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ISSUE 120 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/2/2007

Oscars satisfy low expectations: DeGeneres shines as host of drawn-out awards show

By John Douglass
Variety Editor


Friday, March 2, 2007

I can't seem to shake my love of the Academy Awards. I almost universally disagree with the way they work – it is impossible for me to shake the feeling that it is all just one big money-grubbing ploy. But God help me, I can't stop watching, and this year was no different.

The awards show itself is impossibly gargantuan. People hoping to watch the 10 o’clock news are forced to wait – this year until approximately 11:15. The acceptance speeches are almost always awkward, and the presentations are even worse. Yet this year I surprised myself by walking away from the Oscar behemoth intensely satisfied, a situation that merits further investigation.

The obvious place to begin analyzing the ceremony is the host. This year marked the grand experiment of handing the reins of the awards show chariot to Ellen DeGeneres. A myriad of hosts have flopped in the past few years. Case in point: Billy Crystal's wildly inappropriate send up of “Mystic River,” depicting “little Billy” in the back of the famous sedan from said movie asking “Is this the road to the Oscars?”

So sue me: I love Ellen DeGeneres, and she handled the job with wide-eyed excitement, to absolutely hilarious effect. Her opening monologue, though ending in a superfluous and lackluster gospel number, was a side-splitting take on her insecurities as host, a timely topic that I have never seen tackled before. Later in the ceremony, whether surreptitiously dropping off a script with Martin Scorsese or forcefully directing Stephen Spielberg to take pictures of her and Clint Eastwood, she was consistently and accessibly funny.

The highlight of the ceremony – aside from the ebullient and clearly surprised German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose movie “The Lives of Others” took the award for Foreign Language Film in the biggest upset of the night – was a musical sketch featuring Jack Black, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. Their take on why comedians never win Academy Awards was simply the funniest thing I have ever seen on any awards show. Ever.

But the ceremony is really about movies, and overall I was satisfied with this year's showing. Going into the ceremony, it seemed as though all the major races were completely tied up, and they pretty much were. The races for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Supporting Actress all fell exactly the way they were expected to, with only the Supporting Actor category giving us any excitement.

Alan Arkin pulled the upset in this category, much to my delight. No performance this year was more lauded or won as many earlier awards as that by Eddie Murphy, Arkin’s fellow nominee and Oscar favorite. Arkin hadn't been nominated for an Oscar since 1968, and his turn in “Little Miss Sunshine” was both hilarious and poignant. Plus the tears in his acceptance speech choked me up more than Jennifer Hudson's, and I don't want to live in a world where they can run ads for “Norbit” praising “Academy Award winner Eddie Murphy.”

Martin Scorsese's gangster potboiler “The Departed” ran away with the Best Picture award, as well as awards for Scorsese and William Monahan's terrific screenplay, and nothing could have satisfied me more. “The Departed” was the strongest of the movies that were actually nominated for Best Picture, managing to weather the marketing onslaught from the “Little Miss Sunshine” folks.

My acceptance of the way the awards fell this year does not mean that I wouldn't have changed the way things turned out. While I can't argue with Helen Mirren's prowess, I think that Ryan Gosling's turn in “Half Nelson” was the best performance of the year. I would have voted for Javier Navarrete's haunting score from “Pan's Labyrinth,” and I've had enough of Al Gore and his crappy movie. It's a dangerous thing to say on such a sustainable campus, but “important” is not the same as “good.”

As a last aside, there are a few movies and achievements that got almost completely left out. I believe “Pan's Labyrinth” and Alfonso Cuaron's earth-shattering “Children of Men” were the two best movies of the year and deserved to be duking it out in the Best Picture race. I also would have pulled any one of Nick Cave's original songs from the completely forgotten, incredible Australian western “The Proposition.” Who wouldn't want to see Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds tearing it up on that Kodak Theater stage?

Well, there we have it. One more awards season down and we're all still here. The worst part about the end of the Academy Awards is how long we have to wait to start seeing good movies again.





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