This time of year always makes me nostalgic for those good old days when I spent half of every Saturday and often a good chunk of Sunday sitting in a darkened movie theatre with a small notepad, scribbling notes to refer to when writing a review later. I never had the sense back then that time was getting away from me, that I'd blink and the weekend was over. Of course I was younger then, and was working low-stress jobs where I either had nothing at all to do and could spend the day writing, or where I had enough to do to fill up a normal eight-hour day with only a 20-minute drive each way. Long about 2005, I decided I'd had enough and hung up my movie review had largely for good. Once a year, at Christmas time, I try to meet up with my old friend Gabriel for a "Critics over Coffee", just for old times sake and because I miss his company, for he is always modern and fabulous, just as his old blog says. But this year, despite the fact of the entire week off between Christmas and New Year's, Other Things of which you all are well aware got in the way. (I'm still waiting to hit a wall about that one, because I know that sometime, probably long about March, I'm going to find myself curled up in a fetal position in the corner as the end of fifty-seven years of Very Complex and Troubled Relationship really hits me with a two-by-four. She would want it that way.)
But tomorrow night is the first night of the Silly Season for movie fans and those for whom entertainment consists of snarking at people who have more money, often for less reason, than we or anyone we know will ever have. It's the NLCS of movie awards, or the NFC Championship series, or the Grand Prix of Figure Skating final in an Olympics year.
In the years since that group of starfuckers known as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association learned their lesson from the Infamous Pia Zadora Fracas of 1981, the annual Golden Globe Awards show has become the Academy Awards' hipper younger sibling. I actually prefer watching the Globes, not only because the very name of the award -- "Golden Globes" -- evokes what pops out of the bodices of the lookalike trophy wives, girlfriends, and miscellaneous escorts of the women in attendance, but because the Globes just don't take themselves seriously as much other than an excuse for a bunch of Hollywood names to dress up, get plastered on national television, and perhaps make some connections with people more famous and popular than they are. You never know what could happen at the Globes, unlike the Oscars®, where it's inevitable that some actress who was a shoo-in from the very beginning will get on stage as if her award was a complete surprise that came out of the blue, cry uncontrollably (*cough* Halle Berry *cough*), and thank her agent before she even thanks her own spouse (*cough* Hilary Swank *cough*). You do get this at the Globes too (*cough* Kate Winslet *cough*), but at least then someone else will get up on stage and make fun of her, everyone will laugh, and no one will think that the little statue is somehow the Nobel Prize.
I also prefer the Globes because they are now way ahead of the curve in that they have always recognized television as well as movies. Given that shows like Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and others have not just shown that great work can be done on the smaller screen, but have also started to attract actors who at one time would never even have considered doing television. For my money, the really good stuff is happening in my living room, not at the local Clearview Cinema.
Then there's the thankless job of hosting. Ricky Gervais, a comic whose charms have always escaped me, had an interesting run, but this year the Globes are being hosted by Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, which promises some interesting times and jokes that go over the head of most of the audience.
But the real jewel in the crown of Hollywood self-congratulation is still the Oscars, as it allows the film industry to think of itself as something other than the creators of Honest Stories of Working People As Told By Rich Hollywood Stars. The Oscar® broadcast has never seemed stodgier than last year, when a clearly "I'm So Done With This" Billy Chrystal labored through the two-hour show like an aged Borscht Belt comic with a heart condition, wondering why no one laughs at his jokes anymore. After the horrible James Franco/Anne Hathaway disaster of 2011, anything would have been an improvement. But this year the Academy did something amazing, surprising everyone with their jaw-dropping pick of Seth MacFarlane, the multi-talented creator of Family Guy and American Dad, music lyricist, Nelson Riddle-wannabe, crooner of obscure American standards and overall Rat Pack-channeler, to host the awards.
It's impossible to be on the fence about MacFarlane. Either you love him or you hate him. Either you think he's a ferociously talented, handsome if smarmy and lounge lizardish throwback to a sexist, misogynistic time who also has a wicked sense of humor that he doesn't always know how to control and a glorious singing voice that could open anyone's ears to the charm of American schmaltz music, or you think he's just a smarmy, lounge-lizardish throwback to a sexist, misogynistic time who has a sick sense of humor that isn't even funny and thinks he'a Frank Sinatra when at best he's Frank Sinatra, Jr. And that he's a hack to boot who doesn't write every word of his shows himself the way Trey Parker does. Here at Casa la Brilliant, we loves us some Seth MacFarlane, so if you fall into the latter category, you can stop reading now.
MacFarlane is a man both very much in his time and oddly out of it. The preposterous success of Family Guy, with its boorish alcoholic patriarch, savvy if ineffectual mother, hopelessly unpopular daughter, vaguely intellectually disabled son, at times variously homicidal and sexually confused infant, and a dog that is the only intelligent one in the family, often goes too far. It has a tendency to become not just unfunny but cruel, seeming to endorse what I think it intends to ridicule. The show relies too much on gimmicks like ending the show with a Conway Twitty clip only because the writers had no idea how to end it, and shock humor that often seems like Howard Stern circa 1987. But when the show hits its mark, it's hilarious, and there's always just enough sweetness to the hapless Griffins to redeem whatever shocking, outrageous things they do. They're the Simpsons in gargoyle form, and they get away with things that often leave me saying, "Did they just really do that?" Because MacFarlane and his writers are always pushing the Fox censors to see at what point they'll have to stop. These days there doesn't seem to be one, unlike a few years ago, when the censors prompted this number, which didn't even appear in television until recently:
It's also in numbers like this where that you see where MacFarlane's heart really lies -- in the music. The best part of Family Guy is the musical numbers, which MacFarlane writes along with composers Walter Murphy and Ron Jones. MacFarlane has a feel for the Big Showstopper Number and it is no doubt this talent, along with his now-immortal comeback from what in anyone else would be a jaw-dropping mistake at the Emmys, and what is perceived at least to be his appeal among "the kids" that made the Powers that Be tap him to host the Academy Awards. Because let's face it, after the Big Opening Number, what does the host really have to do?
On Thursday, MacFarlane, along with rapidly physically disappearing actress Emma Stone, announced the Academy Award nominees, which predictably resulted in a wholelot of pearl-clutching from those who think that an announcement that Silver Linings Playbook is nominated for Best Picture is akin to finding Shakespeare's Long Lost Plays. Yes, MacFarlane made the obligatory Controversial Hitler JokeTM, but it sounded more like it was scripted by Bruce Vilanch (who writes most of the Academy Awards show gags) than by MacFarlane, whose outrageousness runs more towards jokes about S&M, menstruation, public drunkenness, flatulence, and other sophomoric topics. Someone needs to tell these people that it's mostly Jews who joke about Hitler (see also: Mel Brooks) anyway.
Anyone who thinks that the Academy Awards are about the Gravitas of the Great Art of Film is delusional anyway (A Beautiful Mind? Shakespeare In Love? Really? Rocky winning instead of Taxi Driver, Network, AND All the President's Men? Forrest Gump over The Shawshank Redemption? Crash rather than Brokeback Mountain? Seriously? Seriously?). I'm sure that MacFarlane is more than game to pop those balloons when they show up on Oscar® night. I think the outrage about MacFarlane is more a function of resentment at the increasing incursion of what the stodgier folks at the pretentiously-named Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences think of as the inferior medium of television. Ted may have grossed a half a billion dollars worldwide, but as far as these folks are concerned, it's a gross-out movie about a talking teddybear done by a TV hack.
Consider this, though: Ordinarily Mr. Brilliant would watch Downton Abbey before he'd deign to watch the Oscars®, and he would rather have hot metal spikes shoved through his eyeballs than watch Downton Abeey. This year he can't wait for the Night of the Chick Superbowl. And THAT, my friends, may be the REAL reason why the Academy picked the voice of Peter, Brian, Stewie, and Quagmire.
And since I have no idea how to end this post, I'll just take a page from MacFarlane's book, but instead of Conway Twitty, here's Seth MacFarlane singing "Ain't That a Kick in the Head." and "Come Fly With Me".
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