On the Town: February Edition

The end of February is upon us, which means that my trip to London is only a few weeks away. The month of February was a busy one for everyone it seems, but I spent some of my time prepping for my flight and making arrangements to see friends old and new, as well as arrange to see some shows on the West End, including Matilda. It should be an exciting time, to say the least.

The Oscars are out of the way this year, and overall I’d say it was a rather weak year. The Artist failed to charm me as it has so many others (though I think it was crying out to be a 30s Astaire-Rogers type musical than a parody of 20s silents). I liked The Descendants very much (I have yet to be disappointed by Alexander Payne). I admired The Help, but mostly because of Viola Davis’ staggering performance. The Iron Lady was dreadful: the messy script, shoddy direction and lack of point made it a dull, superficial slog. Though Meryl won the Academy Award in a surprise upset, you’d be much better off watching The Hours or The Deer Hunter; or anything else she’s ever done. War Horse made me want to invest in glue, while I was greatly charmed by Midnight in Paris. 

That said, I am bored with “awards season” in Hollywood. It’s about as tacky and contrived as the relentless string of Republican debates. They keep stretching it out, and adding more “prominence” to guild awards that are nice but not nearly worth the time spent fretting over them. Time will tell, as it always does, what is really long-lasting. Also, the telecast was just bland. The only bits I enjoyed were the Christopher Guest team’s The Wizard of Oz focus group sketch, as well as Emma Stone’s presentation. Ms. Stone was one of the only people who seemed like a human being on that stage Sunday night. Classiest speech of the night goes to Best Supporting Actor winner Christopher Plummer, whose performance in Beginners is warm, winning and quite deserving of our attention. Special kudos to his leading man, Ewan McGregor, who is constantly overlooked by awards bodies in spite of consistent excellence. Oh, and finally, Drive was excellent.

Carrie is back for another night at the prom. However, I made a full day of it. I visited with my good friend Chris Lavin, who works in the wardrobe department of Mary Poppins for a pre-show dinner/catch-up, then found myself making my to the Lucille Lortel for the first time. I don’t often go south of 42nd Street, so it took Tyler Martins and I a little bit of effort to find where we were supposed to go. There were several Twitter friends at the show this particular night, and we decided to head up to Midtown for a post-show drink.

Getting off the subway at 42nd Street, we deliberated in the cold night air as to where we should go. The usual names were bandied about until Joe Allen came into play. Emily Sigal and I both thought the place to be a perfect place to go given what the majority had just seen. Lo and behold, Tyler got a picture of my playbill with the original window card on the Joe Allen flop wall. So we started heading North on 7th Avenue, but soon Tyler and I realized that the gang wasn’t with us. Turning around we saw them talking to a young man in a business suit. We went back to see what was going on.

As it turned out the young gentleman, who was extraordinarily ebullient and even had braces on his teeth, was lost. He was trying to get to Pulse, but couldn’t seem to find where he needed to go. Well, as a group we decided we’d help him out. None of us seemed to know where he needed to go, but out came the smart phones and in an unexpectedly cheery sense of adventure, we set out to find where he needed to go. After some time we got him to where he wanted to go. He offered to bring us in and by us a round, but there was one among us who was not yet of age, so we regretfully declined. But, our man Flint, three or four sheets to the wind, I might add, insisted on hugging us all. We made our way to Joe Allen where we laughed about this occurrence until the place closed down. Only in New York…

The other night I went to see the revival of Death of a Salesman currently in previews at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, which was an intense cathartic experience that I think I need to see again before I can justify writing about it. However, two things about this revival that fascinated me: the production uses the original set design of Jo Mielziner and the original music score by Alex North. The former is truly extraordinary, and it’s not as if director Mike Nichols is trying to replicate the original: all other elements of scenography are new. It was as if a new family had moved into the house. As for the North score, it is played live in the theatre by a small band off stage right, with a mournful, bluesy quality that subtly punctuates various scenes throughout. Get tickets and go. And go again.

And finally, it was announced that Stephen Sondheim was collaborating with David Ives on a new musical. That’s a Leap Day Miracle, however, I do take exception to something His Majesty said to a London paper regarding a dearth of plays in NY. He’s either just being cranky or not paying attention, but there have been plays popping up on and off-Broadway quite a bit this year. Just this Broadway season alone we’ve had Chinglish, Stickfly, Venus in Fur, Other Desert Cities, Seminar and can anticipate Clybourne Park, The Lyons, One Man Two Guvnors, Peter and the Starcatcher, and more in the coming weeks. And that’s not even counting the plethora of play revivals.

The Best Original Song Oscar Goes Broadway

Tonight is Oscar night. I had to miss last year’s ceremony as I was in the process of boarding a plane to visit my newborn nephew in the Philippines. Well, I’ll be back at the television, with my usual assortment of ballots and pens. The phone will be silenced and anyone who gets between me and the television should brace him or herself for flying objects. (Those who have watched with me before know what I mean).

The Oscar for Best Original Song has been given since 1934 (when “The Continental” won) and has been awarded to Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein, Richard Rodgers, Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe, Harold Arlen, Frank Loesser, Jule Styne, Irving Berlin, Yip Harburg, Stephen Sondheim, Alan Menken, David Shire, Howard Ashman and Stephen Schwartz, to name just a few. It used to be that the custom at the ceremony was to present the Best Song nominees with big names performing them, but not those who originally sang them. More recently, the composers or singers who introduced the songs performed the songs in a simple setting, usually solo. Here are a few of the telecast performances, with a decidedly Broadway feel:

Mitzi Gaynor, Georgy Girl. The song “Georgy Girl” was originally performed by The Seekers, in what would be their biggest and most notable pop hit. The song had music from Tom Livingston and lyrics by none other than Tony Award winning actor (and Harry Potter book on tape voice) Jim Dale. Gaynor seized the moment and brought down the house with her spirited delivery of the song. This performance went over so well that it inspired TV executives to give Mitzi her own TV specials, which scored big ratings in the late 60s and early 70s. Georgy Girl made a star out of Lynn Redgrave and was so popular it was a Broadway musical in 1970 – folding after four disastrous performances.

Angela Lansbury, Thoroughly Modern Millie. It just so happened that Lansbury was in LA with Mame when the 40th Annual Academy Awards were handed out in 1968. Along with some of the chorus boys from her show, the star took the opportunity and ran with it, in what was considered by many to be her unofficial screen test for the film version of Mame (which eventually bombed with Lucille Ball).

Richard White, Paige O’Hara & Jerry Orbach, Beauty and the Beast. The three voices from the animated film perform their songs live and in costume (“Belle” & “Be Our Guest”). I wonder if this is where Disney got their idea to put the brilliant animated film on stage. Angela Lansbury later sang “Beauty and the Beast” with Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson on the telecast (the only song listed here that actually took home the award).

Robin Williams, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. This animated film from the hit Comedy Central series surprised critics and audiences alike with its tongue-in-cheek and highly irreverent musical score supplied by Marc Shaiman and Trey Parker. (One that even Stephen Sondheim greatly enjoyed). There are many amusing moments spoofing various stage and screen musicals, but it was this song “Blame Canada” that nominated for the Oscar, and presented on the telecast in full Broadway mode.

Catherine Zeta-Jones & Queen Latifah, Chicago. John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote this song specifically for the film adaptation, which was sung over the closing credits by Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger. Claiming stage fright, Zellweger opted out of singing live on the telecast and their costar Latifah stepped in for the event. It doesn’t really have much of a production number (Zeta-Jones was duequality, but they throw in appropriately lithe dancers around.

Finally, this isn’t related to the Best Song Oscar, but I’d say it was the greatest production number I’ve seen from any Academy Awards telecast. It’s only the second half of the twelve minute tribute to Irving Berlin featuring Bernadette Peters and Peter Allen (I posted it in its entirety last September, part one was taken down) but it’s worth sharing again, particularly for that voracious audience response (they applaud for the last 40 seconds of the song!). This is from the 1982 telecast. Enjoy:

Oscar nominations

I’m still in the midst of my annual February screening, so I have no solid opinions yet. However, who are your picks? The Oscars are on March 7. Last year, I was pre-empted because I was en route to the Philippines, but I’ve my normal Academy punditry this season.

Best Motion Picture of the Year:
A Serious Man
An Education
The Blind Side
District 9
Inglourious Basterds
The Hurt Locker
Up in the Air

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role:
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role:
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role:
Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role:
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Mo’Nique, Precious

Best Achievement in Directing:
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Lee Daniels, Precious
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen:
Inglourious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino
The Hurt Locker – Mark Boal
The Messenger – Alessandro Camon; Oren Moverman
A Serious Man – Joel Coen; Ethan Coen
Up – Bob Peterson; Pete Docter; Thomas McCarthy

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
District 9 – Neill Blomkamp; Terri Tatchell
An Education – Nick Hornby
In the Loop – Jesse Armstrong; Simon Blackwell; Armando Iannucci; Tony Roche
Precious – Geoffrey Fletcher
Up in the Air– Jason Reitman; Sheldon Turner

Best Achievement in Cinematography:
Avatar – Mauro Fiore
Das weisse Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte – Christian Berger
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – Bruno Delbonnel
Inglourious Basterds – Robert Richardson
The Hurt Locker – Barry Ackroyd

Best Achievement in Art Direction:
Avatar – Rick Carter (art director); Robert Stromberg (art director); Kim Sinclair (set decorator)
Nine – John Myhre (art director); Gordon Sim (set decorator)
Sherlock Holmes – Sarah Greenwood (art director); Katie Spencer (set decorator)
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – David Warren (art director); Anastasia Masaro (art director); Caroline Smith (set decorator)
The Young Victoria – Patrice Vermette (art director); Maggie Gray (set decorator)

Best Achievement in Costume Design:
Bright Star – Janet Patterson
Coco avant Chanel – Catherine Leterrier
Nine – Colleen Atwood
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – Monique Prudhomme
The Young Victoria – Sandy Powell

Best Achievement in Sound:
Avatar – Christopher Boyes; Gary Summers; Andy Nelson; Tony Johnson
Inglourious Basterds – Michael Minkler; Tony Lamberti; Mark Ulano
Star Trek – Anna Behlmer; Andy Nelson; Peter J. Devlin
The Hurt Locker – Paul N.J. Ottosson; Ray Beckett
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – Greg P. Russell; Gary Summers; Geoffrey Patterson

Best Achievement in Editing:
Avatar – Stephen E. Rivkin; John Refoua; James Cameron
District 9 – Julian Clarke
Inglourious Basterds – Sally Menke
Precious – Joe Klotz
The Hurt Locker – Bob Murawski; Chris Innis

Best Achievement in Sound Editing:
Avatar – Christopher Boyes; Gwendolyn Yates Whittle
Inglourious Basterds – Wylie Stateman
Star Trek– Mark P. Stoeckinger; Alan Rankin
The Hurt Locker – Paul N.J. Ottosson
Up – Michael Silvers; Tom Myers

Best Achievement in Visual Effects:
Avatar – Joe Letteri; Stephen Rosenbaum; Richard Baneham; Andy Jones
District 9 – Dan Kaufman; Peter Muyzers; Robert Habros; Matt Aitken
Star Trek – Roger Guyett; Russell Earl; Paul Kavanagh; Burt Dalton

Best Achievement in Makeup:
Il divo – Aldo Signoretti; Vittorio Sodano
Star Trek – Barney Burman; Mindy Hall; Joel Harlow
The Young Victoria – John Henry Gordon; Jenny Shircore

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song:
Crazy Heart – Ryan Bingham; T-Bone Burnett
– For the song “The Weary Kind”
Faubourg 36 – Reinhardt Wagner (music); Frank Thomas (lyrics)
– For the song “Loin de Paname”
Nine – Maury Yeston
– For the song “Take It All”
The Princess and the Frog – Randy Newman
– For the song “Almost There”
The Princess and the Frog – Randy Newman
– For the song “Down in New Orleans”

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score:
Avatar – James Horner
Fantastic Mr. Fox – Alexandre Desplat
Sherlock Holmes – Hans Zimmer
The Hurt Locker – Marco Beltrami; Buck Sanders
Up – Michael Giacchino

Best Short Film, Animated:
French Roast – Fabrice Joubert
Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty – Nicky Phelan; Darragh O’Connell
La dama y la muerte – Javier Recio Gracia
Logorama – Nicolas Schmerkin
Wallace and Gromit in ‘A Matter of Loaf and Death’ – Nick Park

Best Short Film, Live Action:
Istället för abrakadabra – Patrik Eklund; Mathias Fjällström
Kavi – Gregg Helvey
Miracle Fish – Luke Doolan; Drew Bailey
The Door – Juanita Wilson; James Flynn
The New Tenants – Joachim Back; Tivi Magnusson

Best Documentary, Short Subjects:
China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province – Jon Alpert; Matthew O’Neill
Królik po berlinsku – Bartosz Konopka; Anna Wydra
Music by Prudence – Roger Ross Williams; Elinor Burkett
The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner – Daniel Junge; Henry Ansbacher
The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant – Steven Bognar; Julia Reichert

Best Documentary, Features:
Burma VJ: Reporter i et lukket land – Anders Østergaard; Lise Lense-Møller
Food, Inc. – Robert Kenner; Elise Pearlstein
The Cove – “tbd”
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers – Judith Ehrlich; Rick Goldsmith
Which Way Home – Rebecca Cammisa

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year:
Ajami – Israel
Das weisse Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte – Germany
El secreto de sus ojos – Argentina.
La teta asustada – Peru
Un prophète – France

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year:
Coraline – Henry Selick
Fantastic Mr. Fox – Wes Anderson
The Princess and the Frog – John Musker; Ron Clements
The Secret of Kells – Tomm Moore
Up – Pete Docter

31 Days of Oscar: 2010 Edition

It’s an annual TV event that I take great pleasure in every winter, and I’m not even talking the Oscar ceremony. Every year to celebrate the annual Academy Awards, Turner Classic Movies has its “31 Days of Oscar.” Here’s some further info direct from TCM:

The 2010 edition of the month-long event will feature 360 Academy Award®-nominated and winning movies, all presented uncut and commercial-free. The month’s schedule is designed so that each movie is linked to the next movie in the lineup through a shared actor or actress.

“31 Days of Oscar” will begin Monday, Feb. 1, at 6 a.m. (ET) with Kevin Bacon and James Coco in Only When I Laugh (1981). Coco and Harry Andrews will then be featured in Man of La Mancha (1972) at 8:15 a.m., followed by Andrews in 55 Days at Peking (1963) at 10:30 a.m. The festivities will continue linking from movie to movie, one star at a time, throughout the month. The final movie in the festival, Diner (1982), starring Bacon, will bring the entire month full circle.

TCM host Robert Osborne, who is also the official biographer of the Academy Awards and the Academy’s red carpet greeter, will host 31 DAYS OF OSCAR, which will mark its 16th year on Turner Classic Movies. The 2010 edition will feature 22 films making their debut on TCM, including Gladiator (2000), Titanic (1997), Mrs. Brown (1997), A Room with a View (1985), Trading Places (1983), Frances (1982), Only When I Laugh (1981), Alien (1979), Julia (1977), Serpico (1973), Lady Sings the Blues (1972), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), An American Dream (1966), Morituri (1965), Summertime (1955), Call Me Madam (1953), The Snake Pit (1948), Moonrise (1948), Kiss of Death (1947), Kitty (1945), Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938) and One Hour with You (1932).

The Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2009 will be presented live on Sunday, March 7, 2010, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center® and televised live by the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 200 countries worldwide.

Click here for the complete schedule.

Remembering Irving Berlin

Jerome Kern was once quoted saying “Irving Berlin has no place in American music. He is American music.” Berlin, a Russian immigrant turned patriotic American, was one of the most indelible songwriters of the 20th century. His first major hit song was “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” in 1911, which made him a go-to composer on both Tin Pan Alley and Broadway. He and his partner Sam Harris built the Music Box Theatre in 1925, which is the only Broadway house ever built to accomodate the works of a songwriter. Over the course of 60 years, Berlin wrote so many songs that there is apparently some debate on the actual number (Time magazine cited 1250 as the total in 2001, but some sources put the total at 1,500). Here’s a list of 850 from Wikipedia.

The songs themselves are a part of the American fabric. For example there’s “Always,” “What’ll I Do?,” “Blue Skies,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” Annie Get Your Gun (“There’s No Business Like Show Business, etc), Call Me Madam (“You’re Just in Love, etc), “Easter Parade,” and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” to name only a few. He received the Best Song Oscar in 1943 for “White Christmas,” a Tony award for Best Score in 1951 for Call Me Madam (besting that year’s Best Musical, Guys and Dolls), a Congressional Gold Medal for “God Bless America,” the Presidential Medal of Freedom, lifetime achievement Tony and Grammy Awards, among countless other honors.

Berlin died on this day 20 years ago at the age of 101. As a tribute, here are Bernadette Peters and Peter Allen leading an immense, crowd pleasing production number paying tribute to the songwriter on the 55th Annual Academy Awards in 1983:

Thoroughly Modern Angie

At the Oscars in 1968, Angela Lansbury, who was in town with Mame, was asked to perform the Oscar-nominated title song from Thoroughly Modern Millie. It was customary at the time that the song’s originator didn’t sing on the telecast, which is why Julie Andrews didn’t do the honors. Many consider this performance to be an unofficial audition for the film version of Mame. Now, if someone could post Mitzi Gaynor’s showstopping rendition of “Georgy Girl” from the year before (apparently the standing ovation led to a commercial break)…

2008 Academy Award Nominations

Best Picture
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, The Reader

Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler

Animated Film
Kung Fu Panda


Art Direction
Changeling, Art Direction: James J. Murakami; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Art Direction: Donald Graham Burt; Set Decoration: Victor J. Zolfo
The Dark Knight, Art Direction: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Peter Lando
The Duchess, Art Direction: Michael Carlin; Set Decoration: Rebecca Alleway
Revolutionary Road, Art Direction: Kristi Zea; Set Decoration: Debra Schutt

Changeling, Tom Stern
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Claudio Miranda
The Dark Knight, Wally Pfister
The Reader, Chris Menges and Roger Deakins
Slumdog Millionaire, Anthony Dod Mantle

Costume Design
Australia, Catherine Martin
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Jacqueline West
The Duchess, Michael O’Connor
Milk, Danny Glicker
Revolutionary Road, Albert Wolsky

David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant, Milk
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)
Encounters at the End of the World
The Garden
Man on Wire
Trouble the Water

Documentary Short Subject
The Conscience of Nhem En
The Final Inch
Smile Pinki
The Witness – From the Balcony of Room 306

Film Editing
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
The Dark Knight, Lee Smith
Frost/Nixon, Mike Hill and Dan Hanley
Milk, Elliot Graham
Slumdog Millionaire, Chris Dickens

Foreign Language Film
The Baader Meinhof Complex, Germany
The Class, France
Departures, Japan
Revanche, Austria
Waltz with Bashir, Israel

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Greg Cannom
The Dark Knight, John Caglione Jr. and Conor O’Sullivan
Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Mike Elizalde and Thom Floutz

Original Score
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Alexandre Desplat
Defiance, James Newton Howard
Milk, Danny Elfman
Slumdog Millionaire, A.R. Rahman
WALL-E, Thomas Newman

Original Song
“Down to Earth” from WALL-E, Music by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman, Lyric by Peter Gabriel
“Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire, Music by A.R. Rahman, Lyric by Gulzar
“O Saya” from Slumdog Millionaire, Music and Lyric by A.R. Rahman and Maya Arulpragasam

Animated Short Film
La Maison en Petits Cubes
Lavatory – Lovestory
This Way Up

Live Action Short Film
Auf der Strecke (On the Line)
Manon on the Asphalt
New Boy
The Pig
Spielzeugland (Toyland)

Sound Editing
The Dark Knight, Richard King
Iron Man, Frank Eulner and Christopher Boyes
Slumdog Millionaire, Tom Sayers
WALL-E, Ben Burtt and Matthew Wood
Wanted, Wylie Stateman

Sound Mixing
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Mark Weingarten
The Dark Knight, Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo and Ed Novick
Slumdog Millionaire, Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty
WALL-E, Tom Myers, Michael Semanick and Ben Burtt
Wanted, Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montaqo and Petr Forejt

Achievement in Visual Effects
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton and Craig Barron
The Dark Knight, Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Tim Webber and Paul Franklin
Iron Man, John Nelson, Ben Snow, Dan Sudick and Shane Mahan

Adapted Screenplay
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Screenplay by Eric Roth, Screen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord
Doubt, Written by John Patrick Shanley
Frost/Nixon, Screenplay by Peter Morgan
The Reader, Screenplay by David Hare
Slumdog Millionaire, Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy

Original Screenplay
Frozen River, Written by Courtney Hunt
Happy-Go-Lucky, Written by Mike Leigh
In Bruges, Written by Martin McDonagh
Milk, Written by Dustin Lance Black
WALL-E, Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon; Original story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter

Hugh Jackman to Host Oscars

It was announced today that Hugh Jackman will host the 81st annual Academy Awards ceremony on February 22, 2009. It’s a bit of a left-field choice, considering most recent hosts have a background in either stand-up or sketch comedy. However, if his charismatic turns hosting the Tonys in 2003 & 2004 are any indication, I don’t think viewers have much to worry about. Though one does wonder, does he plan on singing?

Some thoughts on the Oscars

The 80th annual Academy Awards went on. After being threatened for weeks by the strike, it was resolved and all ended well and the awards happened and here are some thoughts so I can end this ridiculous run on sentence before I completely lose my mind.

Jon Stewart was, I thought, an amusing host. Much more comfortable and relaxed than the last time – and much funnier. Apparently not everyone agrees with me. Oh well. Did miss the best bit from his last time: the political smear ads among the acting nominees (“Judi Dench took my eye out in a bar fight.” Anyone?) which would have been ever so appropriate this year of all years. The lines about the strike (the Vanity Fair line is brilliant) and the upcoming election were spot on. For the record: My favorite line of his, one that reduced us to pure hysteria: “Normally when you see a black man or a woman president, an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty.”

Tilda Swinton provided an amusing upset over my beloved Cate Blanchett (who can really do no wrong and whom I adore). However, this was an incredibly strong category, and one that was pretty much impossible to peg, so I have bear no ill-will. Swinton’s stellar restrained work in Michael Clayton is a master class in finding nuance and character in what otherwise would have been a complete caricature of a shrewy harridan. Her speech is one of the most offbeat and amusing I have ever heard in my life. (If you thought her Hefty-bag themed dress was atrocious, Youtube her recent BAFTA win to see the garish insect costume she wore to that event…) Horrid styles aside, she seems like quite the amusing personality.

Javier Bardem was incredibly classy – and also completely terrifying and fascinating in No Country. He’s also going to be Guido Contini in the upcoming film adaptation of Nine; with Marion Cotillard as Luisa.

– The Coen brothers win for Best Adapted Screenplay for No Country for Old Men. I immediately get a phone call telling me I am on TV (in the personage of Ethan Coen). For the record, my brother Patrick is more of a dead ringer than I. But I’ll take it (and the Oscar too, thank you).

Marion Cotillard wins for Best Actress over my beloved Julie Christie. Not quite the upset that some would make it out to be. But I have never seen an actor more relieved not to win than Christie. As the announcement comes closer you can see her getting insular and practically shrinking. They announce Cotillard and there is this moment where she kind of feels like a weight has been lifted and then goes completely nuts applauding Marion’s win. Have I mentioned, I adore Julie Christie in practically every way? Possibly the most fascinating and coolest movie star that ever lived. Cate Blanchett, nominated for being awesome in a crapfest, looks like she was about to jump out of her seat to give her a hug, she was so ecstatic. Gotta love those British actors; not only do they deliver the goods, they certainly keep it real. It’s the first time a French performance has been awarded an acting Oscar; and the first foreign language victory in this category since Sophia Loren made Two Women in 1961. My other question: why did they present this one so early? They would have done better to get predictable Best Actor out of the way and let us have some surprise toward the end.

– Note how each song from Enchanted fell flat. Amy Adams showed up, but apparently the set and a concept didn’t. It felt like watching a stellar actress at work in an acting studio. Kristin Chenoweth phoned in on hers and I wish they got someone who could sing for the third song. Really pitiful presentation on all parts.

– “Falling Slowly” was beautifully performed by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Once may be my favorite film of 2007 and quite possibly a contender for my all-time favorite list. “Falling Slowly” is a lovely song and very affecting, but it’s even more emotionally stirring when seen in context. I was so thrilled when they won, possibly my favorite category of the evening. Then to top it off the Oscars took an unprecedented step and allowed Marketa, who was cut off just as she was about to open her mouth, to come out and have her say. (Classy move, Oscar, classy move). Two beautiful and humble speeches by two of my new favorite people. See Once. Stewart had one of the best quips of the night with “Wow, that guy is so arrogant!” following Glen’s half of the acceptance.

– Did no one tell Katherine Heigl you should never apologize for being nervous before you do anything in show business, ever? She was a total wreck, and we were all the more obvious because she blatantly pointed it out first. Doubt we’ll be seeing her try live theatre any time soon…. and we’re probably the better for it.

– I could listen to Daniel Day-Lewis speak all day. He is one of the most articulate actors I have ever heard in my life. He also has one of the most staggeringly extensive vocabularies of anyone I’ve heard speak in my life. His performance in There Will Be Blood is one of the most mesmerizing star turns I’ve seen in a film in years. Though I hear he’s fearfully method, I wish he would act more. I guess a return to the stage is out of order. But I was amused to read he cobbles in his free time.

– I’ve realized with time that I really hated Atonement. The more I think about it the more I dislike it. Though, the score was admittedly creative, with all that unique type-writer in the orchestration. Glad it didn’t win anything else (even costumes). One stand-out green dress doesn’t mean the entire thing should be awarded; I was rooting for Sweeney Todd or La Vie en Rose. I was surprised that they awarded it to Elizabeth: The Golden Age especially since no one seemed to like it.

– Enjoyed Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway presenting. In fact seeing the two of them play off each other so well makes me just a little more excited for the upcoming Get Smart (damn you marketing experts!) I thought the Adapted Screenplay exchange between Josh Brolin and James McAvoy was highly amusing.

– Anyone notice that Charles Lane and Brad Renfro were absent from the “In Memorium.” Lane was a reliable character actor; normally called on to play a heavy of sorts, almost always a walk-on or minor supporting bit, yet always memorable. Born in 1902, he made his film debut in an uncredited role in 1931. He worked for decades, dying last year at the age of 102. Many of his film appearances include the Best Picture winner of 1938 You Can’t Take it With You (as the frustrated IRS man), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ball of Fire, It’s a Wonderful Life, State of the Union, The Music Man, and many others. A friend of Lucille Ball, he appeared in guest spots on her three hit sitcoms, and is probably best known on TV as the scheming Homer Bedloe on Petticoat Junction. He was also a founding member of the television academy, the Screen Actor’s Guild and when awarded by TV Land on his hundredth birthday, he announced to the crowd “I’m still available.” His last credit was narration for the 2006 short The Night Before Christmas. I think a 75 year career as a reliable and recognizable actor is worthy of a few seconds of time. (Yet they had time for agents? Did any of us know who they were? Or, all due respect, care?). In the case of Mr. Renfro, he was a more recognizable actor and his story was much sadder and more short-lived. People are actually quite up in arms over his omission. The Academy’s excuse that “they didn’t have time for everyone” is rather weak.

Helen Mirren has a body that most of the twenty-something actresses at the Oscars would kill for. She is 62 1/2 years old – and possibly the sexiest senior citizen on the planet.

– Why was Marion Cotillard (who is quite gorgeous) dressed like a rejected chorine from The Little Mermaid?

– Was I the only who missed the living winners tableau they do every five years on a major anniversary? (For the 75th, they had Olivia de Havilland introduce the brief yearbook moment to a stirring standing ovation. I miss some of that old school glamour in these awards).

Anything I missed…?