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Oscar, Oscar!

Well another year and another Academy Awards is over. Were you surprised? Or did you think that, as with the nominations themselves, there wasn’t a classic moment in the whole four-hour telecast? After a simple and elegant opening montage, in which all the nominees got screen time, host Ellen DeGeneres didn’t play too edgy and made sure not to offend, which was a shame given all the Al Gore references throughout the evening that a bolder host would have going as a running gag. Her highlights were presenting eventual Best Director winner Martin Scorsese with a script and getting Steven Spielberg to snap a picture of herself with nominated helmer Clint Eastwood.

oscar-2007.jpgIt was Marty’s night, of course, and he was just one of a number of sure bets that took away the golden guy. I’m very happy for him, despite The Departed not being a personal project originated with the great man himself (it’s a remake of the 2004 Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs), and one that sees him playing a by-the-numbers game, with all-too familiar elements from his previous pictures creeping in. That it also won Best Picture is indicative that this year has once again been a pretty poor one for really good, classic movies. I liked The Departed, but is it better than Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, GoodFellas or even The Aviator? No.

Pickups also went predictably to Jennifer Hudson as Supporting Actress (and in that dress she certainly needed support!) in DreamGirls, and Best Actor and Actress Forest Whitaker for The Last King Of Scotland and Helen Mirren for The Queen respectively – all dead certs that proved more drab viewing. Poor Peter O’Toole genuinely looked distant when his name wasn’t read out for Best Actor, and in the Supporting category Eddie Murphy’s prize was really just being nominated as the Academy’s “mainstream gesture” nod, since his role wasn’t ever a real acting performance. Getting the prize itself was Alan Arkin, who has provided more than strong support in countless movies over the years and deserved his Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine. I’ve been a fan of Arkin’s from Catch 22 onwards and always enjoy the roles he pops up in, such as the inventor assistant in The Rocketeer and the thankless father role in Edward Scissorhands (though the less said about his turn as Inspector Clouseau in that “forgotten” Pink Panther film the better). Truly, Arkin’s win was probably the only award of the night that I had no reservations about.

The big surprises came with the animation and related categories. Trumping Disney’s strong contender The Little Matchgirl and Pixar’s Lifted was Torill Kove’s The Danish Poet, a nice little film with a very childish look to the animation, which isn’t a criticism, but a nice juxtaposition as the children’s television look of the piece plays against its themes of a poet’s attempts to solve life’s big mysteries and how seemingly unrelated events all add up to form the bigger picture. While I’m torn on the inclusion of No Time For Nuts, which is fantastically funny but did start life as a DVD bonus, it was widely felt that a strike for the return of traditional, lush hand-drawn Disney animation was expected for Matchgirl, and would have perhaps pleased more. In the Visual Effects department, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest predictably but very deservedly walked away with the Oscar, leaving me to question Superman Returns and Poseidon‘s also-ran inclusions as even being worthy of appearing in the line up at all.

Pan’s Labyrinth looked set to take Best Foreign Film after three wins for the “look” awards of Cinematography, Art Direction and Make-Up, but lost it to The Lives of Others in a shock twist. DreamGirls‘ three nominations for Best Song also perhaps fractured the voting there and, perhaps inevitably, walked away with nothing in that category. In a bad year for original songs, the winner was Melissa Etheridge’s I Need To Wake Up, providing An Inconvenient Truth with its second award of the night after also claiming Best Documentary Feature. Out of all the songs on show, and leaving its message at the door, I have to agree that the pick was right for the best song, and I was pleased that at least it didn’t go to the distinctly average Our Town from Cars, which wasn’t helped by a damp squib performance by composer Randy Newman and James Taylor in the show.

Even more surprising was Cars losing Best Animated Feature to…Happy Feet!? The penguin comedy seemed to keep with the “green” theme of the evening and beat out Pixar’s otherwise sure-to-win juggernaut and Sony’s Monster House, which was the most original of the three and the one I was going for personally. But…is there really any surprise there? Cars was widely seen as a step down for the mighty Pixar, and the awarding to a competitor surely sends out the signal that The Lamp certainly isn’t the only team on the playing field anymore for sure. George Miller’s dancing penguins – already a surprise smash – was almost a shoe in due to his filmmaker connections, and does this mean, with Monster House‘s Spielberg and Zemeckis involvement, that animation is going to start seeing more live-action influences? Say it ain’t so! Monster House‘s mo-capped technique meant it never really stood an honest chance with voting animators, but the year is coming closer when such a film will undeservedly walk away with the prize. Shame for DreamWorks too, who produced fun fare in 2006 with Over The Hedge, Flushed Away (with Aardman, of course) and the short First Flight, which should have gotten a nod too. Look for my take on Happy Feet when it hits DVD next month.


oscar-07-short.jpgSpeaking of reviews (see what I did there?), we’ve just time before I sign off to shout up Rand’s new one, for Mike Mignola’s The Amazing Screw-On Head pilot, and I’ll be back later this week with a look at Sony’s Open Season. Finally, and back to the Oscars, look for our exclusive interview with Best Animated Short director Torill Kove [right] that should be going live sometime today and continues our State Of The Art discussions with the nominated filmmakers. In wrapping up, the Academy Awards this year wasn’t a classic show, and as usual some of the better films of the year didn’t even wind up getting nominated. Does it matter? Probably not. History has shown us that many of the nominated films have gone on to become perennial classics long after the “winners” have been forgotten, and this year came up very short on a truly ripe and memorable bunch.

Back soon! – Ben.

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