Monday, February 28, 2005

77th Annual Academy Awards

The 77th Annual Academy Awards
Hosted by Chris Rock
2 stars

Every year since the first Oscar presentation in 1929, the Academy Awards has celebrated and rewarded the best of the best in film. It is the most prestigious and celebrated awards ceremony in America, and every year is attended by the most recognizable super-stars from all over the world. Millions of people tune in to watch the ceremonies, and listen to the speeches of those lucky enough to win one of the 13 ½ inch, 8 ½ lb statuettes nicknamed Oscar. No one really knows why the award is called Oscar, though rumor has it that Academy librarian Margaret Harrick thought it looked like her uncle, and bestowed his name upon it. Hosts for the ceremonies are chosen for their comic abilities—after all, the ceremony usually lasts about 4 hours, so you need someone who can keep the audience entertained. This year the Oscars were hosted by the notoriously raucous comedian Chris Rock, who promised to be more hilariously insulting and radical than any other host before him.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. Rock started out strong, laying the laughs on thick by making fun of nearly every famous face in his audience. After the first 10 minutes, however, he began to lose his momentum, and started to flounder. In between the awards his wise-cracks mainly revolved around the same theme as his usual comedic routine—that fact that he’s black, and how that is not the same as being white. The planned gags, such as his interlude with Adam Sandler when Catherine Zeta-Jones “forgot” to come on stage, failed miserably, and instead came off as what they were—obviously planned gags that were supposed to keep the audience's interest before the next award. Rock did make one amusing—and good—point about the Oscars by showing footage of himself interviewing random people on the street, asking whether they had seen the top contenders for the year. None had, but all had managed to see White Chicks, and thought it was pretty good, too.

Chris Rock received no help from his surroundings either. The set design appeared to have been borrowed from the early 80’s, with a few garish additions. An enormous screen on the floor flashed hideously distracting close-ups of any famous actor who happened to walk across it, and a gigantic spiral staircase of massive Oscars revolved upwards in the middle of the stage. Perhaps this unsightly mess was the reason why half of the awards were announced and given from the aisles—or perhaps it was just laziness on the part of the actors who announced them. Actually, it was an attempt to save time that inspired the aisle announcements, but either way, giving away the Oscars from the aisles of the Kodak Theater was not a charming effect. Overall, it cheapened the moment, and made those awards seem paltry and unimportant. The ceremony seemed to sneer condescendingly at the “minor” awards, such as those for visual effects or sound editing, either emphasizing the category’s insignificance by holding the announcement in the aisle, or making the nominees line up on stage like prisoners at a public execution.

For the audience, the real execution, however, came with the musical performances. Apparently the Academy is low on funding—it seems that they could only afford one major “musician” this year. Beyoncé, a former third of the now-defunct Destiny’s Child, sang three of the five songs nominated for Best Original Song, with a complete costume and makeup change for each one. The first song, Vois Sur Ton Chemin from the French film Les Choristes, should have been sung by a boy soprano, and there was no excuse for not having it so, as she had an entire boy’s choir in the background for backup. Beyoncé’s pop-star tones just don’t fit with the operatic style of the song, and as the next song (Learn To Be Lonely from The Phantom of the Opera) had a similar style, it was also a flop. This mistake, again, could have been avoided by having the original singer perform the song. A similar mistake was made when Antonio Banderas was asked to perform Al Otro Lado Del Río from The Motorcycle Diaries. Banderas just lacked the melodious tones needed to carry the tune, and not even having Carlos Santana accompany him on guitar could save the performance. In fact, when Al Otro Lado Del Río won the award, Jorge Drexler accepted the award by singing the song himself to make up for Banderas’s botched efforts.

Drexler’s acceptance speech was by far the best, just the song and two words—“Thank you.” Hilary Swank, who won the award for Best Actress for her performance in Million Dollar Baby, also wins the award this year for longest acceptance speech. Swank thanked everyone she ever knew—individually, by name—and not even two attempts to cut her off with the ending music could stop her. Jamie Foxx, who won Best Actor for his role in Ray, wins for most moving speech, as his tearful and heartfelt thanks to the real Ray Charles moved everyone in the audience.

There were no real surprises in the awards given this year, as Million Dollar Baby (4 awards) and Aviator (5 awards) snagged most of the Oscars. Perhaps the one surprise was that Martin Scorsese in his fourth nomination for Best Director still didn’t receive the award. Overall, while the ceremony is always fun to watch, this just wasn’t one of the best. Better luck next year.

List of Awards

Best Picture: Million Dollar Baby
Director: Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
Actor: Jamie Foxx, Ray
Actress: Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
Supporting actress: Cate Blanchett, The Aviator
Supporting actor: Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby
Adapted screenplay: Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Sideways
Original screenplay: Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Art direction: The Aviator
Cinematography: The Aviator
Costume design: The Aviator
Visual effects: Spider-Man 2
Film Editing: The Aviator
Sound mixing: Ray
Sound editing: The Incredibles
Original score: Finding Neverland
Original song: Al Otro Lado Del Rio from The Motorcycle Diaries
Makeup: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
Foreign film: The Sea Inside (Spain)
Animated feature: The Incredibles
Documentary feature: Born Into Brothels
Documentary short: Mighty Times: The Children's March
Live-action short film: Wasp
Animated short film: Ryan


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