Of Lemon Pies, Navy Mermaids and Bearded Eighth Grade Boys: Oscars 2005

Ah, the Oscars. As boring as ever, and I love them anyway.

I’ve never been in LA for las festivities before, and around these here parts a somberness more aptly befitting an inauguration takes hold starting the Friday before. By early Sunday morning, the city vibrates with a queasy anticipation; by midday, the traffic, shite already, crawls to a stop and everyone dutifully straps on their skinny jeans and late-90s clunky shoes to settle into wherever they are going to howl for the rest of the gloriously sunny day. I watched it all with a bunch of LA-NYC girls who, like me, occupy the frayed edges of the fellavision bidness — most spectacularly my girl CC, who’s out here shooting a pilot with Our Celluloid Lady of the Cellophane Tetas Grandes (who shalt remain unnamed).

Here’s my breakdown, shallow as it ever was.

Red Carpet

Navy, a neutral color that’s both less weighty and more conservative than black, rules the roost as chief metaphor.

Girls and boys alike have slathered themselves in the stuff — the ladies mostly in long mermaid-shaped dresses that shape them not one but two sets of hips (one of which sits squarely around their calves). And why why why why all the dyed black hair? If the attendees ain’t sporting that bracing buttery blond, it’s an equally bracing dyed black. I wish some NYC (hell, BK) stylists had been flown into shake out the TV hostess-stiff from these tarred and feathered, some of whom looked so much nicer when I caught them in other contexts over the looooong-ass holiday er Oscar weekend. Overall fashion trends include bad bell-shaped earrings, chandelier necklaces draping too-fussy necklines, siblings.

Small-minded specifics:
-Mike Meyer either a. has received a bad chemical peel b. has fallen asleep while the sun lamp technician gave him the rub and tug c. discovered bulimia, Heathers style d. is going for Scientologist-style puffiness to resuscitate his Korea.
-Cate Blanchett miraculously pulls off dressing up like Million Dollar Baby’s lemon pie with real filling.
-Scarlett Johannsson transcends the lousy fizz of her bangs and Halle Berry the debacle of Catwoman and Benet to channel otherwise apparently blacklisted glamour. Scarlett especially looks like a little cloud of red-lipped confectionary sugar.
– Say it ain’t so, Joe, but la hermosa mexicana Salma Hayek looks dumpy dora in Elvira bangs and a Tracey Turnblad dress.
-In her draped jersey dress, Hilary Swank has literally manifested herself as an Oscar. All rise for the power of suggestion.
-The new Hollywood vampires, all tiny, pointy teeth and waxy white: Renée Zellweger, tight and wincy; Johnny Depp and his French mew of a bride; Kirsten Dunst, that jagged little pill.
-Estimable Laura Linney brandishing a L Word mullet that makes her curiously reminiscent of Frank Purdue.
-Drew Barrymore as a soap actress in her 40s trying to dress like the kids.
-Al Pacino as a soap actress in her 50s trying to dress like the kids.
-Penelope Cruz channeling Audrey .-It’s official: Melanie Griffith now wears a labia on her face.

Aw, shit; you get the picture.

Rock Rolls It Up

Maybe it’s all the advance buzz, but I swear I’ve been privy to the whole of Christ Rocket’s Oscar schiticky already on the new borscht belt. Ears sticking out, slim jim in his fine, nonpleather suit, he keeps laughing at his own jokes, Billy Crystal style. Our eyes are fluttering even before he gleefully shouts “All period pieces should star Russell Crowe.” That said, I cannot believe people are up in arms that he questions the star quality of those present. Principesas, all of them, because save for Rock’s man on the streets later on, this is one of the most unabashedly undemocratic ceremonies in recent memory. All the working stiffs who actually toil for their money — makeup artists, art department, etc. — are relegated to the carpet to fetch their awards. And bewigged, bejeweled Beyonce rocks lesser known artists’ nominated songs as she sways inanely side to side in three different oufits, each more improbable than the next.

Scrapes and bows to Rock for busting out the “Next they’ll be getting their awards in the parking lot” halfway through. Even more for contriving to land Martin Lawrence in this ceremony by any means possible and for the series of man-on-the-streets at the mostly black multiplex; nice to be reminded most of us don’t even ever see the shite and shinola that gets nominated.

It’s nice too that Georgieboy gets lowered a peg, (and for meek Hollycould to applaud the Angry Black Man’s sentiments) but I’d be even more into it if Rock would bellow, “My bush would make a better president.” Where’s The L Word when you need it? And why the vanilla invocation of the f word at the end? It seems even the mighty Chris Rock gets stymied when hosting the Oscars. The cheesy earnestness of it all subsumes even the most sardonic of comedians.

Dubious Awards

With no exception, everyone wins who everyone anticipates will win. The upside is that a. no one is tossed a compensation Oscar (as Annette Bening would’ve had she won) b. all the awards are deserved. I have to shake off the Oscar mania to remember that, except for Million Dollar Baby, none of the pictures nominated even land in my personal top ten.

Highlights of awards and presenters:

-Best Supporting Actor: Morgan Freeman is back to his Electric Company roots as the original ’70s proud black man in his thick white brush cut, carved Indian cheekbones, gold hoops, African scarf. Nods judiciously after his clip and then bounds, unsurprised and o so pleased, when his best supporting actor award is announced. Short and sweet, his is a gracious speech, a harbinger of the night’s speeches to come. At one point in the evening, when the camera flashes on him, he strokes his new boy suggestively and winks at the camera.

-I’m inclined to cut Robin Williams some slack because I’ve seen him the day before in a green pinstriped fedora and silver Adidas, graciously accomodating avid autograph hounds, but on stage he’s as much of a cokehead-without-the-coke as ever, zinging out the impressions that carefully tread the line. To wit: he does Scorsese in Shark Tale while Marty waggles his caterpillar brows helplessly beneath the big black glasses (that have apparently been passed the Philip Johnson torch). And always with the fake gay, Robin W. — Spongebob being his excuse this time. It occurs to me, when he dashes like a little Oscars leprechaun across the stage halfway through the ceremony, that he and Rock are experiencing a standup standoff of some kind. Eighth grade boys with their magic tricks, for sure.

-I forget that The Incredibles lives in my top five films of 2004 until it takes best animation. A feat, especially as Shrek 2 whupped its ass at the box office. The director looks like his animated characters, and his wife looks like the mom superhero. They say the imagination takes us but so far.

-With Scarlett hoisted into a balcony to announce the science/technology awards, it’s clear her girdle has been pulled so tight that she’s losing her circulation, causing one of her pudgy little arms to flop involunatarily like a dazzling beached jelly fish. With Natalie Portman parading as Padmé the whole night, the starlets formerly known as precocious seem to think “grownup” means “monotonic.” They’re so sophisticated!

-A quick rundown of what makes me happy about the “lesser” awards: that Born into Brothels beats the hubristic, character-driven Super Size Me; that Scorcese’s long-time editrex takes best editing (he weeps with the reality show hand flutter, so dear!); that pie-eyed Charlie Kaufman finally lands an award and backs away from the scene of the crime faster than you can say “my agent”;the cinematographer who devotes his award to his ailing mom and the hospital staff who’ve been attending to her.

-Best phrase of the night: “tabernacle of talent.”

-I have no idea that Counting Crows Adam wants to be Billy Joel until tonight. A bedreadlocked rube dressed like a Miami retiree is a thing to behold.

-I like, not love, Sidney Lumet, but I lovelovelove when he thanks the movies. I dare not question whether that is his mother, his daughter, or his nanny with the Hawaiian tittyfuckboobs. These are breasts that automatically reduce anyone foolish enough to attempt to describe them into an eighth grade boy.

-Other eighth grade boys: Alexander Payne (in a bad way), Charlie Kaufman, Jay Z (when he smiles). Add to this list, please.

-There is so much chemistry between copresenters Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayeck that I swear they are about to start making out. Speaking of which, I am now itching to switch over to episode 2 of The L Word.

-So pleasant for hamhock Pierce Brosnan to be helplessly overshadowed by a brassy-balled woman — and an animated one at that.

-Having seen Jamie Foxx deliver the exact same speech at the Golden Globes, his waterworks seem like they should land another Oscar of their own. Especially when, maybe not really realizing how close he’s being shot, he stops mid-Grandma weep and glances up through his lashes to gauge how his show is landing. BURNT!

-Yo-Yo Ma’s accompaniment to the dearly departed is affecting without being affected. It’s ridiculous how many people chose this last year to go: Ossie Davis, Marlon Brando, Tony Randall, Christopher Reeve, to name just a few. I wonder if the changes this country is wreaking proved too much for them.

-Prince is a midget with long, lean legs and wondrous-wide Egyptian eyes. He is as hot as ever, smirking prettily and rolling his eyes in his patented Clara Bow homage when he messes up. He announces the nominations in a low-pitched, well-modulated tone that really says, “Lisa Rosman, I’ve been waiting to lick your pussy since you were 12 years old.” I knew it!!

-Check out puffy Sean Penn in his We’re No Angels haircut, clarifying who he-wuz-robbed (by Rock) Jude Law is. Ye Gods, who is writing this apologist drek?

-For the record, I’m so pleased that Hilary Swank takes best actress again. She accepts her award deliberately and clearly, with the same jaw-popping intensity with which she physically wrestles with the roles she (surprisingly selectively) chooses. I love Chad Lowe for so fully loving his wife as she shines more brightly in the sun. I truly hope their relationship is not a beard, because it ain’t a bad model for the strong straight girls.

The Morning After

A few liters of water and an Advil later, I’m still smarting over the undemocratic nature of the ceremony. It would’ve been lovely if Imelda Staunton, nominated for her performance as Vera Drake, could’ve taken best actress, because she certainly logged the finest moments in 2004 film. It would’ve been lovely if Julie Delpy, Richard Linklater, and Ethan Hawke’s valentine to growing up had scored a best adapted screenplay. But Hilary Swank was eminently deserving, and I suppose Sideways did shimmer with well-rendered dialogue, even if it lived but a step away from a buddy movie drinking Pinot rather than Bud.

And it was certainly the blackest Oscars I’ve ever seen, what with two black actors scoring Oscars, crazybird Chris Rock strutting about, and Jay-Z grinning maniacally at that lovely bird of his own, Miss I Dream of Jeannie and the billion-dollar deal, Beyonce. For sure it’s been amazing to hear everyone, and I mean everyone, discuss last night’s awards with the same rabidness that we discussed the 2000 elections back East.

Om shanthi indeed.

Dispatch from the Gold and Blacklisted

Here I lounge, here I soar, here I write in what’s dubiously known as the city of angels. I snuck westerly in retreat from the NYC weather last Wednesday, landing just as the California skies sealed themselves once again against their own private maelstroms. Which is to say: I missed both states’ inclimate weather — LA’s uncharacteristically crazy rain and the blizzards savaging people’s suede boots back East. Which is to say: I scored. It’s been watermelon juice and fish tacos for this girl (no euphemism intended) for going on five days, and I’m sorry, o broads of both the girl and boy persuasion, but it’s hard to skulk indoors typing when the ocean is whispering in your ear from right outside your door. That said, much has been observed and much will be scribed but firstly firstly firstly there is business at hand to discuss.

That is, Oscar folly to post here shortly.

Reality Gladiators in the Atrium of the USA (The Contender, Newlyweds)

Here’s a handy axiom: Reality shows are to television what stand-up comedy is to humor. Which is to say, the lowest of the low.

Until recently, I’d pretty much managed to steer clear of the entire genre. But Yancey is an enormous American Idol and America’s Next Top Model fan, and for my unnamed TV mag gig, I find myself writing about the genre all the time.

Officially I still hate all reality shows, and, truly, I do hate most of them. I never dug the Real Worlds or the myriad Bachelor mutations or any of big kahuna burger Mark Burnett’s pieces of nastiness. But my reasons are hardly lofty: I watch TV for escape, and ordinary people scrambling all over themselves hardly proffers much of a respite from mundanity. Plus, since the advent of reality programming, at least four pages of every issue of Us Weekly have been squandered on people who aren’t even nice to look at. Deeply ideological, profoundly well-developed objections, clearly.

So let me lay out my Bingo cards. Once, ostensibly for an article, I watched in one sitting the entire first season of Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica. I got a little hooked. Another axiom: reality show viewing is to human folly what rubbernecking is to car accidents. And another benchmark in my spiritual growth: self-esteem elevation through an observed superiority to youngsters so much more moneyed and famous and primped than myself.

I pitied Nick, subject to Jessica’s whining and wining while he determinedly went about everday tasks like moving his furniture himself, doing laundry, taming renegade bees. I snickered at Jessica, shuffling with the gait of a far fatter woman in those shitty Juicy sweats and platform flipflops that they never stop wearing in LA. I relished the couple’s palpable if unacknowledged discontent in the face of all received culture had told them they’d need and want (a DIY Ken doll boasting an earring and a paternalistic air; an apparently dim, blond big-breasted Barbie doll; photos of both of them sucking up to the Bushes). For days I hissed her patented “Gawwwwd” into my sister’s ear to both of our great amusement.

Strictly for clinical reasons, I then moved on to the entire first season of Ashlee Simpson in an MTV marathon — in order to synthesize the pathology of the whole family, naturally. Oh, the joyous torching of the muse recording of her first album, the great dyeing of the witchy witch tresses, the stamping of the foot at Big Daddy — he who’s bragged about his daughter’s (now plastic) D cup and long-maintained virginity to all across the land. And the revelation that Ashlee’s throat resembles to a remarkable degree a misogynist’s worse nightmare of a pussy. Bingo!

But there exists yet another axiom: reality shows are to the US what gladiators were to Rome. It’s an obvious one, but painfully, abundantly apt. This week, Najai Turpin, an eliminated participant on the soon-to-premiere boxing reality show The Contender, committed suicide. Producers Sly Stallone and Mark Burnett have denied hotly any links between Turpin’s suicide and his participation and elimination from the show, but commemorations to Turpin have already appeared on The Contender’s site and the producers have established that Turpin’s, er, story arc will be included in the limited series. Translation: No culpability accepted, but we’ll gladly incorporate this wasted human life into our show. Now that’s good television.

I genuinely feel both sick and ashamed about Turpin’s death and how it has been seized upon. His demise is such a logical extension of the reality show format — personal humiliation on a grand scale, high drama screeching at (literally) life-and-death levels, rubbernecking at its most unforgivable — that we are all to blame. Boxing is a self-negating, bloodthirsty debacle that eclipses even how football caters to the human animal’s most sadistic and masochistic impulses. Exposing the personal protracted humiliations intrinsic to the sport in a reality format practically ensures a fatality or nearly fatal accident of some sort. So matter-of-factly airing Turpin’s suicide as part of the show’s storyline smacks of the same opportunistic “objectivity” mainstream journalists increasingly cower behind.

A man has died, perhaps not directly as a result of the TV show he was eliminated from, but certainly in a way that will be offered for public consumption. Most will reexperience it idly from the comfort of the same couches where we pass judgement on thousands of others’ lives, too. Can you imagine how his friends and family will feel when Turpin’s death airs as a footnote to a crap televised competition? The humane response would be to donate the show’s profits to them, but that’s a bit much to expect from a country as aggressively capitalistic as our own. Short of that, perhaps we should all reevaluate what it is that we’ve really been watching. The truest sign of an empire’s decline may be its members’ inurement to the humanity of others. So here we are. Gladiators and their listless, glassy-eyed public, reporting for death.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy