Monday, February 23, 2009

From the Ridiculous to the Primetime

The 2009 Independent Spirit/Academy Award Shows

"Poverty, Poetry, and new Titles of Honour make Men ridiculous."
- Poor Richard's Almanac
It's that time of year again, time for the film honorarium shows. So here are my reflections on this weekend's festivities, in reverse order of watching...

It's Academical!

Sunday, March 22
I usually don't keep a close watch on the Academy Awards telecast because other than seeing Chuck Workman's annual film montages, I have no interest in an event that is basically a commercial orgy of Celebrity Culture. I mean, who cares what Angelina Jolie's reaction is to seeing Jennifer Aniston onstage or vice versa? I much prefer the politically incorrect Independent Spirit Awards, where you can always count on seeing John Waters and hearing industry folk talk freely - and cuss worse than sailors. But this year I watched the whole shebang (except between 9 and 10 when I switched over to see the new episode of Shameless on the Sundance Channel) and was pleasantly surprised to see that this time, the Academy pretty much got it just right. Justice, for the most part, was served.

Dog Day Evening

I thought Slumdog Millionaire was easily the best movie and Danny Boyle (who I just realised bears an uncanny resemblance to late-period Morrissey) the best director this year and, while I personally would have gone with comeback kid Mickey Rourke as Best Actor for The Wrestler, I can't really quibble given the equally brilliant performance Sean Penn delivered in Milk.


Sean Milks it for all it's worth

Everyone knows Hollywood likes to get behind an "issue" film and this was this year's Boys Don't Cry; I'm not complaining - I thought Sean Penn's acceptance speech was very poignant and timely (given California's recent passage of the anti-gay Proposition 8) - I just saw that one coming, that's all. That's why I'm glad the Academy saw fit to reward Slumdog Millionaire over Milk as Best Picture because, well, a biopic's a lot easier to write and direct than making up something from scratch, and Slumdog Millionaire employed a truly imaginative narrative technique to tell both a love story and a socio-cultural history of India itself. And that's just two of the eight awards that Slumdog took away this night.

Naturally, Baltimore's City Paper got it wrong. The same paper that fell in line with the Hipster Elite in proclaiming the Dogme 95/mumblecore exercise Wendy and Lucy "an essential, even inspiring movie" (inspiring to what? To sleep in one's car, wear retro grunge fashion, and bath in gas station bathrooms?) just had to get all snippy in its review of Danny Boyle's best film since the ground-breaking Trainspotting, saying "compared to his earlier works, it just doesn't add up." CP Report card: F (as usual) for Fawning Free Press Flunky.

OK, following are some of the best Oscar highlights (other than Mickey Rourke's hair)..

Best Oscar Acceptance Speech Ever

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto:

- Kunio Kato quoting Styx as he accepts Best Animated Short award for La Maison en Petits Cubes (Tsumiki no Ie)

The Japanese Empire (Performing Arts Division) is back, baby! In this, the very same year as Tokyo Gore Police hit these shores, Kunio Kato was the first of two English-challenged Japanese filmmakers to be recognized by Hollywood on the night. Yojiro Takita's Departures (Okuribito) was the very first Japanese film to receive an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. (Most people assume Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon got an award for Best Picture, but it only got a 1952 Oscar for "Best Art Direction" and also an "Honorary" award from the Board of Governors as "the most outstanding foreign language film released in the United States during 1951"; Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto also won a special award in 1955, but the BFF category was not officially established until 1956.) Yosh!

As Takita and lead actor Masahiro Motoki accepted the award for Departures, Takita said in (cautious) English to the audience, "I am here because of films. This is a new 'departure' for me. And I will, we will, be back. I hope."

Kunio Kato's La Maison en Petits Cubes was Japan's first ever Oscar in the Best Animated Short category, the nation's only other animation success coming in 2003 when Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away won in the category of Best Animated Feature.

Best Lines (Delivered Onstage, Not Snorted Backstage)

"How did he do it? How did he land all those straight roles all these years?"
- Robert DeNiro to Sean Penn

- "I wanna thank all you homo-lovin', commie sons of guns out there!"
- Sean Penn on accepting his Best Actor Oscar for Milk

"All my life I had a choice of hate and love...I chose love and I'm here."
- A. R. Rahman, Best Song Oscar winner ("Jai Ho," from Slumdog Millionaire)

Other Oscar Observations:

I revile Rap and I hate Hip-Hop, but I was truly impressed when Queen Latifah sang a straight-up torch song-style "As Time Goes By." Queenie may be losing her Jennie Craig "Battle of the Bulge" but this sister sure can sing!

Anne Hathaway looks Beyond the Pale. A lovely woman, but the Heroin Chic/Goth Gal pallor's gotta go! Try some earth-toney foundation!

Indy - Not Windy!



Saturday, March 21
Flipping through channels, I caught the 2009 Independent Spirit Awards on the Independent Film Channel and, spying John Waters face, sat down to watch. What a fun awards show! Cussing, off-color jokes and politically incorrect musical numbers featuring Robyn Hitchcock and many of the nominees were the order of the day at this Alternative Oscars held annually on Santa Monica Beach. Or, as Ben Kingsley put it: "When the first thing you're offered on your way in is a Jameson on the rocks, you know you're not in for a boring afternoon."

Especially not with Steve Coogan hosting. I loved his musical number in which he pitched a script to Jonathan Demme and I liked his line about how he hoped “milk” wouldn’t become a new homosexual code word appropriated from the English vernacular like “gay” or “fist”. And I thought of my Bolton-Baiting Buddy Big Dave Cawley (King of Cilantro-Hating Men) when I saw Michael Bolton in the audience, an unwitting butt of yet another Coogan joke when Coogan said that Mickey Rourke borrowed Michael Bolton’s shorn mullet for his mangy lion's mane in The Wrestler.


Mickey to Mikey: "Thanks for the loaner!"

The Spirit Awards also feature each Best Feature nominee getting a song sung to the film's plot and this year's performances were highlighted by Taraji P. Henson (Best Actress nominee for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) singing the crack-gats-and-teen-pregnacy plot of Ballast to the tune of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” (Taraji can sing!) and The Office's reigning nerd Rainn Wilson (sporting Bolton's versatile mullet and with his beer gut spilling out over skin-tight leotards) spoofing Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler - the latter performance causing Rourke to comment "I don't know who that little guy was singing, but I'm gonna beat his ass after the show!"

Old Dog learns New Tricks

And speaking of Mickey, his acceptance speech was the highlight of the evening. As Entertainment Weekly reporter Carrie Bell observed:

While F-bomb-laden acceptance speeches seemed to be practically encouraged, Best Actor winner Mickey Rourke took his to a whole other level. His profanity-laced thank-you spiel included botched studio head and co-star names, references to past escapades with the Santa Monica police department, and a reminder that not all women can climb a stripper pole equally well. (“Melissa--er, Marisa [Tomei] had to do all this with a bare ass and she brought it,” he said of his Oscar-nominated costar.) The room was rolling, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, who presented the award to Rourke. “It’s been a while and Mickey had a lot to say," Hoffman told EW afterward. "And he covered it all.”

Here it is Rourke fans:



For the record, here's how the plaudits went down in Santa Monica:

2009 Independent Spirit Award Winners:
Best Feature: The Wrestler
Best Director: Tom McCarthy, The Visitor
Best Male Lead: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Best Female Lead: Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Best Supporting Actor: James Franco, Milk
Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Best Screenplay: Woody Allen, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Best First Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black, Milk
Best First Feature: Syncodoche, New York
Robert Altman Ensemble Award: Syncodoche, New York
John Cassavetes Award: Search for a Midnight Kiss
Best Documentary: Man on Wire

And that, my friends, is a wrap!

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