Wednesday, April 3, 2013

I'd Like to Thank the Academy, But I Can't Part 2

Having looked over the Bottom Nine Worst Oscar Moments, it is now time to look over the Top (for lack of a better word) Nine Worst Oscar Moments.  The speeches and production numbers get worse, the egos get larger, and the audience gets more and more moments of laughter, usually of the unintended variety.

Num. 9
85th Academy Awards

09.) The Boob Tube (2012)

Yes, we've managed to find a moment from the most recent Academy Awards to rank as a low point in the entire history of the Oscars.  Seth MacFarlane is hailed as a comedic genius.  Now granted I have seen one or two Family Guy episodes and stubbornly refused to watch Ted, so I cannot vouch for that.  Then again, my idea of 'comedic genius' is a Jack Benny, Lucille Ball, George Carlin, Carol Burnett, Richard Pryor, all of Monty Python, even perhaps The Kids in the Hall. 

In any case in his excruciatingly long opening number (around fifteen minutes), we were treated to such relevant matters as the talented Charlize Theron doing a little dance with the talentless Channing Tatum, and two or three songs from the crooner MacFarlane sees himself as.  The first musical number, an ode to Mr. Skin called We Saw Your Boobs, was I imagine meant to mock the perception that he's a low-brow comic.   However, it came off as just low.  I always marvel how a forty-year-old man could be called a genius for having an obsession most teenage boys leave after high school.  I wasn't bothered by his takedown of Kate Winslet, but when he takes cheap shots at Scarlett Johanssen's nude photo hacking, then it shows him to be tactless at best.

Num. 8
71st Academy Awards

08.) Debbie Does D-Day (1999)

God Bless Debbie Allen.  She's a talented dancer/actress/choreographer, and no matter how often her dance numbers for the Academy Awards are derided, she keeps giving it her all.  It isn't her fault that she is given a difficult task: attempting to create dance numbers to music that does not call for it.

However, in retrospect attempting to build a tap dance routine to Saving Private Ryan might not have been the best decision.  Here is a violent, gritty, graphic, overwhelming recreation of the Allied D-Day Invasion...with Savion Glover tapping his way through the accompanying music.  The two never meshed, and it just came off looking bizarre.

Num. 7
74st Academy Awards

07.) Cops and Roberts (2001)

Denzel Washington is like his hero Sidney Poitier in so many ways.  Like Poitier, Washington is one of a handful of black actors who can open a film.  Even when playing a loathsome character like in Training Day, Washington is still held as a dignified actor and person...exactly like Poitier.  Finally, both won Oscars the same night.  Poitier, the first black man to win a Best Actor Oscar for Lilies of the Field, was awarded an Honorary Oscar.  That same night, Washington was the second black man to win a Best Actor Oscar for Training Day.  Coming on the heels of Halle Berry being the first black woman to win Best Actress for Monster's Ball (and basically declaring the end of racism at the Academy Awards), it was a good night for African-American performers.

However, while Washington gave a dignified speech (saluting Poitier, acknowledging that win or lose, he was going to celebrate with his wife and kids), it was the presenter who looked foolish and smeared his moment.  Julia Roberts' behavior was one for the ages, giving Roberto Benigni a run for his money.  First, she took a cheap shot at the conductor Bill Conti who had almost played her off the year prior when she won for Erin Brokovich (although she mistakenly called him "Tom Conti", mixing the Oscar-nominated composer with the Oscar-nominated actor).  Then when she opened the envelope, she declared, "I love my life...Denzel Washington", thus begging the question as to whether she would have hated her life say if, Russell Crowe had won.   Finally, after giving his speech, Roberts leapt onto Washington and clung to him like a deranged groupie.  Washington gamely carried HER off the stage (he must be a strong man), but her overenthusiasm was embarrassing to both of them. 

Almost makes me wish Tom Wilkinson had won for In the Bedroom...trying to see her jump on him would have made for amusing television. 

Num. 6
15th Academy Awards

06.) The War Was Shorter (1943)

Bad Oscar Speeches Part IV

This is the most legendary Oscar speech in history...because it captures the worst tendencies of stars: to see this occasion as a turning point in film history.  Greer Garson had won the Best Actress Oscar for Mrs. Miniver, and I'm sure when she spoke, she spoke from the heart.  Unfortunately for the audience, her heart really would go on, and on, and on, and on...

Reports vary as to the actual length of Miss Garson's speech, ranging from five to eight minutes long.  Even if it was a mere five minutes, that's an extremely long time to thank any group of people for giving one a plaster figure of a naked man (gold being a rare material during World War II).  Let us recall that her speech was longer than the entire performances of Beatrice Straight, Judi Dench, and Anne Hathaway, who each won Supporting Actress Oscars for Network, Shakespeare in Love, and Les Miserables respectively.  Some people have been nominated for performances shorter than Garson's pronouncements.  Think on that: there are film performances that have won Oscars that are SHORTER than one almost-forgotten actress' whole speech. 

Ironically enough, Greer Garson's speech began with, "I'm practically unprepared."

Num. 5
48th Academy Awards

05.) She Is Big. 
It's The Pictures That Got Sound. (1976) 

Mary Pickford is not remembered today by the general public, which is a terrible disservice to one of the true pioneers of cinema.  Mary Pickford, the first America's Sweetheart (her Canadian birth notwithstanding), was the first real movie star and the only other actor to rival Charlie Chaplin in popularity.  The Girl With the Golden Curls wasn't just a great silent film actress, but a strong businesswoman.  She got the best of Adolph Zukor, head of Paramount, and with Chaplin, director D.W. Griffith, and Douglas Fairbanks, created United Artists, a company to distribute their films and allow greater artistic control.  For all that she had done for the industry, an Honorary Oscar was the very least the Academy she also helped found could do.

However, what they did not do was give her dignity in her declining years.  Instead, in their efforts to be kind they treated audiences to a rather ghoulish spectacle, inadvertently humiliating one of the great stars of early cinema. 

Pickford was too weak to attend the ceremony.  Rather than present her with the Oscar privately or at least pre-record the event, the Academy decided that it would be best to take us on a trip to her home, dubbed Pickfair (after Pickford and her second husband, Douglas Fairbanks).  Two minutes of us driving up the driveway and taking a look 'round her house lends a certain Sunset Boulevard quality to this Grand Tour.  As we go up the stairs and past her dining room and salon, where we are shown a portrait of herself in much younger days, one almost expects to find a dead monkey lying around.  

At long last, we get a view of America's Sweetheart, and it's a ghastly one.  Looking far older than her 84 years, she looks in turns frail and out-of-it, almost drunk.  I'm not even sure she knew who this Walter Mirisch was who was giving her this Oscar.  Even worse, Mirisch in a rare lapse in judgment tried to have some small-talk with the real-life Norma Desmond (minus the crazy), a woman long forgotten by the Hollywood dragging her into the spotlight which had long passed her and whom audiences probably, despite Gene Kelly's intonations, did not remember 'that face'. 

Laura Linney, narrator of Mary Pickford and one of my favorite actresses, summed it up best when describing Pickford's Honorary Oscar presentation: "Her appearance horrified viewers."

At least in this instance the Academy appears to have learned from its mistake.  When the never-nominated Myrna Loy was awarded an Honorary Oscar in 1991, she was alone, with one camera in her apartment, and gave a two-sentence speech, "You've made me very happy.  Thank you very much."  The entire presentation for Loy lasted under two minutes (minus clip film), versus Pickford's horrifying five minute spectacle.

Num. 4
50th Academy Awards
04.) Zion Too Much (1978)

Bad Oscar Speeches Part V

Vanessa Redgrave is one of the great actresses.  She's also someone I simply loath.  I make no secret that I admire the actress but detest the woman.  However, even by those who agree with her (the entire MSNBC organization), her Best Supporting Actress Oscar speech was less speaking truth to power and more 'I'm a genius and you're a bigot if you disagree with me'. 

Mad Van, who put the Red in Redgrave, decided we all needed her great insight and wisdom on the thorny and sad issue of the Arab/Israeli crisis.  Miss Redgrave had produced a film (I won't call it a documentary...unless I can call Triumph of the Will a documentary) called The Palestinian. A love letter to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (which advocated the destruction of Israel, which apparently did not bother Redgrave), it sparked the ire of certain members of the Jewish community. 

Oh but those Jews who supported such rubbish as Israel did not count on the genius of one self-important actress who felt people voted for her, not because they thought she gave the best performance, but because they were sending a message!  It was that phrase, 'Zionist hoodlums', which got the normally liberal crowd booing her.  It was the ultimate mark of deranged ego, to imagine that she and only she could light the way to piece...I mean, Peace with Israel (which to her meant all Israelis must go drown in the sea and let the Arab Palestinians do your country better).

Paddy Chayefsky, no conservative by any stretch, got his own when he appeared a short time later.  I think Chayefsky, proudly Jewish, took Redgrave's remarks as a smear on all Jews, and the kid from the Bronx wasn't about to kow-tow to this snooty British bitch. The writer of Network gave the best comeback to our Commie Countess. 

"Before I get on to the writing awards, there's a little matter I'd like to tidy up--at least if I expect to live with myself tomorrow morning. I would like to say, personal opinion, of course, that I'm sick and tired of people exploiting the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal propaganda.   I would like to suggest to Miss Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation and a simple 'thank you' would have sufficed."


Num. 3
75th Academy Awards

03.) The Moore The Angrier (2003)

Bad Oscar Speeches Part VI

Oh, if Chayefsky had been around to listen to this!  While I believe Chayefsky would have opposed the Iraq Intervention, I think he would have been appalled at Michael Moore's grandstanding, but then again, it is Michael Moore, someone who plays fast and loose with facts and who makes no bones about how his films are less documentaries in the traditional sense and more op-ed pieces.

Let's leave aside for a moment that he had just been given an Oscar for Bowling for Columbine, which featured Moore browbeating a clearly ill Charlton Heston.  The increasingly partisan Hollywood audience gave him a standing ovation for his propaganda film (which I understand, blames in part, George W. Bush for the Columbine High School massacre).  One he got started on his 'fictitious' laundry list, even some in the audience couldn't stand it.  It takes a lot to get a liberal crowd booing you when they agree with you most of the time.  I'm sure the stagehands and crew working the Oscars (who can't afford to be liberals) were in on the booing, but the footage clearly shows some in the audience booing as well.  Besides, if he was always right on everything, why then did ANYONE boo? 

As our rotund lefty continues hijacking the Academy Awards for his own political bromides, he ends with one of the more perplexing comments in acceptance speeches.  "And anytime you've got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, you're time is up." Now, what the connection between the Holy Father and a defunct pseudo-country group is or why both being in agreement on something means the end of a government has been left unexplained.  Obviously the 'time is up' comment was about the effort to drown him out with music, but note that in his speech he never made comment about those who worked with or for him, or those who were murdered in Columbine.  Curious that.

Moore's speech was not a heartfelt commentary on the immorality of the Iraq Intervention.  It was a self-serving, egocentric exercise as to his own perceived genius.  However, in fairness, it might be the only time he exercised, period, so that's a plus.

Num. 2
59th Academy Awards

02.) Fugue For Tin-Ears (1987)

In an age of Youtube, nothing remains hidden...except for this: Fugue For Tinhorns from the musical Guys and Dolls as performed by Pat Morita, Dom DeLuise, and Telly Savalas.    Let's see: to sing a great but complicated song where three voices singing different parts while blending them together seamlessly you get Mr. Miyagi, Kojak, and Caesar from History of the World Part I

Having three people definitely NOT known for their singing performing a complex number is bad enough.  Having three people definitely NOT known for their singing performing a complex number as the OPENING to the show is disastrous.  Just attempting to imagine any of them alone attempting to carry a tune is rather bad, but attempting to hear all three of them is just horrifying.

As I said, while it was certainly broadcast on television, no footage (either film or photo) of this Trio from Hell has ever been seen since the telecast.  Somewhere Out There someone must have recorded that year's Academy Awards, and that tape will be analyzed more than the Zapruder film, but the fact that we've never seen this musical debacle speaks volumes about the misguided, atrocious moment it must have been.

Num. 1
61st Academy Awards

01.) Oscar's Lowe Point (1989)

It's just too easy to pick the opening number from the 61st Academy Awards as the worst moment in Oscar history.  Despite their best efforts, the Academy has never been able to erase the memory of this disaster from the public.  It takes a lot to cause a scandal so large that respected Academy members like Gregory Peck, Julie Andrews, and Billy Wilder write in protest against their organization being so publicly humiliated.

From the moment respected entertainment journalist Army Archerd introduced "Snow White" (Julie Bowman) and advised her to "follow the Hollywood stars" (who were dancers dressed like giant stars), the whole eleven minutes of this was a nightmare.  You had Merv Griffin singing I've Got A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts at a mock-up of the Coconut Grove!  You had legendary stars like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Vincent Price, Cyd Charisse and Dorothy Lamour used as so much stage dressing! 

Then comes Rob Lowe, introduced as Snow's 'blind date', and then the disaster just grew and grew.  Singing reworked lyrics to Proud Mary (Sample lyrics: Used to work a lot for Walt Disney/Making cartoons every night and day...), the whole thing just kept going and going.  Even after Lowe left his date at the Chinese Theater, the production number kept going. 

However, as infamous as the "Rob Lowe/Snow White" number is, and as disastrous as it was, we forget that there was ANOTHER musical number equally horrifying.  Twenty 'triple threats' (actor/singer/dancer) were showcased in an elaborate musical number called I Wanna Be An Oscar Winner

I digress to point out that 'triple threat' is exactly how former N*Sync member Lance Bass was described in his autobiography, where he admitted being gay just not admitted to having sex with other men.  Therefore, I take that triple threat lightly.

In any case, this whole spectacle had performers such as Corey Feldman (doing a Michael Jackson impersonation), Ricki Lake singing her hopes to work with Meryl Streep, Tyrone Power, Jr. engaging in a sword fight (yes, there IS a Tyrone Power, Jr.), and Patrick Dempsey doing a little soft-shoe (who knew McDreamy could trip the light fantastic?).  Almost TEN minutes of this showcase where, for the record, none of the featured performers have been nominated for Oscars, let alone won any.

And it HAD to end with a damn kick-line!  OF all the asinine things, a KICK-LINE!

If Fischer Stevens had been in there, then we could say the number was prophetic...even if he won for producing the documentary The Cove.

What is extraordinary about I Wanna Be An Oscar Winner is that you had three greats involved in the song: music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and choreography by Kenny Ortega. I guess they did the best they could and couldn't be held responsible for the horror it ended up being.

In a curious way, it is nice to see I Wanna Be An Oscar Winner as a time capsule.  It isn't as if none of the performers haven't gone on to have careers.  Blair Underwood, Holly Robinson (Peete), Joely Fisher, and Dempsey have had strong careers on television, turning in good work.  Christian Slater still works, but is not the draw he once was.  Melora Hardin, who appeared briefly, is not a big name but has worked steadily since her declaration that she would join the ranks of Louise Rainer and Roberto Benigni. 

Keith Coogan, Patrick O'Neal, Jr., D.A. Pawley, Matt Lattanzi,  and Corey Parker...well...I hear Jay Underwood is a pastor, so at least he has joy in his life.

As for a Lowe point, Chad Lowe (Rob's younger brother) was in the number as well, telling us how he was a 'serious actor'.  He's an Emmy winner, so that's not too bad.  Still, the whole number is at times almost sad, to see so many young people build up their hopes only to end up either failing to meet that goal of winning Oscars or languishing in obscurity.

The only thing people remember from this number is that it was Lucille Ball's final public appearance before her death less than a month later.  She and Bob Hope introduced the number, and they are the fun part.  Ball showed a lot of leg in a dress where the slit was dangerously high, but for a woman of 77 she had amazing legs.  Ball and Hope joked with each other with ease, laughing through their presentation (when Hope pointed out they'd made four films together, Ball quipped, "Talk about  Dangerous Liaisons".  When Ball later suggested they get on with the presentation, Hope said, "No, we're on a roll. Why stop?").   Their standing ovation was well deserved and a highlight of an abysmal show.

Well, that's settles it: the Academy Awards have had some shockingly bad moments, showing that even professionals can fail to put on a good show.   As they say, "Better luck next year..."

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