New Articles for the Week of February 25th and a Little Oscars Post-Game

Happy post-Oscars Monday, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life with Argo as a Best Picture winner. Well, we could honestly say that the After Argo era started weeks ago, when the actual awards were just a formality needed to make it crystal clear that the Academy learned precisely nothing from last year. Apparently, Spielberg, and the war on terror, are out as sure-fire Oscar bait. What's in, are trifling, alphabetically convenient black & white love letters to Hollywood, The Artist being visually B&W, and Argo adopting the binary when dealing with themes, character, and writing. Well, I'm getting ahead of myself, and swear I'll be limiting my rambling on this subject, which has already been written about to death by much more perceptive commentators than I. So, let's just start with the old business: 

  • Two Arrow reviews for the price of one. Well, technically, it's two for the price of any integer, seeing as I'm not charging for these. How do people make money on the internet again?
  • And here's the piece where I got out most of my Oscar-oriented verbosity before the actual awards, in what was once titled "The Bullshitters Guide to the Oscars." I figured the addition of a number, and a subtraction of the word "bullshit" would help the SEO traffic. This was a lot of fun to write, which makes it easier to accept that I spent 7000 words writing an article with the shelf life of a baguette.

So, anyway, back to last night's big event. Look, I love the Oscars. It's maybe my favorite night of television all year, despite the fact that that as cultural commentary, a celebration of film, or just honest to god entertainment, they're usually pretty lousy. The major winners are almost always a given, and the broadcast itself is a familiarly blended cocktail of shameless pandering, and nervous flop-sweat. Worst of all, it's never quite as bad as your more sinister impulses might hope. But like I said, I love 'em, and the mix of that love that's ironic or earnest changes each year.

This time, with Argo rolling in as the prom king waiting to be crowned, and Seth MacFarlane hosting, the balance tipped far more towards the latter than the former. I don't actually mind how the winners shook out (beyond how some of the swing categories affected the results of my Oscar pool), and there's nothing really upsetting about Argo winning Best Picture, probably because there's nothing terribly upsetting about it to begin with. It was the default, the safety choice, the cheese-and-no-toppings pizza the Academy settled on after it was apparent that picking a film that played to the middle would be less of a headache than  supporting something that's even a slightly challenging. Why risk creating small pockets of dissent among the voters, when you can just make everyone shrug their shoulders in unison, mildly content with knowing that the one film that rubbed them the wrong way didn't win?

"At least it wasn't the worst thing," has become the de facto motto of the actual awards, leaving the show itself as the main attraction. This went about as well as you might imagine. The Academy hired Seth MacFarlane as a ratings bid to a younger, male-oriented audience, knowing full well that probably meant an evening of mean-spirited cracks about weight, sexual orientation, gender, and just general decency. There was a ten-second window in which it looked like MacFarlane's self-awareness would overpower his natural instincts, when his pre-recorded ditty, "We Saw Your Boobs," was cheekily pointing out the low expectations he was walking into the ceremony with. But then it kept going, and going, until you realized that the meta layer was present to let MacFarlane have his bad joke cake, and eat it too. The only thing in the opening act accomplished in a timely manner was how quickly it became apparent that William Shatner's "Ghost of Social Media Future" role wasn't an attempt at self-deprecation, so much as it was extended ass-covering (which is thematically consistent with the night, if you think about it).

The whole evening felt like it was written for the Crazy Old Racist archetype you find in a lot of TV and movies, where the jokes pretend to say "laugh at how inappropriate this person is," but really just provide backdoor entrances for the kinds of easy, racy groaners supposedly being satirized. Backhanded compliments, and other people's words, were MacFarlane's choice method of insulating himself when firing shots across the auditorium. Javier Bardem sure sounds weird huh, but it's okay, because he's pretty! I'm not making fun of Adele's weight, but remember when Rex Reed did? The thing is, there is a great Oscar host in MacFarlane, one brought out during the numerous song 'n dance skits that were the reason du jour for the overlong running time. As a comedian though, he played things as predictably as the Oscar voters, which is to say he stuck to his patented "mildly inflammatory joke, shit-eating grin" two-step. The snippy attitude infected some of the presenters, and a bit using the Jaws theme as playoff music, while amusing in concept, had the misfortune of being deployed during a heartfelt acceptance speech on behalf of recently bankrupt visual effects studio Rhythm & Hues.

Even The Onion got caught up in the general meanness, as an errant tweet about 9 year-old Best Actress nominee Quvenzhane Wallis was quickly taken down after posting, requiring a full-on apology letter this morning. The joke itself was actually a simple jab at how we accept that half the reason people watch these things is to see which couch-bound critic can unload the most vicious twitter insults. Wallis was the "target" for the sake of maximizing comedic juxtaposition between the harshness of the name-calling, and how innocuous the people being judged by millions really are. Buuuuuuuut there's just no way a majorly read publication, satirical or otherwise, comes out looking clever or insightful for calling a child a "rhymes-with-hunt," so whatever point there was to be made got buried in some very, very poor phrasing. It's a bummer of an evening when the only laugh everyone could enjoy without reservation was seeing Flight reenacted using sock puppets.

So, does that mean we're in for another soft-ball show next year, with the Academy pulling back on being "hip" by bringing back Billy Crystal, so long as he promises to leave the black shoe polish at home? Hard to say. Initial reports show that ratings did go up this year, and while critical response to the show has ranged from disappointed, to outright pissed off, the broader consensus from viewers at home seems to be that MacFarlane did a solid job ("Of course he was offensive, that's his job!"). Seeing as a bunch of old white dudes, a demographic safely outside MacFarlane's go-to material (unless a joke involving pedophile is needed), decided to gives this year's biggest prize to a work that's popular and inoffensive, then why not double down making the broadcast popular and offensive. At least when you do that, people might actually talk about the Oscars.

I realize I'm coming off as a downer, even though there have been far worse Oscars in the past, and the future will surely deliver many more. To end on a positive note, please enjoy this picture of two-time Best Director winner Ang Lee going all Richard Parker on some In-N-Out Burger.

New Articles for the Week of January 13th

Happy belated New Year everybody. I hope your 2013 has gotten off to a great start, as mine has, at least in a pop culture-binging sort of way. Yes, awards season fervor is in full swing, as evidenced by my liveblog, and subsequent breakdown of the Oscar nominations. I also had the great pleasure of getting to review the fourth season premiere of Justified, one of my favorite TV shows that's as good as ever. It'll probably be my only writeup for the show until it inevitably makes my best of 2013 list, the way it did for my best of 2012 (plug!). And of course, there's my review for Zero Dark Thirty, which should be required viewing, if only to let you jump in on all the juicy debate raging online about whether it's pro-torture, anti-torture, or even any good. That's all for now, but expect my ranking of the Best Picture nominees just as soon as I get back from my Amour screening.