There’s no bigger dress-up party than the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Academy Awards show. The garish event—coming up on Sunday, Feb. 25, at 6 PM on ABC, and being celebrated in our neck of the woods this year (see sidebar)—has become the Super Bowl of the entertainment industry, an all-day affair as anticipated for its pre-show glitz and bling as for the actual presentations’ drawn-out and masturbatory display of self-celebration by an industry that seems to be losing touch with its audiences, failing to take any chances and consistently disappointing moviegoers when it comes to who and what gets nominated for the top awards.
It all adds up to the perfect opportunity to offer our inaugural Alternative Oscars, where the categories are little looser, the selections a little riskier, and the acceptance speeches a lot shorter. (We’ll also save you from Ellen DeGeneres.)
Best film universally hated for all the wrong reasons
Vince Vaughn is funny, and has proven it in dude comedies like Wedding Crashers, Swingers and Old School. Jennifer Aniston can be funny, and starred in one of the longest-running and highest-rated sitcoms ever, “Friends.” The Break-Up, in which these two co-star as a struggling couple, was billed as funny. And it wasn’t. Critics revolted, moviegoers stayed away in droves, and it flopped, deservedly. I blame the marketers.
It’s too bad, because sold as a more serious drama with just a sprinkling of laughs, The Break-Up is actually a great film, a modern-day commentary on the relationship battleground in a me-first society. It’s War of the Roses with a bitterly realistic core and a cast that gets it. If you watch again, you’ll see Vaughn isn’t hamming it up so much as he’s struggling to break out of a maddening situation, and Aniston is a tragic figure, before she musters up the courage to get the heck out of Dodge. This film deserves a second chance.
Best unintentional affirmation of the Bush administration
For 30 minutes, Death of a President is a riveting, if not incendiary, faux documentary/stunt based on a what-if. Here is President Bush in October of 2007, making a speech in front of adoring admirers while a furious throng of protesters rages outside. Real footage of Bush is spliced together with a reenactment of the chaotic scene, and then the president is shot. No matter which way you cut it, that’s a ballsy piece of filmmaking.
The problem is that beyond its premise, Death of a President goes absolutely nowhere, reveals absolutely no agenda and offers no worthwhile opportunity for a viewer to draw any conclusions. Instead, it’s just a second-rate who-done-it murder mystery told in the form of an investigative news program. Nothing good comes of director Gabriel Range’s exploitation of an already fragile and fractured nation—it may as well have been a more maudlin American Dreamz, a terrible spoof in which Dennis Quaid’s president reads a paper for the first time in four years and then decides to appear on an “American Idol”-like show, only to find himself the target of a terrorist plot. Anyway, all Death of a President left in its wake was Bush supporters with all the more reason to rally around their misunderstood man, and Bush bashers left outright embarrassed.
Best imitation of a life raft on a sinking ship
It’s a shame that John C. Reilly’s best work always goes underappreciated. The character actor was nominated in 2003 for his bland supporting role in Chicago, but ignored years earlier for unarguably stronger work in films like Boogie Nights and The Good Girl. Reilly would never, ever, ever get nominated for his supporting role as Cal Naughton, Jr., in this year’s otherwise disposable Talladega Nights, but he did yeoman’s work stealing scenes from Will Ferrell. When he delivers ad-libbed lines like, “I like to think of Jesus as a mischievous badger,” and repeatedly screams “Shake ’n’ Bake!” it’s not exactly Method Acting, but it’s still great work.
Best endorsement of the short-shorts era
Unfortunately, most sports films suck. They’re formulaic, manipulative, melodramatic exercises in jock-sniffing legend-building. But while Hollywood’s hell-bent on bludgeoning the niche altogether (Invincible, Glory Road, Gridiron Gang and We Are Marshall were all released this year), the only salvation remains small-market documentaries, including last year’s surprising Once in a Lifetime. It manages to transcend the who-gives-a-damn non-starter of being about a New York soccer team in the 1970s by focusing on the nobody-gave-a-damn self-deprecating humor. Through a rapid succession of firsthand stories, we hear how the New York Cosmos went from a bunch of nobodies playing on a high school field in Queens to playing alongside Pele in Giants Stadium. It’s a fascinating glimpse of greed’s fleeting reward—lots of sex, drugs, celebrity and money here—bookended by soccer’s harsh reality: the sound of crickets.
Best performance by a nonhuman
The punch-line award here would go to Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth, but we’re not that cheap. Plus, Gore wasn’t exactly a scene-stealer in that science lecture-turned-documentary. (Those cut-away scenes of Gore reflecting on the road? Where his voice dropped down to whispery pillow talk? Creepy.) What did carry An Inconvenient Truth was that Apple PowerBook and Keynote, the program Gore used to create his presentation. Gore was a snore, but that slide show was pretty cool.
Best display of directorial dexterity
What a year for Michael Gondry. The French filmmaker best known as the director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (although that film was better known for Charlie Kaufman’s script) offered up two of the best, most delicate films of the year, each of which couldn’t be more different from the other.
The Science of Sleep, directed and written by Gondry, is a well-documented masterpiece, an exercise in imaginative filmmaking that relies more on creative moxie and DIY laurels than fancy bells and whistles. The love story at the film’s center perfectly supports his aesthetic—a little bloated at times, but with its heart in exactly the right place.
Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is a completely different reel of film. The documentary follows a pre-meltdown Chappelle (he ran away to Africa soon after filming) as he organizes a huge hip-hop concert on a Brooklyn backstreet. There’s no real rhyme or reason to any of it—the doc never showcases Chappelle’s standup, and the actual concert footage takes up only a fraction of the film—yet Gondry’s steady hand makes it work, and the film turns out to be an engrossing two-hour ride-along with Chappelle.
Hamilton goes Hollywood
The infestation of California transplants into the Bitterroot has apparently reached a watershed moment: the Golden Statue himself is coming to Hamilton, welcomed by a red carpet and a Joan Rivers look-alike. On Sunday, Feb. 25, Hamilton’s Pharaohplex movie theater is hosting a live feed of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Academy Awards show. Guests will be welcomed to the catered affair on an actual red carpet, greeted by fashion-curious “Roan Jivers” (an actress from the Hamilton Players) and a teenage crew of camera-wielding paparazzi (all from Media Arts in Public Schools).
The event is a fundraiser for the Hamilton Players, a community theater troupe, and includes food and beverages for $25 per person. Tickets available at the Hamilton Players Box Office or at the Pharaohplex.