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The 79th Academy Awards
Narcissism Without Guilt

Join the Notebooks for live commentary on the annual festival of America's last viable export.

The Notebooks' Live Commentary of the 79th Annual Academy Awards is brought to you by Surge, Inc. Don't leave America Without It. By Operation Iraqi Fuck-Up: 3,155 Americans Dead And Counting: Enjoy The Show. By Fox News, Where Fantasy Is Not Only Our Business; It's Your Patriotic Duty. By the American Defense Establishment Shareholder Society, Grateful For Every Newborn Sucker. By the National Republican Committee, in Association with the Catholic Archdiocese of America: Raping the Nation's Future Is as Easy as GOP or GOD: We Leave It Up to You. By the Southern Baptist Anti-Abortion League of the Neo-Confederate States of America: Advocating for Cannon-Fodder From Conception to the Grave. By Oprah, Because Navel-Gazing Is America's Gift to the World. And by Osama bin Laden and all the Gang at al-Qaeda: There but for the Grace of Bush go All the Victories He's Handed Fanaticism on a Scarlet Platter.

Stay tuned... It's not 8:30 yet, and red-carpet bullshit isn't worth the time-wasting: I'm having a steak. Meanwhile, here's probably the only, for some, inconvenient guest of the evening, just arrived, flanked by one of the most aggravating bag of hot air of the 1990s (whatever happened to her silly campaigns against bad lyrics?):

8:10... The Red Carpet follies... I was just looking over the list of movies and nominees. This must be the first time, maybe the second, that I haven;t seen a single one of the nominated movies, and in most cases, that I hadn't even heard of the movies except in passing and forgettable mention: that makes me eminently qualified to comment, if only as a counterpoint to the overly informed, therefore too PR-prone, talking heads out there. Cameron Diaz has dark hair? She appears to be clothed. Eddie Murphy appears to be almost as alive as the left hand he has roaming about the left hip of the trophy girl by his side.

"Losing builds character. Winning is easy. Anybody can win." —Alan Arkin.

Curious opening. Inspired by the PC-Mac commercials. I kept expecting one of them to come out. Slightly ooriginal, but I'm waiting: what more do you have?

More countries are reresented at the Oscars than are left in the Coalition of the Unwilling over there in bombland.

I love Ellen DeGeneres (not that there's anything wrong with not loving her), but she's not the sort of person I turn to for uncomfortably brutal humor, which I might have been in the mood for had this not been a predetermined nice-and-easy Oscar show. She did manage one good jab with the American Idol-Gore election, but that was it in a monologue thin on daring and thinner, even for DeGeneres, on humor. The gospel blast at the end was a nice quick touch, but the business of celebrating the nominees had better be done with. Leave it to Jack Black and Will Ferrell to lift up the bit—all for "achievement in make-up." What's that redundant achievement in there for? The m ake-up category shoould be cancelled. Question from the audience: does Pan's Labyrinth have anything to do with Lord of the Rings?

West Bank Story! Get me that movie. A comedy musical that takes place "between two falafel stands"! Yes! "Hope is not hopeless." Goddamn right, when people like that get to be heard. But where has that movie been hiding? (Reverse the question: I life in Florida. I'm the one hidden from what ought to be seen.)

The Sound Effect Choir wasn't so bad either. Is Mel Gibson here or are they editing him in too, minus the Jew-baiting? Letters from Iwo Jima gets its first Oscar. Quick confession: If Clint Eastwood was nominated for farting, he'd deserve the Oscar. Same goes for Forest Whitacker (except for his work directing Waiting to Exhale, which still has me midly asphyxiated). On the other hand I should make it clear that this is like watching cricket: I have no interest who wins most of the time, and am not planning on keeping a running tally here. So far the show has been relentlessly forgettable anyway. Except for a couple of interesting bits (the sound choir, Ferrel) it's been verging on the painful. Eddie Murphy is taking himself too fucking seriously anymore. Get us George Carlin. Get us Andrew Dice Clay for that matter. Just get us the hell out of this stuffiness.

Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine, as best supporting actor. I forgot to mention Arkin as one of my great favorites. Him and his son Adam. I'm susprised he has to read from notes, but I sympathize. Memories of The In-Laws. Apparently he made The Pentagon Papers in 2003, with James Spader as Daniel Ellsberg: another one of those movies that were probably banned in Florida. Quick detour to Netflix.

August 31, 1930: Here's how the New York Times opened what appeared to be its very first story about the Oscars: "Perhaps there is no community of equal size throughout the civilized world that is so prolific of news as Hollywood. Even if the affairs of the motion picture industry are necessarily confined to the routine of the business at hand, yet the importance of the motion picture in the modern scheme of things gives the Hollywood hall-mark a stamp of ubiquitous appeal." I'm not quiote sure what all that means, but you can read the rest of the article, in pdf, here.

Al Gore: "I'm just here for the movies, Leo." Too bad. Jerry Seinfeld isn't too pleased either. The shown has fully gone green? You mean all the stars walked to the show? DeCaprio tires again. No announcement Mr. Gore? "Well, I do appreciate that Leo, and I'm kind of surprised... I guess with a billion people watching it's as good a time as any, so my fellow Americans... " The orchestra bangs him off-stage. It's a hint nonetheless: he's toying with the idea.

9:43... There's the Diaz again. She's pretty, beautiful, but isn't she a bit young for botox? Oh wait: Monster House. I did see this movie with Sadie. Happy Feet wins anyway. As if there was a doubt. Speaking of which: Who is the single most Oscar-showered individual in the history of Hollywood? Walt Disney. Twenty-six Oscars. Count 'em. (including four hnorary ones.)

I love the way Hanks and the other one did the introductions for best screenplay adaptation, although I'd have liked the thing to go to Sacha Baron Cohen. "Valium does work." One of the few good lines of the evening. Not that it hasn't been a solid, competent show. It just isn't soaring. It's not been an interesting year, movie-wise: no magic, no Clooney specials, no daring. They're even making fun of their own dullness. More fun coming up, right? "You bet Chris! More Fun," says Tom Hanks. Valium, anyone?

Another interestingly done bit: the costumes are staged, not filmed. They are on stage, aren't they? Costume designers always look odd. Look at this one, Edith Head, winner of eight Oscars in the category:

Edith's great movies: The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, one of the truly great movies of the century (thanks to Paul Newman and John Huston), Rear Window. She also did Myra Breckinridge, from the Gore Vidal novel. She died in 1981. I wonder if Vidal is in the audience. He's living in Los Angeles now that his companion is dead. But his knees are dead too, limiting his motion.

My, how well-mannered Tom Cruise is tonight. He must be divorcing whatshername.

Ellen getting Steven Spielberg--directing Spielberg--to take a shot of her and Eastwood for her MySpace page with her minuscule digital camera: brilliant.

In the old days, the very oldest days, of Oscar, there was a category called "Best Unique and Artistic Film." It was a way for the academy to recognize blockbusters while still leaving room for "good" movies. The experiment lasted one year—the Oscars' very first, 1927-28—when "Wings" won best movie for its aerial battles while "Sunrise" (directed by some guy called F.W. Murnau) won for "best unique and artistic" film. These days the closest thing we have to "best unique and artistic" is the Best Foreign Film category.

In 1940 John Ford won his second Best Director Oscar for The Grapes of Wrath with Henry Fonda. He'd win four awards in all, most among directors.

They'd better hurry this on if they don't want to stage Peter O'Toole's funeral, too.

Non mais, sans blague. Qu'est-ce qu'elle fait la? Catherine Deneuve, that little racist bitch. (Or am I confusing her with someone else? Something tells me she was involved in France's anti-immigrant backlash.) Never fails. But she introduces a movie by Giuseppe Tornatore, one of my great favorites. Damn it, how I miss Europe sometimes. And I have not a drop of European blood in me. Germany's The Lives of Others gets the Foreign Film award. Netflix detour again. Here's Clooney: all of three sentences. So: the American Idol reject wins the supporting actress Oscar, and off she goes ruining it with invoking god at the top of her list. Twice. No, three times.

Ah! The honorary Oscar for Ennio Morricone is coming up. Get out your handkerchiefs. This is the one I;ve been waiting for all month. Morricone and Tornatore together: imagine that. A thermonuclear blast of nostalgia.

10:49... The non-surprise of the evening: An Inconvenient Truth wins. Tomorrow the conservative press is going to go bonkers. Gore: "It's not a political issue: it's a moral issue."

Ah, Clint Eastwood introducing Ennio Morricone. Excuse me while I enjoy this...

To see Ennio in action, see, and hear, here.

All right. This time one of the most annoying segments of the show--the ... wait: why does Kisrten Dunst look as unspellable as her name? And I don;t mean that flatteringly. She looks half-baked toward death. I had begun to say that the part of the show where the president of the mostion picture association gets up and bores us with his obligatory chatter managed to be turned into a pretty bearable bit this time.

So again: the show is well directed, well paced, well balanced. But it really, really is hung up insid its own bubble. It's not dull exactly. It's just entirely disconnected from reality, the way this year's movies are. This isn;t just an homage to fantasy. It's fantasy's homage to itself, as if nothing else exists, as if nothing else matters. An Inconvenient Truth's success is the exception that jarringly proves the rule. Not even Gore dared diverge from irreality's script. No wonder they have Ellen running the show. She's the perfect, amiable, forgivable bromide. I'm not sure there's much point going on when the average episode of CSI, no gift to creativity, is more socially aware, and more entertaining, than this. Good night, and poor luck.

 

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