack with your head down, know that you're going to take the occasional elbow to the temple. And so we must pause from the initial rush of excitement — Wow, they did this for us? They love us! This is amazing! — and take a moment to raise some concerns about how this one-sheet affects Lincoln’s Oscar chances right now, in this moment.
So this is a bit convoluted but bear with me here: On Thursday, the L.A. Times reported that the Motion Picture Academy was in talks with Jimmy Fallon and Lorne Michaels to host and produce the Oscars, respectively. The problem, according to the Times, was that Fallon's show is on NBC but the Oscars are on ABC, and presumably ABC wouldn't want to bring in a direct competitor.