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Film

OSCARS make up for its CRASH mistake!

A Look at the 79th Annual Academy Awards
Written by Frank J. Avella

Photo Credits AMPAS

Martin Scorsese FINALLY won a long overdue Oscar at the 79th Academy Awards and AMPAS wisely chose The Departed as Best Picture. There were other surprises, some wonderful and some downright fantastic as well as a handful of the predictable and disappointing.

This reporter and film lover was severely disillusioned last year when the weakest Best Picture nominee, Crash, won the top award over the far-superior front-runner Brokeback Mountain. (For the record, the other nominees: Munich, Good Night, and Good Luck and Capote were all superior to Crash in my opinion as well as the opinion of most critics.) Without rehashing the politics--which involve homophobia, political correctness and simple bad taste--one of my favorite nights of the year and the industry’s most important event, had been badly tarnished.

This year, the Academy got their balls back and chose pretty damn wisely. They happily surprised many by selecting the ultra-violent, seemingly-Academy-unfriendly caper, The Departed, as Best Picture. It was a damn good choice made even better by the fact that the always-awesome Jack Nicholson (unjustly snubbed for a nomination for TD) presented the award with the amazing and kookier-than-ever Diane Keaton.

The night began with what looked like a sweep for the audacious Pan’s Labyrinth (art direction, makeup and, in an upset, cinematography).

Going into the frightfully-weak Best Supporting Actor race, I was rooting for anyone BUT Eddie Murphy (the anointed one) since his performance wasn’t even nomination-worthy. Mark Wahlberg deserved the award but didn’t have a prayer. When Alan Arkin’s name was announced, I knew the evening was going to be a wild ride--although I began to instantly fear a Little Miss Sunshine win for the grand prize!

Interesting to note, Mr. Murphy, was reported to have bolted directly after losing to Arkin. Very classy, Eddie! And very sportsman like. Maybe next year for Norbit 2!


Dreamgirls

The Academy’s love for the overrated Dreamgirls was proving to be underwhelming so Jennifer Hudson’s deserved victory was even more of a personal triumph. The Bill Condon musical won only one more award, for Sound Mixing.

The Academy paid the screenwriters a long overdue tribute with an entertaining and intelligent montage about...well writers (ingeniously compiled by Nancy Myers). As expected William Monaghan copped the Adapted Screenplay award for The Departed. Looking and acting like a stereotypical, disheveled writer, Monaghan quipped: “Valium does work,” and went on to pay tribute to his inspirations: Lawrence of Arabia and Peter O’Toole.



Little Miss Sunshine

The Original Screenplay award went to the least deserving of the bunch: Michael Arndt for Little Miss Sunshine. My fears increased.

Major upsets began to pile up with The Lives of Others winning Best Foreign Language Film. Having just seen it the night before, I was blown away by this powerful and frightening German gem but never thought it had a prayer against the popularity of Pan. Okay, that’s not quite true as I did predict it to win but mostly because the Foreign Language Films are voted on by a small committee who must see all the nominees to vote. Wouldn’t it be delightful if this was stipulated in ALL the categories?

The lead acting awards were as expected. No one was going to stop the Dame Helen Mirren juggernaut. Best Actress was her bitch this entire season--regardless of the award. I’m surprised they didn’t create a special Grammy for her! Eloquent, witty and stunning, Mirren’s triumph was a thrilling moment.

The biggest disappointment of the evening, for me, was watching the genius-talent, Peter O’Toole become the biggest acting loser in Oscar history with eight Best Actor nods and zero wins. This is a man who should have won for Lawrence of Arabia, Becket, The Lion in Winter AND The Stunt Man, but incredulously lost each and every time. When Alan Arkin won, I thought the sentiment would spill over to one of the finest screen actors in the history of the medium. But it did not. Perhaps it’s because O’Toole is British (Scotch-Irish, to be precise). Perhaps not enough folks saw Venus. But it was a damn pity. I only pray he has another killer performance in him.

For the record, Venus was not a great film but O’Toole gave such a lovely and nuanced performance that he truly did deserve the award. Forest Whitaker did an extraordinary job, but much of his role called for a lot of ranting and raving. Alas, he had the mighty Oprah on his side.


Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson, Helen Mirren and Alan Arkin

 

The usually pre-lingual Whitaker was quite effective and inspiring in his acceptance speech. It would have been more powerful had he not read most of it.


Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas

When Mount Rushmore walked to the podium to present the Best Director prize, my heart raced. Watching them joke about winning and NOT winning was a treat. Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were there to give Marty Scorsese his first Oscar. No one else could take it. It would be a moment to remember in film history: Certainly the best 2006 Oscar moment. And, thank all the heavens, that is exactly what happened.



Scorsese’s victory was, indeed, THE moment of the night. As he took to the podium, Scorsese asked “Could you double check the envelope” and acknowledge his “old friends” who presented the gold god to him. It was a fantastic and frenzied speech and a thrill to watch these titans of cinema walk off together and meet up with Czar Jack waiting in the wings.

Best Picture was as up in the air as ever. The gracious Jack and gorgeous Diane strutted out and crowned The Departed the best of 2006! A magnificent stunner and proof that the Academy members are not as predictable and out-of-touch as we might have thought.

The broadcast itself was the normal mixed bag, but the pros far outweighed the cons.

Kudos to Ellen Degeneres for moving the show along and bringing a kind of Johnny Carson class back (okay, with a touch of modern warp). Her best moments were the seemingly-off-the-cuff, in-the-audience bits with Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood. Her ‘directing’ Steven Spielberg as he took a digi-cam shot of her with Eastwood was brilliant television!

Many of the montages rocked! Especially Giuseppe Tornatore’s tribute to fifty years of Foreign-Language Films. This moment’s been bashed in the blogs and I want to say to those montage-naysayers: you are not film lovers and the Academy Awards are a celebration of cinema...not pop culture, so get over it or just tune out!

As far as length goes, I am of the opinion that the Oscar show can and should run AS LONG AS IT NEEDS TO. It is the most important night in entertainment. Plan ahead and stay up one night of the year!

Pet peeve: Too many folks read from paper. Is it so much to ask (an actor especially) to memorize your lines???


Dreamgirls Medley with Beyonce Knowles and Jennifer Hudson

The musical highlights included Melissa Etheridge’s winning rendition of “I Need to Wake up;” the dynamic Dreamgirls medley (staged by Condon) and the lovely tribute to Ennio Morricone. (To answer a much asked question: yes, Clint Eastwood speaks Italian--he made many films in Italy with director Sergio Leone!)

A presenting standout was Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt having some Devil Wears Prada fun with Meryl Streep before reading the costume design nominees.

It’s hard to know what to make of the dance troupe Pilobus. On the one hand, they were pretty awesome (The Departed gun was a wowser and The Devil Wears Prada shoe was impressive), but were they necessary? Was the Will Ferrell/Jack Black/John C. Reilly number necessary? Is Celine Dion ever necessary?


Peter O'Toole

And here are two important questions:
What does Kate Winslet need to do to win an Oscar?
What does Peter O’Toole need to do to win an Oscar? (And, at age 75, he needs to do it QUICK!)

I want to note that I predicted 20 out of 24 wins correctly. That is a personal best for me and as rocky and crazy as this year’s race has been, the end results semi-restores my faith in AMPAS. And after the devastation I (and so many others) felt last year, that is saying a lot!



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