Winning the Oscar pool, but at what cost?

Sean Penn took home the Oscar for his uncanny portrayal of gay rights activist Harvey Milk in Milk, beating out another powerful contender and crowd favorite, Mickey Rourke, nominated for his astounding tour de force in The Wrestler.

Much to the consternation of the handful of other entrants, I won my Oscar pool, correctly predicting all but three of the eventual winners. But is this a good thing? Sure, I got a little bit of money, but I think I would have gladly traded it for a ceremony a little lighter on crushing predictability. When the biggest upset comes in the Best Foreign Film category, you know you've got a seriously dull ceremony. Sure, I was happy to see wins for Penelope Cruz and WALL-E, but even the people who really deserved their awards were obvious choices. And the Academy went with perennial favorite Sean Penn (who did a perfectly good job in Milk) over far more interesting choice Mickey Rourke, in the only mildly surprising choice among the major categories.

The ceremony itself, too, was pretty dull, with needless montages of movies from 2008 that weren't nominated for awards, as if to argue that the Oscars aren't entirely out of touch. Hugh Jackman tried really hard as host, but he just couldn't hold anything together. And there were some really odd choices - Jackman and Beyonce do a lengthy musical number as a tribute to the alleged return of the musical, but the songs actually nominated for an award this year can't get more than a three-minute medley? Queen Latifah sings during the In Memoriam montage, and producers cut away from images of the dead people to show her strolling around the stage? Acting nominees get introduced with awkward tribute speeches rather than, I don't know, clips of them acting in movies? The dude from Twilight? Really?

2009 Oscar Nominees

Even Judd Apatow's tribute to ... something, starring James Franco and Seth Rogen as their Pineapple Express characters, couldn't perk things up. Other moments meant to be funny that weren't: Ben Stiller mocking Joaquin Phoenix and sort of disrespectfully distracting from the cinematography nominees; anything said by Jack Black; and Jackman's recession-themed props in the opening number. I think the only thing that made me laugh was Tina Fey and Steve Martin's dig at Scientology.

Okay, so at least it turned out to be relatively short despite early appearances, and the bejeweled set actually looked kind of cool. I appreciated the heartfelt speeches from Kate Winslet, Dustin Lance Black and Sean Penn, even if I didn't necessarily think they deserved to win. Plus, a film critic (Manny Farber) got acknowledged in the In Memoriam montage, so I suppose I really have nothing to complain about. Now how should I spend my winnings?


Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the film editor for Las Vegas Weekly, where he's been writing movie and TV reviews since 2002. ...

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