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By Samuel Stoddard

March 2000

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Wednesday, March 29, 2000

Christine sends in the following to the Reader Poll question on how sandwiches are consumed:

Monday, March 27, 2000

The Academy Awards for this year were said to be the most unpredictable the academy has ever seen, or at least in a long time. It was, and there were surprises, but oddly enough, it was one of the least interesting in some time. Perhaps it was because Best Picture was a lock for American Beauty, and there weren't a whole lot of movies people cared for passionately. As opposed to last year's duel between Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare In Love, this year's, between American Beauty and The Cider House Rules was manufactured and forced. Both were the product of Oscar campaigns between DreamWorks and Miramax, but the movies were worth the attention. The Cider House Rules should never have been nominated in the first place; that it was -- and more so, that it was somehow sold to someone as the one American Beauty had to beat -- is a sorry reminder of just how far Miramax's expertise at Oscar campaigning can take things.

It was a particularly unpredictable year. Two years ago, I had 17 correct guesses out of 19. Last year, I had 15 out of 20. This year I only had 10 out of 18, and when the first five Oscars were all misses, I was afraid I'd do much worse. Best Costume and Best Makeup both went to Topsy-Turvy, which utterly delights me in spite of the fact that I had guessed Anna and the King and Bicentennial Man, respectively. It's nice to see the Academy recognizing a highly respected but small film like this. Same goes for Best Score, which went to The Red Violin (I had guessed American Beauty). I'm a little impressed with the Academy this year; it looks like they were actually thinking about their votes rather than checking off the title of the movie they liked the most (or recognized at all).

The technical awards I did better on. Best Editing, Sound, Sound Effects, and Visual Effects all went to The Matrix, making that movie the number two finisher for the night. (American Beauty won five.) I guessed three out of the four correctly; I had Best Sound going to Star Wars for no better reason than I didn't think The Matrix would get them all. I'm fine with the choices, especially Editing, although I have to abstain from having an opinion on Best Visual Effects. The Matrix had some very impressive and innovative visual effects, and it had a distinctive style to them that Star Wars lacked. However, The Matrix also had some weak sequences, mostly with the aliens attacking the ship, while Star Wars has to be recognized for the sheer vastness and ambitiousness of its effects. There was a realistic battle sequence with hundreds of characters, all done in CGI. That has to count for something. So I'm torn on that one. I'm satisfied that it went to The Matrix, and if there is any unrest with me about it, it's my suspicion that it won just because of the ongoing overzealous backlash against Star Wars for not being the greatest film ever made.

Best Art Direction went to Sleepy Hollow, the rightful winner and my prediction. Best Cinematography went to American Beauty, also one of my correct guesses. Best Original Song was a surprise to me. I figured When She Loved Me, from Toy Story 2, would get it -- it's a nice song, and it made people cry. Barring that, what I dreaded: Blame Canada, from South Park. (Although, I have to say, having Robin Williams sing it during the ceremony actually made that entertaining.) But the winner was You'll Be In My Heart, from Tarzan. I like Phil Collins. I'm happy for him. I just wish I had seen it coming.

Best Original Screenplay went to American Beauty, and Best Adapted Screenplay went to The Cider House Rules; I predicted both. I predicted neither of the Supporting Acting awards. Angelina Jolie gave me a premonition. I knew she'd win it and spoil my guess of Catherine Keener. I was right: I was wrong. That's the one guess I'm kicking myself for not guessing correctly. Best Supporting Actor was the most interesting race of the evening. I guessed Haley Joel Osment, partly because I thought he had a good chance of winning it, and partly because I thought he should. Osment's performance was absolutely phenomenal, not just for his age but for any age; that he is only eleven years old makes it all the more impressive. My beef with his nomination is just that it wasn't for Best Actor. Osment is so good in the movie, setting the tone and direction and emotional base for every scene, that he seems more the lead than Bruce Willis, even though, in the strictest literary sense, Willis' was the main character of the story. The strongest scene, in a film with many strong scenes, is one at the end, where Osment talks to his mother about his problem. It's a powerful, resonant scene, and it's entirely due to Osment's skilled performance that it holds together. With anything less than a brilliant performance, that scene, many of his others, and ultimately the movie as a whole would crash and burn. He should have won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Michael Clarke Duncan also would have been a good choice, but Michael Caine won it. Caine is one of my favorite actors, and if I were a film director (my unpursued dream), I would go out of my way to find a way to cast him in something -- anything. That said, I don't think The Cider House Rules was what should have earned him an Oscar. He did, however, give the evening's most memorable acceptance speech.

Best Actor was Kevin Spacey, my guess; Spacey's performance is purportedly his strongest in a highlight-filled career, but I regret that Denzel Washington and Richard Farnsworth couldn't also have won. Best Actress was Hilary Swank, my original guess; when Bening won the Screen Actors' Guild award and seemed to be gaining steam, I switched my guess. I didn't think Swank, an unknown and an outsider to the Academy, would get it, but she did. Again, I am impressed with the Academy for thinking about its choices and not being wholly absorbed in patting itself on the back. Best Director went to Sam Mendez, for American Beauty, and Best Picture was American Beauty. I predicted both correctly.

So those are the winners. As for the ceremony itself....

Although it still ran long, it felt like it was moving along at a pretty good clip, at least for a while. I love Billy Crystal as a host, and I'll grant him all the opening time he wants. Rather than inserting himself into the Best Picture nominees, this time he inserted himself in classic films, starting with Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush. ("I see dead people!" came Billy's line, as a title card.) I loved it, and his usual songs about each of the Best Picture nominees were great, too. I liked the Best Song performances being one right after the other -- it saved a lot of time. I liked the clip shows, too, which some people don't like; I think they're good for giving us a reminding sense of where the movies came from to be what they are today. The choice of themes for this year's montages were...odd...but not at all unwelcome. My beef was with the silly gratuitous Best Song sequence in the middle -- not the performances of the Best Song nominees, but the insanely LONG sequence of performances of songs from movies of the past. It took a ridiculous amount of time and did absolutely nothing for me. Before that sequence, I was thinking the show was moving along at a pretty decent rate. Eight years later, when that part was over, I changed my mind.

I may also say that Judi Dench and Clint Eastwood have class.

What did not have class was the half hour pre-awards show. It was the cheapest, most useless, most intelligence-insulting production imaginable. Yes, worse than Geena Davis embarrassing herself with bad, forced puns, from last year. I find it astounding that prime time network TV couldn't do any better than, say, E!'s Talk Soup. Meredith Vieira and Tyra Banks interviewed what stars they could find as they walked down the red carpet, and, during these impromptu interviews, "fun facts" for the star of the moment flashed by at the bottom of the screen. It went something like this:

"OH LOK ITS KEVVIN SPACY!!!!! hi kevbin spaccy!!!!11 u r K00L!! lol do u tihnk u g0T NOnomiATD CUZ U GOT NEKK1D!?!?!?!????? roflolololo tgis wuz ur 1st N3KK1D SEEN EVR, olololorlfoflrofloofo!!!!!!!!!!11~~~~@@@@~~~~~~"

Kevin Spacey would fumble for something to say that was both intelligent and somewhat consistent with the question -- a lost cause if ever there were one -- but by that time, it was, "b4ck 2 u TIRAH B4NKS!!!!!"

So we cut to Tyra Banks. "ololololo we hafl the SAIM COLER DRESSSSSS lololo!!1 grrl u r loookin' FIND."

The "fun facts" weren't any better. They were things like "TOM CROOZ WUZ IN HIS UNDERWAIR IN ATE MOVEYS!!!!1 ololololorlfolroflforfllforflforlfoflroolfoooooo!!!!!!111"

Just a thought: the people that watch the Oscars closely enough to care about the pre-awards show are going to be more appreciative of movies as art and craft and not so interested in where they can find star flesh. And if I'm wrong, screw pandering to them anyway.

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