Monday, February 23, 2015

'The Prediction Box', The Money Drop & Other Oscar Observations

Octavia Spencer being grilled about NPH's prediction box
One could've watched the massive director's cut of Peter Jackson's 'Return of the King', watched the ten minute credits, and still caught the best picture presentation at the Oscar's last night, but overall I thought it was a pretty decent Academy Awards.

I was happy to see Eddie Redmayne win Best Actor for 'The Theory of Everything'; his on-screen physical transformation playing professor Stephen Hawking was simply brilliant.

I was also happy to see director Pawel Pawlikowski win the Best Foreign Film Oscar for his brilliant 'Ida'- the cinematography is simply stunning, one of the most beautifully shot films I've ever seen.
Over the course of the night there was some good drama and heartfelt speeches (Patricia Arquette's speech calling for equal pay for women rocked) and Neil Patrick Harris was marginally amusing as the host; that is if you don't count some of the jokes he was forced to use that dropped like bombs. 

He's no Billy Crystal mind you, but he did have his moments. 

He wasted no time taking on the fact that every single one of the evening's actor nominees this year was white right off the bat with a pretty funny line that helped to ease tension inside the room, acknowledge an awkward truth and move on: “Tonight we celebrate Hollywood’s best and whitest, sorry … brightest.” Ouch.

Overall I think the Academy did a decent job of balancing out the lack of diversity in the nominated actor categories with a fairly steady presence of African-American and Latina (Jennifer Lopez anyway...) actors and actresses on stage to announce nominees and give out awards.

Kerry Washington, Idris Elba, David Olyelowo, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Viola Davis, Eddie Murphy and Octavia Spencer all made stage appearances to announce award nominees and hand out coveted golden statues to the winners.

Common and John Legend gave an impressive performance of 'Glory', the original song from 'Selma', then took home an Oscar for it and touched on suppression of voting rights and mass incarceration in America during a spirited acceptance speech that drew cheers; and likely made some squirm. 

Throughout the evening it seemed to me the camera spent an awful lot of time on the black folk who were in the audience, which is cool and all; but there seemed to be a few moments that came off as forced or a bit awkward.

First off: Neil Patrick Harris' ongoing site gag about his personal Oscar predictions. Harris spent what I felt was a lot of screen time announcing that he'd made his own predictions for the Oscars which were supposedly closely guarded by the same accounting firm that tabulates and secures the Oscar ballots.

Neil Patrick Harris introduces his Oscar prediction box on stage
He spent a lot of time setting the joke up, then theatrically pointed to his predictions carefully secured inside a locked plexi-glass box sitting on the stage (pictured left).

Now I'm not sure how appropriate it is for a major awards show host to offer predictions, but that was fine.

But then he picked out Octavia Spencer in the crowd and jokingly tasked her with "watching the box" for the duration of the evening.

Okay, it was sort of funny at first. Harris is quick on his feet and knows how to work a crowd, but then he kept coming back to these seemingly unscripted interludes with Spencer where he'd ask if she was still watching the box; which of course was sitting right on the stage in front of the entire audience.

At one point he turned to best supporting actor nominee Robert Duvall and asked if he was watching the box; the Tango-loving Oscar winner simply stared at Harris without comment.

Duvall's expression seemed to suggest what many in the audience and watching at home were thinking, "Neil could you possibly make the Oscars any slower?" He did.

MSNBC's Janet Mock said of Harris' conversations with Spencer:
“It is not fun to check in with a black woman only in the context of her performing a duty for you,” and: “It is not ‘reaching’ to point out that the dynamic [between] a white host (NPH) treating a black actress (Octavia Spencer) like the Oscars help.”

At some point his repeated conversations with Spencer sort of seemed like the Academy was intentionally reaching for more camera time with people of color to mask the fact that their nominees were the least diverse in 20 years.

Remember, the Academy hires scores of writers to create the dialog that the host and all the presenters say over the course of the evening. 

John Travolta's caressing Idina Menzel's face was described as "creepy"
So I think the choice was the Academy's and not something Harris simply decided to do on his own.

When he finally did read his "predictions" at the end of the night, it was clear they'd been crafted to build on moments that were intentionally staged throughout the evening; including John Travolta creepily caressing singer Idina Menzel's face (pictured left) while profusely apologizing for famously bungling her name while introducing her at last year's Oscars.

Harris had more than a few awkward moments with the black entertainers in the room. At the start of the awards he noted that 'American Sniper' had grossed more than the other Oscar nominated films combined.

To illustrate it he gestured to half the crowd and told them they represented the other film's collective gross; then he turned to the other side where Oprah Winfrey was sitting and said 'American Sniper's' box office take was represented by Oprah.

As the audience sort of gasped at the obviously klutzy dig on Oprah's body weight, he cheekily added, "Because she's so RICH!" The joke fell really flat but Oprah was a sport about it and pretended to be amused.

If a cricket had chirped, I wouldn't have been surprised.

Back when Billy Crystal hosted the Oscars, he usually took some shots at various people sitting in the audience, but they were good-natured jabs for the most part; like a roast or something and he went around the room.

But Harris wasn't doing that to other actors in the audience, he only seemed to do it to the black attendees, so it came off flat and inappropriate given the obvious tension hanging over the room over the 'Selma' snub.

Speaking of obvious tension, WTF was actor/director Sean Penn thinking of with his "Who gave this son of bitch his green card?" comment before announcing that Mexican director Alejandro Inarritu had won Best Picture for 'Birdman'?

Harris also hit another remarkable low point when he approached actor David Oyelowo seated in the audience and asked him to stand up. As UK's 'The Guardian' described it on their Website:

"Then Harris asked Oyelowo to recite the punchline of a joke about a remake of Annie, starring Jamie Foxx and Quvenzhané Wallis Рwithout apparent consideration that it might be inappropriate to ask a black actor to mock a film with black stars at an event that is sorely lacking in black attendees and nominees."

That was really awkward. I mean, Oyelowo is this refined, classy, esteemed theater actor who's cut his teeth on the London stage, and you're asking him to read the punchline of a stupid joke about a movie that bombed that he had nothing to do with?

The last thing that struck me as strange was Harris making obvious jokes about Oprah Winfrey and Eddie Murphy's enormous net worth.

Even after he used the lame joke about Oprah being rich I mentioned above, he introduced Eddie Murphy as one of the most successful box office earners in Hollywood history and snidely commented that, "He doesn't need this."

As if actors make a decision to appear as presenters at the Oscars only to promote themselves and make money; I'm sure some might.

But why make the comments about Oprah's and Eddie's net worth?

Pretty much everyone in that room knows how much they're worth. Murphy's 35 film roles have earned box office revenues of almost $6 billion, placing him in the top ten actors in Hollywood history in terms of box office.

But again, everyone in the room knows that, so why say it?

Does Oprah being one of the wealthiest women in the world or Eddie's net worth somehow let the Academy off the hook for it's lack diversity in casting choices?

It does not, and it struck me as rather tacky to mention it given the wide range of topics the writers who penned the script for the 2015 Oscars could have talked about.

You don't drop the money at an affair like that; it's just low rent.

On the whole, I don't blame Neil Patrick Harris for the crappy script the writers gave him.

But after a successful hosting of the Tony Awards, he decided to host the Big One and like a quarterback who throws an interception at the last minute of a Super Bowl, Harris gets the blame for dropping the ball.

With that I'm calling it a blog and heading to my comfy chair to watch some Netflix before I turn in.

I was up pretty late last night watching the Oscars.

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