The Oscars: An Off-Key Affair

How horrible were the Oscars this year? Whether it be the corn-ball jokes of Billy Crystal, the non-stop feedback emanating from the microphone throughout every speech, or the shoddy production value within the montages – it all added up to what resembled a poorly managed dress rehearsal.  And what was the point of all the interview clips with actors and actresses telling us why they like movies? With a show that went 40-minutes over time, these seemed unnecessary and a bit demeaning (do we really need to be told why we like movies?).

I guess they felt the need to fill the entertainment void left by the musical performances that were cut from the show for the first time ever (yes, EVER!).  The Academy claims the traditional performance of the nominees for “Best Original Song” had to be cut due to time.  You’re telling me they couldn’t have left a few of their horrible attempts at humor on the cutting board?  We really had to see a spoof on what a “Wizard of Oz” focus group may have looked like?

Just think of all those memorable performances from years past: Bob Dylan, Elliot Smith, Robin William’s performing “Blame Canada,” Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Aimee Mann, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon…and that’s just the past 20 years. You’re telling me a performance by Flight of the Conchord’s Bret McKenzie and a bunch of Muppets wouldn’t have been the highlight of the night, especially in hindsight (even better if there had been a Jermaine cameo)? But no. Why honor tradition – bring on the Cirque Du Soleil performers!

And why were their only two nominees for “Best Original Song” this year?  As with anything Oscar related, it’s a big confusing mess as to how a song gets nominated. The rules were complicated in 2009 when the Academy decided to whittle down the field. Basically, a song has to receive a certain amount of votes to be considered.  I suppose the logic is that this is a night for movies, but it’s hard to argue that songs like “Footloose,” “Streets of Philadelphia,” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” didn’t have the same amount of impact on a movie as the sound editor.  Other critics of the new rules have pointed out the biggest snubs of the award this year, listing acts such as Mary J. Blige (“The Living Proof” from “The Help”), Elton John (“Hello, Hello” from “Gnomeo and Juliet), Madonna (“Masterpiece” from “W.E.”), and Chris Cornell (“The Keeper” for “Machine Gun Preacher”). But I have yet to see any mention of a song from a 2011 film that brought me to tears.

The past few years I’ve challenged myself to watch all the documentaries up for the “Best Documentary” award. As pretentious as it may sound, I’m a sucker for documentaries and often feel put off by Big Budget Hollywood. One of the docs I had the fortune of seeing a few weeks ago was director Danfung Dennis’ “Hell and Back Again.” The film is composed of two stories: one of a Marine company attacking the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, and the other, the story of one member of this group, Sergeant Nathan, now back in North Carolina after suffering a life-threatening injury on the battlefield.  The film jumps back-and-forth from Nathan’s struggle with the pain in his leg to the chaotic footage captured amidst various gunfire battles.  The contrast of the two settings is a shocking revelation into the change our soldiers must undergo when returning from the devastation of war.

As gripping, sad, and humbling as this film may be, the moment when the credits started rolling and the song “Hell and Back” starts playing is when I lost it.  After a somber guitar strum makes its appearance, the weathered voice of Willie Nelson surfaces, singing the tale of Sergeant Nathan.  The song speaks of being lost, and the cavernous, empty atmosphere only furthers this loneliness. While Nathan is just a young guy, Willie’s voice captures the beaten spirit of a man who has experienced more than most of us will in our lifetime.

“Hell and Back”: 

39 songs were eligible for the “Best Original Song” award (“Hell and Back” being one of them), but only two songs were given the chance to win.  As much as I love McKenzie, it’s sad to think that the Academy believes that the only good songs in movies these days are found in children’s movies. After a night of self-congratulatory celebration for making movies that “help us understand the human spirit,” the Academy once again missed the chance to spotlight a song that does just that.

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