February 28, 2011
Well, Randy Newman had a good acceptance speech.
And Sandra Bullock loosened things up.
But apart from that, the 83rd annual Academy Awards ceremony was a crashing bore.
Whoever thought pairing the insufferably smug James Franco (I’m still recovering from his mannered portrayal of Allen Ginsberg in Howl) and Anne Hathaway (great in Rachel’s Getting Married, disappointing in Love and Other Drugs) was a good way to represent “Young Hollywood’’ must have been smoking Miley Cyrus’ bong. It almost made one yearn for the tired old Catskill shtick of Billy Crystal, let alone Rickey Gervais’ outrageous bad manners. Even Russell Brand was on relatively good behavior, on a night that in which viewers needed to see him cut loose. Badly.
I liked The King’s Speech, but Steven Spielberg’s assertion that the winning film would join the ranks of The Godfather, On The Waterfront and The Deer Hunter was a classic over-reach. And it was disappointing, although not unexpected, that Christian Bale’s scenery-chewing turn in The Fighter was rewarded (personally, I preferred his famous YouTube rant) along with co-star Melissa Leo’s overbroad role (Amy Adams’ more subdued performance in the same movie was bypassed, once again.)
More importantly: where was Banksy?
The obligatory rant by Inside Job director Charles Ferguson against the malefactors of wealth on Wall Street was okay, but it would have been appropriate (and amusing) to hear some more political outbursts given the current climate. (Where was Sacheen Littlefeather now that we really needed her?) And I would have preferred to see the underground spray paint artist appear as more than a punchline from Justin Timberlake. And it would have doubled the participation by African-Americans, sadly underrepresented on screen and at the ceremony itself except for the token presences of Halle Berry, Jennifer Hudson and (of course) Oprah.
There’s a separate cultural debate going on that an award to The Social Network would have been hipper, and more politically relevant, particularly in the light of the changes being wrought in part by social media these days than the customary Anglophilia represented by The King’s Speech.
As Christopher Hitchens observed in Slate: “The King's Speech is an extremely well-made film with a seductive human interest plot, very prettily calculated to appeal to the smarter filmgoer and the latent Anglophile. But it perpetrates a gross falsification of history. One of the very few miscast actors—Timothy Spall as a woefully thin pastiche of Winston Churchill—is… shown as a consistent friend of the stuttering prince and his loyal princess and as a man generally in favor of a statesmanlike solution to the crisis of the abdication. In point of fact, Churchill was—for as long as he dared—a consistent friend of conceited, spoiled, Hitler-sympathizing Edward VIII’’ and the somewhat mushier equivocations of King George VI on the appeasement of Neville Chamberlain.’’
But that, as they say, is Hollywood. Whatever disputes there may be about the historical record, The King’s Speech is a well-crafted, well-acted piece of work that compares favorably with the vaporous “narrative’’ of The Social Network,’ which has its own inaccuracies to answer for.
The Academy has enough to answer for with last night’s show. Next time, if they want to skew younger, bring on Britney and Lindsay—or Miley. Randy Newman, who seemed to have the appropriate, eyebrows-raised approach to the whole festivities, recently confirmed to me that he tried to convince Lady Gaga or Katie Perry to come on to do his award-winning Toy Story 3 tune in order to have “two people that people actually liked.’’ They were unavailable, apparently, and Randy helped save the show, briefly. But it would have been better to have Lady Gaga lay an egg than the whole show.
For your viewing pleasure, here’s a link to Christian Bale’s apology for his Terminator: Salvation rant (the original is better, but perhaps less suited for family audiences).
And, in a blast from the past, here’s a clip of Sacheen Littlefeather, introduced by Liv Ullman and Roger Moore (!) refusing to accept Marlon Brando’s 1973 award for The Godfather to protest the treatment of Native Americans. They made Don Corleone an offer he could refuse. Thems were the days.