In comments to my Oscar prediction post from last week, League chum, sports aficionado and Academy Award neophyte Kazzy came up with a space awesome idea. In lieu of a viewing party, we’d watch the show “together” and exchange thoughts about it from the contrasting viewpoints of First-time Viewer and Dedicated Fan. I loved the idea, and what follows is our exchange.
Russell: Well, Kazzy, it looks like we’re going to try to make our Oscar viewing experience happen. I must admit I’m kind of excited. As I’ve alluded in previous Academy Awards posts, I’ve discovered that it’s not as much fun to watch on my own. I’m hoping this might rejuvenate my enjoyment a bit. And of course, I’m excited by the prospect of introducing a friend to my favorite annual viewing date.
So you’ve really never seen the show before? What are you expecting it will be like? Are you looking forward to watching it at all, or is this more an anthropological experience than a prospective pleasure? I’m so curious how it will stack up against your expectations.
Kazzy: Hey, Russell. We are indeed going to make this happen. And I couldn’t be more excited.
It is true that I haven’t seen the show before, aside from a few bits and pieces here. I have vague recollections of interpretive dances, montages of people passed, and Roberto Benigni climbing over chairs to get to the stage. Otherwise, I am sailing into uncharted waters. For whatever reasons, award shows never really appealed to me. I remember watching MTV’s movie and video award shows growing up, but that was before they got needlessly outlandish and while I was in their target demographic. I suspect part of it is that I feel I lack the ability to adjudicate the results of the show. I don’t know enough about filmmaking or acting to have a meaningful idea of what makes things excellent in those realms. So while I am generally a junkie for competition (even getting sucked into a favored shows of yours “Project Runway” at times because of the unique drama that competition can generate), awards shows have been a blind spot.
I am curious whether and hopeful that watching with a more seasoned viewing partner might change that. I’m sure there are things I might look askew at if I were to view them on my own but with you serving as a guide, I might be able to make sense of them in a way that make them resonate. Needless to say, I come in with eyes wide open, wholly open to the idea of loving the entire enterprise. I guess we’ll know in just a few hours, yes?
Russell: ‘I don’t know enough about filmmaking or acting to have a meaningful idea of what makes things excellent in those realms.’
Oh, well, you’re in luck them. Excellence in filmmaking and the films that get rewarded at the Oscars are not always related as strongly as you’d think. While many winners are arguably among the best within their field, the quality of the work is only one factor among many that led to their win. Knowing what a sports fan you are, I wonder how this strikes you. In sports, one team scores more points than the other and thus wins. With the Academy Awards, one sufficiently famous person turns in a sufficiently good performance and has sufficiently impressed her peers that she deserves an Oscar because she’s paid her dues and thus beats the others. And everyone knows that’s how it goes. Do you think that aspect of things will impair your ability to enjoy the show, or can you clap along at home with the rest of us?
Kazzy: Ya know, I thought about that very thing. In sports, the saying goes that the scoreboard don’t lie. But even the sports I follow most have elements of subjectivity, namely in the form of officiating. And there are awards within those sports, such as the MVP, which suffer from some of the same incongruencies that I imagine award shows like the Oscars do, and possibly even worse ones given current ideological battles within certain electorates, like the BBWAA. I don’t know that it will impact my viewing, though. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see a person awarded that makes everyone stand up and utter a collective, “WTF!” The same thing happens in sports everyday, whether it be Ryan Howard winning an MVP or Dwayne Wade receiving phantom foul calls in the ’06 Finals.
And I imagine that folks tune into the Oscars for more than just seeing who wins… there is the pageantry, the outfits, the hosting, the speeches, the unpredictable. At least, I know that is part of what interested me in doing this little project: I want to try to understand why the announcement of 24 awards compels people to watch a 2 hour award show (it WILL be over in 2 hours… right?). And determine if all those aspects can turn something I’m only quasi-interested in (the awards themselves) into an experience I would seek out on my own.
What are you most excited about? What compels you to watch? How did you get interested in the Oscars in the first place? I imagine you are a bigger fan than most, given what I’ve seen you write on the subject.
Russell: My impression of the Super Bowl is that the quarterback always seems to win MVP. Is that generally right, or am I just remembering incompletely?
It will be a miracle if the Oscars are over in less than three hours, amigo. One of the running jokes of the show is that it always, always runs long. Feel free to suggest things along the way that you think should have been cut to make it shorter. Lord knows I always have plenty of ideas.
What makes me most excited? It varies from year to year. I was super excited the year Kate Winslet won since it seemed likely she was finally going to take the statuette home; she was long overdue and I’m a big fan. This year I don’t have any I’m that devoted to, but I’m hoping Jennifer Lawrence wins. And I watch year after year because I’m a sucker for glamor. It’s the shiny object to the magpie of my soul, and I find myself hopelessly fascinated by the spectacle of the glamorous in their most rarefied circles. Add in the patina of excellence (and really, that’s all it is) and I’m hooked.
Good Lord, look at all the talking we’ve done and the show hasn’t even begun. I’ll leave you be until I’m able to tune in tonight. Hopefully I’ll be able to wrangle the kids into bed early enough to catch at least a little of the red carpet.
Kazzy: Okay, Russell, I’ve been checking in and out of the red carpet pre-show and the countdown clock now tells me we are less than 15 minutes away from the start of the main event. Honestly, I can’t underestimate just how excited I am… even if most of that feeling is predicated on a strong desire for the little blonde Cryptkeeper lady to abandon my television set forever.
Some highlights for me of the pre-show:
1. Learning that Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an actor I am increasingly a fan of, wears funky socks, one of my favorite ways to jazz up the wardrobe.
2. Seeing Bradley Cooper, another actor whom I really enjoy, attend with his mom. I have the feeling that Bradley Cooper could pull pretty much any woman in Hollywood, so that was a cool move. Bonus points to her for responding to a question about her dress by revealing that she just pulled something out of the closet.
3. Halle Berry. Sheesh.
4. Realizing that many of these folks are more intelligent and articulate than I tend to assume. Either that, or they’re simply employing their skills to make me think that. Either way, a good move.
Anyway, I’m settled in with some fresh baked cookies and am readying and raring to go. I hadn’t realized Seth McFarlane was hosting so at the very least, I’m in for some laughs. I’ll be checking in soon and look forward to sharing this viewing experience with you.
Russell: I’m here with manhattan in hand right as the show is starting. I’m so glad you’re excited, and I’m hopeful that it will be fun. I’m hot and cold on Seth McFarlane, but he’s doing well so far. Starting out with a couple of well-done laughs about Tommy Lee Jones and an early zinger about the Affleck snub.
Poor Kristen Chenoweth. I’ve actually met her, and she’s a delightful person. But she’s one more on my list of people who isn’t very good at red carpet interviews. (I could do BETTER, Hollywood!) And I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt on many levels, the socks being just one new charming facet.
OK, gotta start watching the show for serious now. Let’s check back in when a few of the golden boys have been handed out.
Kazzy: Well… that was an interesting start! I really disliked the Shatner bit, especially as it dragged on past the 8 minute mark. Between that and the “Flying Nun” reference, I jotted down in my notes that the writers/producers/directors/whomever have officially punted the under-35 demographic.
McFarlane had some good jokes… I liked his comments on Gibson, but I’m wired that way. Overall, it felt like they didn’t trust him with the monologue and inserted Shatner in to exhibit some control. But what do I know? Is there usually an orchestrated sketch like that? The dance numbers also seemed out of place… seemed like they paired up some random celebrities and had them do some unrelated dances and that was that. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the gay humor… if you had any.
I didn’t look too closely into the nominees, but they’re not lying when they say that the Supporting Actor Nomination Field was really quite impressive. I only saw Arkin’s performance, so I can’t comment on who SHOULD have won, but Waltz has really impressed me in the work I have seen of his and in some interviews I’ve caught; he seems to really understand his craft and work at it. He also seemed to be both genuinely excited and honored to win and was very gracious in his speech. That was nice to see.
Animated short? That’s a real category? Okay. Congrats to that dude for that thing. I’m glad “Brave” won. HOLY CRAP! A kilt. Sweet move. As a ginger, Zazzy was excited to see a red-head featured in a film, even if it was a digital one for kids. I fell asleep during it, as I do during most movies.
What are your thoughts thus far? How “typical” a show is this to this point? Were any of the wins surprises?
Russell: Well, I’ve already been wrong in a major category. I would never have called Christoph Waltz. Which isn’t to say he didn’t deserve it. Just that I didn’t see it coming.
The opening was a bit edgier than usual. But I think it was… maybe mostly successful? Amusing and surprising, but not totally insane? And I loved the dancing with Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum. I thought it was lovely. You, not so much?
Gay humor at the Oscars is like cleats at the Super Bowl. (Did I land the sport metaphor?) I take it in stride, and find it in good humor.
Are you finding it enjoyable thus far?
Kazzy: I didn’t dislike the Theron/Tatum dance… I just wasn’t sure if there was some connection between the two that I was missing that would have made it more meaningful.
I am quasi-enjoying it thus far. I think this last segment was a tough one for someone like myself. I fully recognize the immense importance of costumes, hair, and makeup to the movie-making process, but I have zero interest in who wins the awards. I think it is great that the folks who do that work, who are otherwise unknown, are recognized for their efforts. But it just didn’t have any interest for me. If they wanted more folks like me to watch it, they could cut out those types of awards and bring the thing down under the 2 1/2 hour mark. But that’d be playing to a low common denominator, something I think the Academy ought not do. If I stopped watching now, I wouldn’t feel cheated out of missing the end. But it hasn’t been torture, either.
I did like seeing “Life of Pi” win… I regrettably have not yet caught the film, but we both enjoyed the book and are holding out hope we can still find a theater playing it. My hunch was that the strength of the film was its visuals moreso than the story, which I thought would be hard to translate, so it makes sense that the visuals are what it ultimately won for.
I did enjoy the Bond singer, whose name I missed. I’m a sucker for singers with big pipes, which she brought. Zazzy and I thought Adele would come out given her recent Bond song, but that old gal carried it on her own. More performances like that will sucker me in, believe it or not.
What has stood out to you? We’re just passing the one hour mark… how does this production measure up to past ones. Do you have a favorite Oscars?
And, yes, you nailed the sports metaphor. Kudos.
Russell: The woman who sang was Shirley Bassey. She sang three Bond themes. I actually found her maybe… not entirely on key? But God knows nobody wants to hear me sing in front of a billion viewers, so maybe I shouldn’t criticize.
And yes, welcome to Minor Award Land. It’s the area we traverse between the bits when famous people win, the territory of Oscar pool tie-breakers. It’s only barely interesting to me, so I can’t even guess how it must feel to you.
What has stood out for me? I think most of the presenters have been weirdly flat, including really talented actors like Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy. I think the “Jaws” theme play-off was a little bit much. Honestly, I’ve got to say my favorite moment so far was Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron dancing so very beautifully. But now the ‘Chicago’ number is starting, so we’ll see how they do.
Kazzy: Are we still in Minor Award Land? Feels like it.
I loved Jennifer Hudson. Again… huge pipes. Zazzy pointed out the other performances were given sans microphones. Was everyone lip synching?
I feel like I’m losing steam. Are we really only halfway through? You do this every year?
Russell: Oh, my friend. We are indeed still in Minor Awards Land. This is why it’s best to watch with friends. You can just hang out while the boring stuff is handed out. Thankfully, I have booze on hand.
Hang in there, man. Famous people will eventually show up again.
Kazzy: A tie????? Can that happen? What is this… soccer?
Russell: It happens VERY rarely.
Kazzy: I’m no expert on singing… but I really enjoyed Adele. Yet again, sucker for big pipes. Do they normally have so many musical numbers? Or is this related to the “theme”? It adds to the length, but I’ve generally enjoyed them.
Right now Zazzy has the comment of the night, supposing that part of the judging for the Sound Editing award (the one that resulted in a tie) was hair length of the nominee. I almost spilled my Cheerios at that one.
How did you feel on Hathaway’s win? Excuse me for not remembering your various predictions. I didn’t see “Les Miz” and, in fact, didn’t even know she was in it until the red carpet. Somehow, I thought she was nominated for “Batman”.
It does seem to be picking up again with some more big awards. Good. They almost lost me. And THEN where would the Oscars have been?
Russell: The Big Awards tend to pile up at the end. Hang in there, you’re nearly done.
I was… fine with Hathaway’s win. I haven’t seen “Les Miz” either, but since I’d predicted her win I was rooting for her. Her speech (as has been the case all awards season) was totally blah.
I think the bummer of watching without friends is… damn, you just sit and WATCH the whole thing. Maybe that’s why it’s not as fun? Because really one is just watching for the famous people, and biding one’s time while the mere mortals collect their trophies. Without buddies to fill in the boring bits, it does seem to drag a bit.
You seem to be weathering the experience well, though. And comfort yourself with the notion that, at some time in the future, I will try to enjoy an entire professional basketball game in return.
Kazzy: I’m getting the impression that the Oscars are more of a group viewing experience, at least for you. Do I have that right? Watching it with Zazzy alongside me, the two of us doing a modest MS3K imitation, adds some pleasure, and I can see how this would be amplified by more partners-in-crime and/or booze.
Earlier, we discussed ways they could shorten the show. One easy fix? Don’t show highlights from OTHER awards shows. Either give those “honorary Oscars” out as real Oscars during this show or just leave them to their own shindig. That elicited an honest-to-God WTF from Zazzy, though she didn’t abbreviate it as such. Did I mention she’s pregnant and we’ve officially passed her bedtime?
Russell: I totally agree. The “honorary” and technical Oscars really could go. Really. Even those of us who love the show would be happy to see them go. Count your lucky stars they seem to have done away with the many, many, many montages they used to do. They were excruciating.
And as I type, WOW! Tony Kushner didn’t get the Oscar. Whew! Glad I didn’t post a prediction about that one.
I believe I may have a bit of a crush on Ms. Theron.
Kazzy: Seems like we’ve cracked into the Final Four, with Ang Lee bringing home the first of the biggies. My regret grows. For whatever reason, we’re cut to another commercial. This could be over by now.
In my running diary, I note that Charlize pulls off short hair quite majestically.
Do you think Lee’s win means “Life of Pi” has a shot at Best Picture? I sort of had the impression that it was a two-way battle between “Lincoln” and “Argo”, with “Silver Linings Playbook” possibly playing spoiler. Do I have that right?
MacFarlane continues to make jokes about the show running long. Which would be funny if it didn’t run long every year with nothing being done about that.
Kazzy: If everyone tripped going up the stage, the show would be at least 10% more enjoyable.
Russell: I’m going to type before they announce Best Picture. No way is it “Life of Pi.”
Dear God. Jack Nicholson. Dear God.
Michelle Obama!!! That is new.
I’m calling “Argo.” Do you even care anymore, or do you just want it over?
Kazzy: “Argo” is the one film I saw, which I liked, and thought was well done all around, but didn’t stand out as “great” to me. But what the F do I know? Let’s just name a winner so everyone can go get drunk/to sleep.
“Argo” it is.
Well, Russell, I should say that I did enjoy our little project here. I can’t say that I enjoyed the Oscars themselves, but this was fun to do. I learned a little, laughed a lot, griped even more, and all-in-all, had a really interesting experience.
I look forward to flipping the script during an upcoming basketball game. And I encourage everyone to try something similar, especially if you have someone as smart, as witty, and as fun as Russell as your guide.
Russell: My friend, doing this little project has infused my watching with more pleasure than I would otherwise have had. Knowing I have you on the other side, I’ll sit through any basketball game, since I’m sure to learn more than I’d imagine going in.
I’ll pen more of a conclusion tomorrow. For now, thanks for playing.
Looking back on last night with coffee in hand, I think MacFarlane actually ended up hitting his own reviews on the head in his overlong little bit with Shatner. (Totally with you on that, Kazzy.) He ended up being mediocre. He was definitely better than the embalmed James Franco, but much of his humor feels sophomoric in retrospect (and without the help of a cocktail to soften the edges). Add in the stilted patter of a lot of the presenters, and the whole production leaves me with a next-morning “meh.” Not the worst I’ve seen, but nowhere nearly as good as, say, the first time Steve Martin hosted.
But Jennifer Lawrence won (and recovered pretty well from her embarrassing face-plant on the stairs) and I was mostly right in my predictions. Nobody had me screaming at my TV set. There were no montages (except the obligatory “In Memoriam” piece, during which people finally seemed to get the clue to hold their applause instead of making it a ghastly posthumous popularity contest). So I’ll give it a C+.
Thanks again to Kazzy for playing along and sticking it out to the end. Tell me when, my friend, and I’ll find the dusty corner of my cable guide that holds ESPN.
[Update: Kazzy has provided an unedited glimpse of his (frequently hilarious) musings from last night. If you share his consternation that Javier Bardem is considered “attractive” (I’ll totally give the man “talented”), you should check it out.]
[Update II: Return of Update] For a pretty scathing (but hard to dispute) review of Mr. MacFarlane’s turn as host, I give you NPR.]