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Worst. Oscars. Ever?

Oscars Live Report

Melissa Leo accepts the Oscar for best actress ...

AFP and Associated Press photos

The writers of this year’s Oscars ceremony couldn’t even make Anne Hathaway and James Franco in drag funny, and Melissa Leo’s accidental use of the f-word while accepting her best supporting actress Oscar was the biggest surprise of the evening.

I like James Franco and Anne Hathaway, and I had thought that they might actually make pretty decent Oscar hosts. I was wrong.

Much of it wasn’t their fault. The writing of the Oscars ceremony was for shit. Franco was unusually wooden, and Hathaway wasn’t as bouncy as I’d thought she might be. If she isn’t careful, the role that she played in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” — that of the rather empty-headed White Queen — might come to define her.

But again, most of it was the writing. There were too many self-referential (and unfunny) lines about trying to capture the youthful audience with this year’s show and too few funny lines, period.

That “The King’s Speech” would win the most number of awards was a given, so there were few surprises.

When the most talked-about element of the show is that the best supporting actress winner accidentally uttered the f-word on live television (which was bleeped out due to a few seconds’ time delay, apparently), you know that there’s a problem.

I like Colin Firth — he was great in “A Single Man” — but his performance in “The King’s Speech” wasn’t the best performance of the year. Javier Bardem did a much better job in “Biutiful.”

I like Natalie Portman enough, but her Oscar win for best actress for “Black Swan” wasn’t the best performance of the year. Jennifer Lawrence did a better job in “Winter’s Bone.”

“The King’s Speech,” to me, suffered mostly from weak subject matter. That a former king of England overcame a stutter isn’t very compelling material, which one of the film’s producers seemed to admit himself in his acceptance speech for the Oscar for best picture — he indicated that he’d been concerned that no one would find the material worthy enough to back its production and distribution, if memory serves.

“The King’s Speech” is well made — well directed, well written, well acted, well designed, etc. (indeed, virtually every moment of the film screams out “Give me an Oscar already!” [and this screaming worked]) — but do those things matter when the storyline itself is so ho-hum? Just as “truthiness” has replaced the truth, is “Oscariness” going to replace actual Oscar-worthiness?

Admittedly, I have yet to see “The Social Network” or “Toy Story 3,” but that these two highly commercial films, along with the highly commercial “Inception” (which I did see), won so many nominations, including for best picture (for all three), makes me wonder in what direction the Oscars are headed. That a film is a commercial success doesn’t automatically mean that it isn’t Oscar-worthy, but it seems as though the Oscars are becoming more like the People’s Choice Awards.

And the tech-emphasis-heavy Oscars, including not just so many nods to “The Social Network” and “Inception,” but even a mildly-funny-at-best Auto-tune segment, tried way too hard to be hip.  

And do we really need 10 films nominated for best picture when in the other major categories (actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress and director) there are only five nominees? I’d like to see it reduced to no more than seven or eight nominees for best picture.

Finally, while I have no problem with Brits and Australians, the Brits and Australians on this year’s Oscars seemed to have outnumbered the Americans. Are we Americans this devoid of filmmaking excellence?

If we are, then maybe we should move the Oscars from Los Angeles to London or Sydney.

Just sayin’.

I consider the Oscars to be the “Gay Super Bowl,” and this year’s Gay Super Bowl was dismal.

P.S. Oprah Winfrey’s appearance on the Oscars was a little creepy — I once read someone refer to her as a corporation, and that’s fairly accurate — and ABC’s little corporate plug was offensive, but I do recommend that you see “Inside Job,” the winner for best documentary, the award that Winfrey announced.

“Inside Job,” about the Wall Street criminals who put our nation into economic collapse (um, yeah, it wasn’t the members of public-sector labor unions who did that), is a must-see, and I love the fact that the filmmaker, in his acceptance speech, pulled a mild Michael Moore and noted that not one of the Wall Street crooks has yet to see the inside of a jail cell for his or her crimes (which, in my book, amount to treason).

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Burton does Alice justice

Film review

In this film publicity image released by Disney,  Johnny Depp, ...

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Mia Wasikowska as Alice in armor and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen (above) face the Red Queen, played by Helena Bonham Carter (below), on the battlefield in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.”

In this film publicity image released by Disney, Helena Bonham ...

 The Alice in Wonderland books (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass) never did much for me as a kid, I must admit. The surreal thing to that degree just didn’t appeal to me. (I remember that as a little fag I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, though. Roald Dahl, too, and Madeleine L’Engle, and yes, I admit it, when I was smaller, the Beatrix Potter books…) 

Tim Burton, though, has made some great films — “Edward Scissorhands,” “Batman Returns,” “Mars Attacks!”, “Corpse Bride,” “Sweeney Todd” — so I was there for his rendition of “Alice in Wonderland,” which uses materials from both of Lewis Carroll’s books about Alice in Wonderland.

Again, I haven’t read those two books, so I can’t compare the books to Burton’s film. Which is probably for the better for a film review anyway.

The Alice in Burton’s version is an older Alice who is expected to marry a man she doesn’t want to marry. Be practical, be responsible, be an adult, Alice is told.

But Alice wants to be Alice, and she soon finds herself down the rabbit hole and in Wonderland, where she visited in her childhood in her dreams. Or were they just dreams?

Dream or not, Wonderland is more interesting than is Alice’s waking world of arranged marriages and proprieties.

With all of the talking animals, an evil queen that must be taken down, and an epic battle on the battlefield between good and evil, Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” resembles the “Chronicles of Narnia” movies, but Lewis Carroll invented Wonderland long before C.S. Lewis invented Narnia. (I’m assuming that Burton didn’t make up any major plot elements, such as the climactic battle scene in which Alice must face the dreaded Jabberwocky.)

Stealing the show in Burton’s “Wonderland” is not Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, although Depp is given the top billing, but Helena Bonham Carter as the homicidal, macroencephalic Red Queen, whose favorite pastime, ironically, given her large noggin, is ordering and witnessing the decapitations of anyone who she feels crosses her majesty. You feel kind of guilty liking her character so much, since she’s pure, raw evil, but her character is probably the most fleshed-out, second only to that of Alice.

Depp is good as the Mad Hatter, but the character of the Mad Hatter never did much for me, and Depp’s Mad Hatter doesn’t seem much different from Depp’s other roles in Burton films, especially Willie Wonka but even a bit of Sweeney Todd. And, as much as I’ve always liked Depp, he is overused, even annoyingly ubiquitous, in Burton’s “Wonderland.” 

The ethereal Cheshire Cat, voiced by Stephen Fry, is wonderfully done. (I like the new color scheme for the floating, vanishing and reappearing cat, too; the pink and purple Chesire Cat in Disney’s original version of “Alice” never really worked for me.) I would like to have seen more of the cat and less of the hatter.

I’ve always liked Anne Hathaway, but her White Queen is a bit two-dimensional. Is Carroll’s White Queen this two-dimensional? Does Carroll have his White Queen just posing so much of the time and apparently overcome with ennui? I hope not.

Alan Rickman voices Absolem the Caterpillar, a toking, Yoda-like character who periodically counsels Alice with his wisdom during her visit to Wonderland.

I saw the 3-D version of Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” which so many reviewers (including Roger Ebert) have criticized as being too much. At times it was a bit too much sensory overload, but it didn’t ruin the overall experience. (Mostly, again, I just wanted more of the cat and less of the hatter…)

“Alice in Wonderland” delivers what it promises: An entertaining, visually impressive film. It isn’t Tim Burton’s best, but it certainly isn’t his worst.

My grade: B+

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