Monday, February 26, 2007

The 79th Annual Academy Awards - Review

So, that’s the whole jamboree over for another year. The 79th Annual Academy Awards have come and gone, and here’s how it all happened….

1.30am - The show kicks off with a resolutely unfunny montage featuring some of the nominees in which Clint’s effortless cool - “we’re nominated for picture, director, things like that” - outshines much of the showboating around him. Then we get to see the nominees applauding themselves - nice. Ellen Degeneres appears on stage with an opening monologue apparently co-written by Carrie Fisher. She seems a little nervous initially, but she grows into a fairly endearing and amusing performance, and her line “if there weren’t any blacks, Jews and gays there would be no Oscars, or even anyone called Oscar” gets a laugh. Unfortunately she ends on a rather flat note with a half-hearted song-and-dance bit. The sight of a completely shaven-headed Jack Nicholson is the most startling moment of this opening segment.

1.45 - Best Art Direction
A very pretty Nicole Kidman and a very serious Daniel Craig present the first Oscar of the night to Pan’s Labyrinth, which will hopefully bode well for its chances tonight. Eugenio Caballero gives a heartfelt and brief speech.

1.48 - Technical Awards
Maggie Gyllenhaal talks about the technical Oscars which were handed out at a secret bunker somewhere last week - well away from any of the beautiful people, of course. “It was a wild night” she says, apparently without a hint of irony.

1.50 - What the hell was that? Some silhouettes roll together and make a big Oscar statuette. A rather pointless interlude.

1.53 - Best Makeup
Will Ferrell, Jack Black and John C Reilly turn up for a musical skit about Oscars’ lack of recognition for comedy films, which is an unexpected highlight, and then they announce the second award of the night for Pan’s Labyrinth! That’s two out of two so far for one of last year’s best films. One of the winners thanks Guillermo del Toro about three times, and then gets played off by the orchestra before he can thank anyone else.

2.00 - Best Animated and Live Action Short
Awww…. Pint-sized stars Abigail Breslin and Jaden Smith are on stage to announce the winner for Best Animated Short. There’s some stumbling over lines and giggling before The Danish Poet is announced as the winner. Director Torill Kove bizarrely apologises to Tom Hanks during her speech, and then the Oscar for Best Live Action Short goes to West Bank Story.

2.11 - The Hollywood Sound Effects Choir, a group of people who make an impressive variety of sound effects with their mouths alone. Sadly, Sgt. Larvell Jones from the Police Academy films is nowhere to be seen.

2.14 - Best Sound Editing
Steve Carrell and Greg Kinnear’s intro, featuring a microphone cutting out, is predictable but fun; and then the Oscar goes to Letters From Iwo Jima. Only one of the recipients gets to make a speech, even though the other has a piece of paper in his hand ready to go. Shame.

2.14 - Best Sound Mixing
Jessica Biel and James McAvoy award the Best Sound Mixing Oscar to Dreamgirls. It’s the first award of the night for the former Best Picture hopeful, but probably not the last.

2.21 - Best Supporting Actor
Rachel Weisz announces the winner of the first big award of the night, the Best Supporting Actor Oscar - and Alan Arkin wins! I’m delighted for him, and his speech warmly pays tribute to the rest of the Little Miss Sunshine team. I’ve been pretty happy with the way the awards have gone so far.

2.30 - James Taylor performs his nominated song from Cars and he’s quickly followed by Melissa Etheridge’s effort for An Inconvenient Truth. I go to the kitchen for a much-needed caffeine injection.

2.36 - Leonardo Di Caprio and Al Gore appear on stage for an environmentally-friendly announcement, and Al displays some razor-sharp comic timing.

2.43 - Best Animated Feature
A darker-than-usual Cameron Diaz announces the winner of this award, and the animated characters appear in the audience, which is a nice touch. The winner is Happy Feet, with George Miller looking rather spiffy in an old-fashioned tuxedo. He offers a good speech too.

2.46 - Best Adapted Screenplay
Helen Mirren and Tom Hanks announce the Oscar for Adapted Screenplay. The full title and list of writers for Borat is quite a mouthful, and it’s weird to hear Hanks and Mirren reading brief excerpts from the screenplays verbatim. Very surreal. Eventually, they get round to the announcement, and the Oscar goes to William Monaghan for The Departed. It’s the first boost of the evening to one of the Best Picture hopefuls, but Monaghan’s rambling speech goes on too long and he eventually gets played off. Keep it brief, people!

3.00 - Best Costume Design
Emily Blunt and Anne Hathaway present this award - a bit of a conflict of interest, no? They engage the wonderful Meryl Streep in a little comedy and then the nominated clothes are modelled on stage, which is a tad strange. Finally they hand the Oscar to Milena Canonero for Marie Antoinette. Blunt and Hathaway strain to hide their disappointment. In her speech Canonero says “I want to thank everyone who had anything to do with this movie”, which is surely the best way to go about it.

3.05 - Tom Cruise presents a well-deserved honorary Oscar to Sherry Lansing who gives a rather dry speech.

3.10 - Ellen’s walkabouts among the audience are raising big laughs. She matches her earlier encounter with Martin Scorsese by involving Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg in a nice bit of japery.

3.12 - Best Cinematography
Gwyneth Paltrow gives this Oscar to Pan’s Labyrinth, the film’s third of the night. There’s no doubt that this is the film of the night so far, and I guess the Best Foreign Picture Oscar is looking like a safe bet now. Like all of the film’s winners so far,
Guillermo Navarro pays tribute to Guillermo del Toro’s vision. I was hoping Emmanuel Lubezki would collect this award for Children of Men, but for the second year in a row (after The New World) his extraordinary work is overlooked.

3.20 - Best Visual Effects
Naomi Watts and Robert Downey Jr. appears on stage to announce the winner of this year’s CGI-fest. Downey Jr. makes a funny, self-deprecating gag, and then the Oscar predictably goes to the overblown and deathly dull Pirates of the Caribbean sequel. The speeches are almost as smug and humourless as the film itself.

3.23 - Best Foreign Language Picture
Ken Watanabe and Catherine Deneuve add a touch of class to proceedings as they take to the stage to introduce a montage of classic foreign-language films. Oddly, they include clips of people giving each other the finger, and then pixel out the finger! What a curious case of self-censorship. Then Cate Blanchett and Clive Owen turn up to present this year’s award, although why they didn’t allow Watanabe and Deneuve to do it is anyone’s guess. In a shocking twist, Germany’s The Lives of Others beats Pan’s Labyrinth, which had previously swept all before it. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck gives a passionate and excitable speech, and seems rather overwhelmed by the whole thing. I feel sorry for Guillermo del Toro, though.

3.34 - Best Supporting Actress
George Clooney - debonair as ever - is on hand to present this award to Jennifer Hudson, whose victory had been predicted since the dawn of time. Hudson thanks God twice in her speech, and thankfully refrains from turning on the expected waterworks. The long-held foreknowledge of Hudson’s victory seems to have sapped some of the emotion from a presentation which was anticipated as one of the night’s biggest moments.

3.41 - Best Short Documentary
Gael Garcia Bernal is on stage with Eva Green - once again sporting far too much eye makeup - and this award goes to The Blood of the Ying-Zhou District.

3.45 - Best Documentary Feature
Jerry Seinfeld’s intro is typically funny and astute, one of the comic highlights of the evening so far. He announces that the best of the “five incredibly depressing movies” is An Inconvenient Truth, which comes as little surprise. Al Gore joins the director on stage, and he gives a rousing and earnest speech.

3.50 - Honorary Award to Ennio Morricone
Who deserves this more than Ennio Morricone, creator of some of the most memorable films scores of all time? Clint Eastwood rather fluffs his lines when presenting the award, but the montage of Morricone’s career which plays subsequently speaks for itself. What an extraordinarily diverse and innovative range of musical scores; displaying an ability to blend sound with imagery like few other composers, and giving vital weight to some brilliant films. Frankly, he deserves better than having Celine Dion mangle one of his works in her own inimitable way. Thankfully, Dion isn’t allowed to disrupt matters for too long, and when Morricone takes to the stage he delivers a humble speech in Italian which Clint translates. A remarkable character, and a well-deserved Oscar.

4.05 - Oh, I’m so tired….

4.06 - Best Original Score
This is quite an interesting category, which will be presented by Penelope Cruz and Hugh Jackman. The Oscar goes to Gustavo Santaolalla for Babel, his second victory in the space of two years. It’s not his greatest score, and I thought Pan’s Labyrinth’s music was a much better effort, but Santaolalla gives a nice speech.

4.10 - Sid Ganis tells us everything we cold wish to know about the Academy in under 60 seconds.

4.11 - Best Original Screenplay
Little Miss Sunshine looks to have this category in the bag, and once Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst have gone through the whole rigmarole or reading the scripts out loud, they surprise nobody by giving the award to Michael Arndt for this year’s indie hit. He’s struggling with a bit of a sore throat, but he manages to croak out an efficient speech which thanks all of the notable figures involved in the film as well as his family, whom apparently once drove 600 miles in a busted VW van. Could this award be a signifier for Little Miss Sunshine’s increased Best Picture hopes?

4.20 - Best Original Song
Jennifer Lopez - or J-Lo, to her friends - introduces a medley of Dreamgirls’ three nominated songs. It seems to go on forever with an army of backing singers and a cacophony of screeching from the performers. Poor old James Taylor only got a stool and a man on a piano to work with. When John Travolta and Queen Latifah open the envelope, it’s a fantastic surprise - Melissa Etheridge wins for An Inconvenient Truth. She gives a passionate speech, and seems genuinely stunned by the win. It’s a heartening result, and a very bad night so far for Dreamgirls.

4.35 - Michael Mann has created a short film on diversity in American cinema. An odd, interesting selection of clips, but the sequence has little impact. The standard of montages has been very poor this year.

4.41 - Best Editing
This is a crucial category, with Babel and The Departed looking for success here to give them an edge in the Best Picture chase. Kate Winslet - looking lovely as ever - is on presenting duties, and she calls out the name of Thelma Schoonmaker, giving her a third Academy Award. Once again, her speech is gracious and touching, and The Departed’s chances of taking the big prize now seem stronger than ever.

4.45 - In Memoriam
Jodie Foster introduces a film featuring the cinematic figures who have passed on in the last 12 months.

4.51 - Best Actress
If Helen Mirren doesn’t win this Oscar it would surely be the biggest shock since…well…ever. She has collected pretty much every award on offer over recent months, and her win here seems to be the safest possible bet. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s announcement doesn’t shock anyone, and Mirren accepts her award with customary grace and humour, dedicating her Oscar to The Queen herself. Mirren fully deserves this honour for an exceptional performance. In fact this has been a tremendous year for actresses, with a number of hugely impressive displays in this category.

5.00 - Ellen Degeneres, who has done well tonight after a shaky start, is hoovering under the nominees’ feet.

5.01 - Best Actor
Forest Whitaker seems set for this one, but can that crafty old Peter O’Toole stage a late run at the prize? Reese Witherspoon opens the envelope…. And indeed it is Forest Whitaker who makes his way up to the stage. He seems incredibly nervous and humbled by the award, but he holds it together long enough to give a moving speech. It’s nice to see one of the most consistent, and consistently underrated, actors of the past two decades finally gaining some recognition. Like the Best Actress award, it's a performance which richly merits an Oscar

5.07 - Best Director
As soon as Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas appeared on stage to present this Oscar, any doubts about its destination completely evaporated. This was three of the 70’s ’Movie Brats’ generation honouring one of their own. Finally, after thirty years of waiting, Martin Scorsese was announced as Best Director. “Could you double-check the envelope?” he asked after his standing ovation abated, and he then gave a lovely speech which was full of joy and gratitude. It was wonderful to see him there with that award in his hand, and unquestionably the highlight of the evening.

5.13 - Best Picture
Jack Nicholson is joined on stage by Diane Keaton, who proceeds to shout the nominees’ names in a rather disconcerting way. After victories in the Screenplay, Editing and Direction fields, there was no surprise when The Departed was announced as Best Picture. Was it the best picture released in 2006? Probably not. Was it the best of the five nominees? Yes, I think it was. It’s a brash, sharp, thrilling film - superbly made and acted - and it manages to do something too few films can do these days: it guarantees a highly entertaining time at the cinema.

And that was that. A relatively enjoyable night which ultimately ended on a high note. Martin Scorsese’s triumph will live long in the memory, and that moment alone made the decision to stay up to an absurd hour in the morning very worthwhile.