The 81st Oscars and Hugh Jackman

Billy Crystal is often seen as the bench mark for what makes for a good Oscars host. He's done the show so many times but was smart enough to get out whilst he could still out do himself.

81st Annual Academy Awards - Show
The LA Times has been particularly harsh of Hugh Jackman's first attempt at hosting the Oscars with several of their critics including, Patrick Goldstein (twice) and Mary McNamara suggesting Hugh wasn't up to par.

I watched the full show of the 81st Oscars and I've watched full shows of when Billy Crystal was hosting and to be honest, Billy never did anything that was far and away above Hugh - not even in the delivery of his jokes. I'm not suggesting I didn't like Billy. In fact quite the opposite, I'd certainly watch the Oscars if I heard Billy was hosting again. However Hugh was no less professional and carried out his role with stage presence and confidence.

If anything Hugh had to work harder than Billy because he didn't have the benefit of a pre-made video montage lampooning the various nominated films to lean on. Hugh isn't a comedian but he can send himself and others up in a light hearted, poking fun, kind of way that obviously is not intended to offend but raise a smile.

Hugh never takes himself too seriously and neither should his critics. Singing "I'd swim through a sea of human excrement" whilst holding Kate Winslet's hand and looking into her eyes is funny because it is Hugh singing it. He comes across as 'classy' but deep down he not above the average joe who laughs at toilet humor. Kate certainly got the joke.

I didn't find the 81st Oscars show a drag at all. If there are criticism to be made it should be directed at the... well... director. Some of the camera shots left a lot to be desired and have already been mentioned in the LA Times columns.

I did like Hugh's first opening number which was meant to be 'low rent' (so that's hardly a criticism by the LA Times) however his second number could've used much more polish and really came across as more of an excuse to showcase Hugh than pay serious tribute to movie musicals.

As his big musical piece got bigger Hugh was narrating each part as it was added. Unfortunately when Hugh said 'Stairs please' it didn't really work how it was supposed to because we could already see the stairs before they were fully lit. (I'm guessing the idea was that the stairs would be revealed when Hugh said that line).

The montage of songs in the big musical number seemed exceptionally difficult to sing because many of the song changes seemed quite jarring to my non-musical ears. Despite that Hugh managed to carry it well, along with his co-singers and dancers, if not entirely successfully.

I do agree with some of the comments made by people in response to the LA Times articles in that it would've been nice to see a little more of Hugh. During Will Smith's extended stay on stage he mentioned that Hugh was probably 'sleeping'. I must admit I was starting to wonder why Will was powering through so many awards without a break? At the same time I was thinking Will Smith would probably do a great job hosting this show too.

One thing that bugs me about many critics of the Oscars (not just the paid critics either) is that they often call for the less glamorous awards (like best sound mixing) to be dropped from the program. I hope they never are.

The Oscars are primarily an Awards show as well as a celebration of the previous year of movie making (not a fashion show as some people seem to think). Everyone involved in the process of creating a movie should get their moment to enjoy their success on the same platform as everyone else who works on a film.

So what if the acceptance speeches can be boring. More than likely it's the only part of the show that isn't scripted. It's the one place you're likely to get that spark of genuine enthusiasm and spontaneity that the rest of the awards often lacks. (No matter how much they try, the banter between presenters always looks scripted even when it isn't).

Hugh's role in the awards did achieve the hoped out come of increasing the ratings - if only by six percent from last year. Whilst the LA Times critics might be surprised by that I think the real test will come if Hugh gets to host next years Oscars as well.

After boosting the ratings of the Tony Awards two years running (probably the biggest reason why Hugh got the Oscars gig in the first place), if he can boost the ratings of the Oscars yet again next year then the LA Times critics will have to concede they are actually out of touch with what people like.

Gran Torino: Movie Review

Gran Torino tells the Story of Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), a disgruntled Korean War Veteran, who has lived in the same neighborhood for most of his life. He's disconnected from his adult children and their families and disappointed by the changing cultural mix of his community which is now largely Asian.

Walt's Hmong neighbors are, one night, confronted by an Asian gang looking to recruit one of the gang members younger cousins, Thao (Bee Vang). The ensuing melee spills onto Walt's lawn and he inadvertently does his neighbors a favor by scaring them off his property. From there Walt's long held, racist attitudes begin to erode as his neighbors cultural traditions collide with his own values and beliefs.

Gran Torino is marketed as a a somewhat serious film that explores themes of racism, culture, age, family disconnection, morals, youth, values and more. I was expecting it to be very heavy going but was surprised to view a much lighter film that could almost be described as 'social comedy'.

I spent just as much time laughing as I did trying to second guess how various scenes would play out.

It's one of life's mysteries that someone like Clint Eastwood, who started out in spaghetti westerns and cemented his name with Dirty Harry films, can direct such classic films that rely solely on a good story well told. No cutting edge stunts, no flashy special effects, just actors telling a story. It's almost like Clint's on a quest to give depth and emotion to some of the hard cased, stereo typical characters he was known for before he took up directing.

Gran Torino is filled with racist slurs, fowl language and some violence but it is all necessary to understand the kind of man Walt is. At the start of the film you're supposed to think he really is just a Grumpy old bastard who hates everything but by the end you understand that there's a lot more to Walt than first impressions would lead you to believe.

I saw this movie with a fairly full house in the cinema and most people laughed in all the same places I did. If you don't take it too seriously you should enjoy it and you'll be surprised to learn that you actually care about Walt by the end. It is thought provoking in it's themes but I wouldn't analyze it too deeply. Take it for what it is, a good story well told.
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