Alas, I had to cancel my own Oscars party last night, not due to the writers’ strike (at least that would have put me in good company with the Vanity Fair party), but due to my own habit of acquiring colds at inconvenient times. I considered live-blogging the whole thing, but thought that might be almost as taxing as hosting a party, so decided to go for the simple day-after summary. And here it is:
- Jon Stewart is one of my favorite Oscars hosts. I don’t think he was quite as funny last night as he was two years ago, and it’s clear that Hollywood still doesn’t quite know what to do with him (“Wait . . . is he making fun of us?”), but still, much better than last year’s Snore-Fest with Ellen. I particularly liked the bit where he complimented Cate Blanchett’s range, mentioning that she was nominated this year for playing Queen Elizabeth I and Bob Dylan, and then going on to assert that, unknown to most viewers, Cate Blanchett also played the role of the pit bull in No Country for Old Men. Hee! As some of you know, No Country for Old Men is shut out of my own personal Otter Oscars, because I can’t bring myself to see dog death, and I know that said pit bull meets a tragic end. But maybe if I tell myself that it’s Cate Blanchett playing a pit bull, I can get through it. And yes, that is different from knowing the dog playing the pit bull was not actually harmed. Don’t ask me how it’s different, but it is.
- Speaking of Cate Blanchett, she looked fabulous. As usual.
- Amy Adams did a good job in her first Oscars song performance (of “Happy Working Song” from Enchanted), but, goodness, would it hurt to give the girl some props (literally)? She desperately needs some vermin to sing to. We kept waiting for some pigeons to drop from the ceiling or something, but no luck. “Falling Slowly” needed no props in its glorious simplicity, “That’s How You Know” benefited from a song-and-dance number to distract from its somewhat lackluster lyrics, and “So Close” had costumed ballroom dancers to keep the audience from falling asleep. Adams needed prop-support not because the song is weak—it’s very clever and actually my second-favorite out of the nominated bunch—but because it’s the one that makes the least sense outside of the context of the film. See here for yourself. Now, can you imagine having to sing that on an empty stage by yourself? I want to know who made that decision, and I want to send Cate Blanchett the Pit Bull after them. I’m assuming that it wasn’t Amy Adams herself who made the decision, because, in my book, she can do no wrong.
- While we’re on the topic of Best Song, let’s take a moment to reflect on the adorableness of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who, in truth, produced not only the Best Song and, I would argue, one of the best movies of the year, but also one of the best Oscars broadcast moments. When Irglova’s own song cut her off during their acceptance speech, she looked disappointed but gamely left the stage. Then, after the commercial break, Jon Stewart actually brought her back onstage to deliver her thank-yous. Hurrah! In honor of Hansard and Irglova, here’s “Falling Slowly,” in case you had the misfortune to miss it. And here’s a montage (montage!) of some of 2007’s movies, set to “Falling Slowly.”
- Can we say Bourne Ultimatum Sweep? Three awards, which is more than any other film except No Country for Old Men, which earned four. So they were “only” Film Editing, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing, but my theory is that Oscar voters racked up the little awards for The Bourne Ultimatum because they felt guilty that they didn’t nominate it for Best Picture above Michael Clayton (directed by Tony Gilroy, who wrote all three Bourne movies), and they recognized that Bourne Ultimatum is actually a better movie, even if it isn’t traditional “Oscar-worthy” fare. I’m sure that’s what voters were thinking. Even if they didn’t realize it.
- Now, Michael Clayton did have amazing acting, which is why I wasn’t unhappy to see the Tilda Swinton Best Supporting Actress upset. Plus, she gave one of the most entertaining acceptance speeches of the evening. My one disappointment: while her dress was severely unflattering, it wasn’t the level of nuttiness I would expect from Swinton. She could get away with something like Bjork’s swan or Imogen Heap’s head-shrubbery. She is the White Witch, after all.
- Speaking of nuts, um, Daniel Day-Lewis? Did it disturb anyone else how he referred to his real-life wife (who also happens to be playwright Arthur Miller’s daughter) as “Mrs. Plainview”? (His character’s name in There Will Be Blood is Daniel Plainview.) I’ve heard Mr. Day-Lewis is very “method” and stays in character even off set, but, dude, the MOVIE’S OVER. I’m sure your wife would appreciate not being referred to as the wife of a fictional psychopathic oil tycoon. Actually, though, given the insanity of her Oscars apparel, maybe she doesn’t mind.
- Daniel Day-Lewis did redeem himself somewhat by kneeling and asking Dame Helen Mirren to knight him with his Oscar, which she did with the inherent grace she displays everywhere. I think this moment proves what we all already knew, which is that Helen Mirren IS STILL THE QUEEN. She definitely wins the award for best dress of the evening. I read somewhere that she told someone on the red carpet that she’d knitted a little scarf for her Oscar. Ha!
February 25th, 2008
It’s hard for me not to compare the movie to the comic book (or “graphic novel,” if you prefer, but author Marjane Satrapi has said that she finds that term pretentious) Persepolis, because I love the latter. This tale of a childhood in late 1970s and early 1980s Iran is endearing, sharp, poignant, and funny. The movie, in which Satrapi had a significant hand, is actually a combination of Persepolis (which follows Marji until the age of 14, when she leaves Iran) and Persepolis 2 (which details Marji’s search for identity as a student in Vienna and then back home in Tehran). I haven’t read Persepolis 2 yet, but I’ve heard from several people who didn’t like it as much as Persepolis, because it was less funny and involved more navel-gazing.
From what I can tell, it seems as if Satrapi and the other filmmakers evened out the tone difference between the two books by choosing to include the parts of Persepolis that were more like Persepolis 2 (i.e., more serious, more focused on individual identity). I wish I knew more about the reasons for combining them, because I find myself wishing they hadn’t. The film Persepolis is certainly still worth seeing, and it’s still a lot funnier than you might expect for a film dealing with the rise of fundamentalism in Iran. However, it lacks the tone and the depth of the book Persepolis.
One scene I particularly missed was the one in which, after having been given a comic book about dialectical materialism (yes, a comic book about dialectical materialism), the eight-year-old Marji reflects on how Karl Marx and God look alike, only Marx has a curlier beard. This is the one scene I was really hoping would make it into the movie, but it didn’t. And yet, in a scene that occurs during the Persepolis 2 half of the film, Marji has an encounter with God and . . . some random old guy with a curly beard. Without the previous scene, most viewers will probably have no idea what Marx (if they figure out his identity) is doing up there with God. Seems like poor continuity editing to me.
As far as complexity, the movie shuns the obvious ironies of Marji’s family’s political beliefs (leftist) and their social class (decidedly upper). In the book, the young Marji wants to be a prophet when she grows up—she wants to be “justice, love and the wrath of God all in one.” (And it’s this, along with the fact that she read a comic book about dialectical materialism at the age of eight, that makes Porpoise say, “So . . . this book is basically about you as a child?” “Yeah,” I say, “except for Islamic fundamentalism and execution of political prisoners and minor stuff like that.” However, another big difference is that Marji’s parents are a little hypocritical—call me biased, but I don’t think my parents were—and she doesn’t shy away from exploring that.) One of Marji’s first actions when she becomes a prophet will be to declare that all maids shall eat at the table with the rest of the family. The book is quite poignant as it deals with Marji’s growing awareness that her family participates in the class injustice that, theoretically, they oppose.
After the revolution against the Shah, after the country becomes an Islamic republic, it becomes clear that Marji’s family has disdain for “the masses.” Even her beloved Uncle Anoosh acknowledges that “in a country where half the population is illiterate you cannot unite the people around Marx. The only thing that can really unite them is nationalism or a religious ethic . . . .” Alas, this kind of irony is completely missing from the film Persepolis. Marji’s parents are simply leftist heroes, seemingly there for the rhetorical purpose of showing a Western audience that “not all Iranians are like that.” Part of Satrapi’s stated purpose in the book is indeed to set the record straight, to correct the image of Iran that dominates in the West, but, again, she does so with the awareness that even her “heroes who lost their lives in prison defending freedom” are far from perfect.
I still haven’t addressed the question that I’m sure will be weighing on everyone’s minds during the Oscars tonight: is Persepolis better than Ratatouille? I’m tempted to say “yes,” just because I don’t think Ratatouille is as great as many reviewers claim and I’d love to see an upset. But, frankly, Persepolis is no masterpiece either. Both films share the flaw of internal inconsistencies. But I’ll trust the vote of the people (okay, the elite who probably haven’t watched half the nominated films) to give Best Animated Feature to something that isn’t Surf’s Up.
February 24th, 2008
(The following tips are directed toward Danny Boyle’s 2007 film Sunshine, which, though described in some reviews as “the thinking person’s” sci-fi thriller, seemed to require significant lack of thought on the part of both filmmakers and viewers.)
1. If your characters are on a mission to re-ignite the sun, thus saving Earth, do not name their spaceship “Icarus.” This simply makes them look dumb. If the first Icarus mission fails, do not name the movie’s second spaceship “Icarus II.” This makes us think your characters are so moronic that they deserve to die.
2. Please allow your characters to have some distinguishing personality traits. Yes, we know that in a dire, life-threatening, potential-world-saving situation, people are under stress. But this usually does not eradicate their individual personalities to the point where you can only tell the men apart by whether or not they have beards. Think about “Firefly” and Serenity: no one has beards. Many characters have the same skin color. And you can tell them apart because they have personalities.
3. Include space cowboys.
4. If your characters have no personalities, but some of them have beards, do not make those characters shave their beards. Then we really can’t tell them apart.
5. If you are going to feature some character who has gone mad and lost his humanity and basically become Reaver-ish, you should include some explanation for why he’s been able to survive for six and a half years without skin. We’d be willing to accept that staring at the sun makes people supernatural if you actually pursued this as a theme, rather than using a mysteriously invulnerable character as a plot device to add conflict when oxygen-deprivation, possible failure, and certain death are not enough.
6. If you decide to use oxygen-deprivation as a major plot point, then do not then have your characters fight inside a huge bomb that appears to be pressurized. People do not usually need to breathe inside bombs.
7. If you’re going to have all your characters eat with chopsticks, couldn’t you just go ahead and make them space cowboys who swear in Chinese?
8. Give us some decent dialogue.
9. Did I mention space cowboys? Or at least space rhinos?
10. No cheesy Apollo 13 “hero music,” please.
February 21st, 2008