Who cares about the Academy Awards? Well, we all do, whether we know it or not.
I know that sounds like I drank the Kool-Aid at an Academy Awards party. But every moviegoer and movie lover has a sense of the Oscars, of how the annual production is (or isn’t) relevant, of what they’re trying to do.
We know producers this year are trying to “hip up” the show from the commercials with co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco clowning around. We know they’re trying to tamp down any notion of a sweep by “The King’s Speech” to create drama.
We know that in an effort to seem less lofty and more like the rest of us, they’ve invited the kids’ chorus from Staten Island’s P.S. 22 — who’ve become a sensation on YouTube — to appear on the show.
And as movie lovers, we know, from TV and newspaper ads, most of the films that have been nominated, even if we can’t name the exact categories. Just like we know that “Dances With Wolves” won and “Goodfellas” didn’t, that “Lawrence of Arabia” was named Best Picture but “Doctor Zhivago” wasn’t, that Al Pacino got Best Actor not for playing Michael Corleone or the Brooklyn bank robber in “Dog Day Afternoon,” but for playing the blind ex-military man in “Scent of a Woman.”
We know because it’s part of the world of movies. Just as box office clout is the flip side to Oscar appreciation, and so on many Monday mornings, people are aware of what came in first over the weekend, if for no other reason than to get a sense of what movies their friends went to and which ones they should buy an ever-more-expensive ticket to.
Forget the fact that on Friday, the kickoff to Hollywood’s own Super Bowl weekend, the studios didn’t put one prestige picture into theaters. Instead there’s a lukewarm Farrelly brothers comedy (remember them? Didn’t think so), as well as the latest Nicolas Cage eye-roller (“Drive Angry,” shot in 3D!) that wasn’t screened in advance for critics.
That may appear to be an odd sort of strategy — bad movies released just as you’re about to honor the best movies — but it’s a kind of counterprogramming, and doesn’t take away from the celebration. Neither does the succession of other award programs leading up to tonight.
Moviegoers may take the Oscars with a grain of salt, but we’ll always take them. In fact, the deluge of award shows ought to increase the importance of the Academy Awards; the producers should make it their mission to let people know that this, folks, is the real deal.
Hip things up, absolutely — if Franco and Hathaway click, next year have them do half the show before passing off midway through to another unpretentious, easy-to-watch team (Tina Fey and Steve Carell? Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson? Write in and give some suggestions). Turn it into a kind-of host relay. And, yes, make it fun.
The Oscar folks ought to remember that even after the Golden Globes; after streaming video has altered movie-watching habits; after 83 years of clichés; after what seems like 83 years of ridiculous Nicolas Cage movies, we still care about the Oscars, because they’re one more thing that make movies special.
WHAT’S SO FUNNY?
We’re about to be deluged with remakes in an attempt to make certain titles cool again. Mostly for audiences who weren’t around for ’em the first time.
A batch of ’80s reboots — or simply movies set in the time of Ronald Reagan, video arcades and Cold War summits — begins Friday with “Take Me Home Tonight,” starring Topher Grace as a 1988 college graduate trying to decide what he should do next while pursuing a beautiful girl (Teresa Palmer).
If that sounds less wacky than “Hot Tub Time Machine” (four dissatisfied losers revisit their ’80s youth to change their lives) and more manic than “Adventureland” (guy works at a suburban carnival in the ’80s to save money for a pre-college trip), it’s nonetheless one more indication that filmmakers are hoping younger moviegoers want to see what the decade was all about, and hoping Gen-Xers want to pay money for nostalgia.
However, nostalgia doesn’t excuse “Arthur,” opening April 8. I’ll withhold judgment until I see it, but I’ll judge a little — okay, a lot — and say that while the 1981 Dudley Moore–Liza Minnelli original may not be everyone’s glass of Jack and Coke, it was one of those movies that, if it clicked with you, occupies a special place. It was the only movie made by an unknown writer-director (Steve Gordon) who died a little more than a year after it opened; it featured a sterling, Best Supporting Actor-winning turn by John Gielgud, and it was hilarious.
The movie was a throwback to the screwball comedies of the 1930s, when charming, drunken millionaires risked their fortunes by falling for poor girls and still got the money in the end. It was also a great New York movie, turning Fifth Ave., Central Park and Queens into modern-day fairy tale settings in an era not remembered as one of the city’s finest.
The new version, with Russell Brand, Greta Gerwig and, in the Gielgud role, Helen Mirren, could never capture the same qualities. While the original “Red Dawn,” “Short Circuit,” “Poice Academy” and “Private Benjamin” aren’t in the same league, revamps of those are on the way as well, along with a new “Poltergeist,” another “Conan the Barbarian,” a “RoboCop” reboot and a remake of the 1982 remake of “The Thing.”
“Arthur” was a whole other thing. It wasn’t a “property”; it was lightning in a bottle. It also won an Oscar for Best Song, while Gordon was up for Best Original Screenplay and Moore was nominated for Best Actor. Any chance Brand will get that honor? He and Gerwig can be appealing, although judging by the trailers, they seem to be pushing hard to create fun with a capital F.
Yet in movies, as in life, if you try to force that, you’ll likely fall flat on your face. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a playboy, a barbarian or a cyborg.
Any titles you hold sacred from 25 years ago? Drop me a line, then check out the Show and Tell blog on NYDailyNews.com, and we’ll do what we can to stop Hollywood from going back to the future.
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