Tuesday, February 28, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Moonlight in La La Land

by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Oscar Night 2017 — Moonlight in La La Land (ill met, as Shakespeare would say!)

“EVERTHING is funny, as long as it’s happening to somebody else,” said Will Rogers.

Who could have foreseen that this would be the theme, the memory, for years to come, of Sunday night’s Oscar telecast?

Before we talk The Mistake (briefly, because the postmortem has come and gone in our fast-moving media world), a few words about the show itself.

I’m sure Jimmy Kimmel is a nice guy.  I mean, not sure, but I know he does excellent charity work, people I admire, admire him, and generally I try to assume most people are nice.  But I don’t find him funny.  And four hours of his particular brand of humor got on my nerves. (In a quick read of his reviews, I might be in the minority on that.)
His “irreverent” remarks after some particularly moving or emotional acceptance speech were irritating. I was not charmed by bringing the tourists in — frankly it seemed condescending.  His ongoing dissing of Matt Damon — while I know it’s a joke that both men participate in — began to move toward the mean-spirited. (I think even Matt thought so, after Kimmel’s “critique” of Damon’s acting in “We Bought A Zoo.” Onstage, later, Matt said, “Oh, I actually liked that performance.”) 
"I'm just presenting, you can't play me off!"
It’s a matter of style, and Kimmel’s is not one that I cotton to.  Which means ... nothing.  Many others find him a riot.  I was also disappointed that he was the only person who mentioned the name of the current president of the United States, and went obvious in some of his other jokes that were clearly about the Commander-in-Chief. 

There were, all night, pointed allusions, powerful references to inclusion, bigotry, what the world needs now is love, sweet, love, etc.  But everybody else stayed clear of giving the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, the satisfaction of being called out by name.
I wonder, every year, why a single host is even needed?  Must we have a “topical” monologue?  A revolving selection of stars — such as they are today — could certainly be employed to introduce musical numbers, presenters, etc.  There would be more visual variety, for one thing.  But — that’s not gonna happen.
Speaking of the visuals, I found the show depressing to look at.  The deep burgundy red that seemed to dominate, color wise, was rather drab and somehow made the Dolby Theater appear smaller.  It didn’t even look like an Academy Awards show until nearly the end, when the “big” awards were nigh, and those glittery beaded curtains, in the shape of Oscar, appeared.

Look, the truth is, the Oscars have always been boring and too long.  Some of us, of a certain age, are suffused with a nostalgia for “our stars” and remember the Academy Awards as far more glamorous and interesting than they were.  Hindsight is 20/20 and uses a soft-focus lens.
AS to the awards themselves.  Thrilled for Viola Davis ... impressed by Casey Affleck’s genuinely humble and surprised manner (still on fence about his acting, but what he did was perfect for “Manchester By The Sea”) ... Mahershala Ali so deserving for “Moonlight” ... Emma Stone — I went back to see “Moonlight” and hers is a worthy win.  I also came away more appreciative of the movie itself.  It needs distance from the hype ... glad that Mel Gibson’s gripping “Hacksaw Ridge” took a couple of awards.
Not being a film editor, makeup person, composer, scenic designer, sound engineer, etc, I accept these awards at face value. This is the life’s work of the talented people involved, and they should have their reward.  But let’s face it, most people watching don’t care. 
And the award for best sound editing goes to ...
In fact, if the Academy pared the telecast down to 90 minutes, and concentrated only on the four acting awards, Best Picture, Director and Screenplay, I think TV viewers would be satisfied just fine.  (As long as there are hours of red-carpet coverage, watching various commentators, anchors, fashion “experts” ask the stars ridiculous questions.)

Oh, and ONE musical number.  Why couldn’t Justin Timberlake, who began the show in dazzling style, just have done a hot medley of all five nominated songs, and — in a paraphrase of Irving Berlin's lyrics — get all of that behind us, Satan?
BEST PICURE.  I truly think The Golden Globes — for all the criticism of that award — does it right, in separating comedy and musical from drama. (Although sometimes they get that, absurdly wrong.)   I mean, how do you competitively compare “La La Land” for all its expert charm, to “Manchester By The Sea” or “Moonlight,” etc. 

For that matter, how does one truly “compare” comedy performances from drama, or a performance based on classic literature to a modern screenplay?   It’s just a big publicity gimmick, really.  But, it’s show biz; human beings and corporate entities are competitive.  Most cultures function on aspects of  winning/losing. 
I thought “La La Land” was charming, beautifully realized.  But I also found the musical, in the wake of its epic reviews, somewhat overrated. After taking it in a second time, and briefly meeting the adorable director Damien Chazelle here in New York, I was less resistant to “La La’s” appeal.  I think “Moonlight” is exquisite and powerful.   (Of the nine nominated films, the only one I would have struck from the list was “Arrival” which I found to be an epic bore.  I understood, to a certain extent, the raves for “La La Land” — an unusual, intimate musical, colorful, joyful, poignant.  But I was flabbergasted when the lights came up on “Arrival” — the positive notices for that one must have been written by the aliens.)
AS to The Big Mistake which closed the Oscar telecast so spectacularly, I can only say the fault lies in our stars.  Even as I saw Miss Dunaway and Mr. Beatty from a distance, gingerly approaching the podium, I had a sinking feeling. Alarm bells were ringing. 
I suppose the shock of realizing he had the wrong card was, well, a shock.  But rather than making it seem as if he was deliberately trying to extend the drama, then handing it off to Miss Dunaway — who was not amused by what she perceived as his attempt at humor — I wish Warren had just stopped, and said, “This says ‘Emma Stone.’  I don’t think Emma Stone is a best picture.”

So, it would have been a little drama, a little embarrassment, no great harm done. 
Now, in the end, and in the scope of, well, real life, no great harm was done.  “Moonlight” won, and the casts of both films behaved wonderfully — congratulating one another, handing over the Oscars, getting swiftly off or onstage, respectively. But the emotional turmoil must have been considerable, the dashed ecstasy of the “La La Land” group; the delayed, diffused, confused joy of the “Moonlight” crowd. 
Not to mention the agonies suffered by whomever handed Beatty the wrong card, and Faye and Warren’s distress!  They were hoping to remind the current movie industry of their glorious careers and the ground that was broken with “Bonnie and Clyde.”  Now they are tropes and memes and hashtags of the cruel, unfettered social media. 

And while I commend “La La” producer Jordan Horowitz for instantly jumping into the onstage confusion, commandingly announcing, “This is no joke, ‘Moonlight’ is the winner, come up here!” he could have been a bit more gentle taking the correct envelope from a stunned Warren Beatty’s hand. Mr. Beatty is likely still nursing a bloody paper cut!
The moral?  As Joe. E. Brown said at the classic conclusion of  “Some Like It Hot” — “Well, nobody’s perfect.”
TOMORROW, I will reminisce a bit about Bill Paxton, who died unexpectedly, shockingly, on Saturday.  I was busy and away from TV news and my computer over the weekend.  I learned of Paxton’s death when a distressed Jennifer Aniston mentioned his passing, as she introduced the In Memoriam segment on Oscar night.  I wondered, uncharitably, what was “the matter” with Jennifer when she appeared.  Then she mentioned Paxton, and I realized — she’d clearly been crying. 

He was a wonderful guy and a terrific actor. RIP, Bill.

Contact Liz here.