Things We Need To Revisit From The 2017 Academy Awards

The other day I read a think-piece about how the twist ending of this year’s Oscars – as well as the reversals of fortune at the 2017 Super Bowl and the 2016 Presidential Election – means that there’s a glitch in the matrix: that we’re living in a simulated universe and either something broke, or someone’s messing with us.

For the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony to be dull and unremarkable for over 3 hours, only to get so wacky in the last 5 minutes that it inspired stoner philosophy in the New Yorker: that’s a feat. We already discussed our Best Dressed picks, so let’s revisit a few other happenings of the oddest awards night in recent memory.

The Opening Number and Monologue

Maybe it’s because I grew up on Billy Crystal’s annual parody numbers, but wow, was this year’s opening uninspired. Of course I love Justin Timberlake, but I prefer an opening number that actually remarks on the year’s nominees (yeah, I know the song was nominated, but am I crazy to want a La La Land reference when there’s an actual MUSICAL up for Best Picture? Something with the fantastic ladies from Hidden Figures? The nice aliens from Arrival?).

The monologue wasn’t quite as sharp or well-paced as I’ve come to expect. There were some good ones in there, though (“black people saved NASA and white people saved Jazz”) and some standard ones (the jokes about how young Damien Chazelle is seemed to be cribbed from Good Will Hunting-era Ben and Matt jokes), and a few that were just bad (on the biggest night of someone’s professional career, I’ve always found jokes about how nobody saw a movie or knows who someone is to be ill-conceived). I do like Jimmy Kimmel, but I don’t think he was the best fit for the Oscars host; I think he was the guy from ABC.

The Matt Damon Jokes

Who counted the Jimmy Kimmel/Matt Damon rivalry jokes last night? It’s a running gag you’d come to expect if you watch Kimmel, but if you don’t it probably just felt a little overdone.

The Bit With The Tourists, Which I Hated

As you already know by now, there was a really protracted bit where a group of tourists were told they were going to see an exhibit of Oscar gowns, only to walk into the auditorium full of celebrities. It was terrible for so many reasons:

  • It took forever. Legit, 7 minutes. Whenever the Oscars is packed with dumb bits, I always think of how annoyed I’m going to be when it’s 11:30 PM EST and top winners are being rushed off stage after 30 seconds, or 12:05 AM EST when I’m still awake.
  • The cell phones. I hate when baby boomers complain about kids these days always on their phones, but damn, could those baby boomers get off their phones?! It reminds me of when I was sitting at my niece and nephew’s Christmas pageant and couldn’t see a thing because everyone in front of me was watching it with their tiny phone screens poised in the air.
  • Something about the Normals mixing with the Pristine Fancy People just felt gross.
  • No really, put down your phone, Gary.
  • Is it just me, or does walking off a bus in tourist clothes onto national television and a room full of celebrities sound like a weird, bad nightmare? My only consolation is that everyone was calm enough that it was probably fake.
  • Yeah, Jimmy. Not everyone’s named something like Jimmy. That’s not even a good joke.
  • In general, I hate the idea of manufacturing Magic Moments – it’s the same feeling I get when I look at someone’s carefully curated Pinterest wedding. At some point you just have to let things play out normally and appreciate that magic can’t be planned. Case in point: this bit with the tourists was boring and long and bad, but the most fascinating part of the night – the glitch in the matrix at the end – was completely unexpected.
Saint Brie Of The Pursed Lips

We’ve come to realize that every Oscars night will involve us discussing how Brie Larson is a good person. She really seems like a genuinely down-to-earth, caring human even when the cameras aren’t on (for instance: hugging each and every ones of the assault survivors who appeared with Lady Gaga during the 2016 Oscars – during a commercial break, not on live TV). It is because Brie has become an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse that it was so horrifying that this awards season kept seeing her paired up with accused sexual harasser Casey Affleck. As at the Golden Globes, Brie handed off Affleck’s award with a pursed-lip smile and all the polite iciness of a well-bred Southern hostess.

Yes, Brie handed off the Oscar with a quick hug and congratulations, but she wasn’t going to clap about it. And it was that tiny gesture – not clapping – that put the next-day headline focus on the accusations against Affleck instead of his win.

I will say that I’m happy for Casey’s Manchester By The Sea costar Michelle Williams, who looked happy, and for his brother Ben, who I am willing to believe has given him a stern talking-to.

VIOLA!

There are some actors and actresses whom it feels like a privilege to live in the same time as. Viola Davis is one. After her much-deserved nominations for The Help and Doubt, it’s a joy to see her win her first Oscar – and I say first because I’m certain there will be more.

The Ladies Of The Help

I don’t know what it is, but occasionally the cast of a movie coalesces in such a way that you know filming it must have been (to use the oft-repeated junket cliche) like summer camp. Maybe because of its location shoot, that’s how The Help is. The actresses really seem to have become like a family on-set and remained friends years later. Oh, plus they’re all absolutely crushing it. To see Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer all involved in nominated pictures is an absolute delight.

MAHERSHALA!

It seems that every awards season has its darling (Jennifer Lawrence; Lupita Nyong’o, e.g.) and this year it was the talented, intelligent, really really handsome Mahershala Ali. It’s no secret that we were pulling for him, and we promise it wasn’t JUST because we like his speeches (the man does give a good speech though).

The Children of Moonlight

The actors behind the youngest versions of Chiron and Kevin, Alex Hibbert and Jaden Piner, are two talented seventh graders from the same Miami school. They were selected to audition and didn’t even know it was a big project – and now they’re part of a Best Picture winner. It’s the fantasy I always had as an inner-city kid, and the fact that it came true for these two amazing boys is phenomenal.  Alex and Jaden are kids, but they’re also old enough to grasp that the Oscars are a big deal and it seems that they were taking in every minute of it. All love and all pride.

La La Land Wins?

La La Land was good. It wasn’t my favorite — some of the Hollywood Is In Love With Itself vibe is only interesting if you are actually from there, I think, kind of like looking at some other family’s photo albums — but it was good. A modern musical is a fresh and innovative idea, it was beautifully executed (the color palate alone!), and for the first time in a long time, there was a really well-made film that was trying to be charming.  If movies like La La Land come into fashion I won’t be upset. Still, my gut said that Moonlight was going to win: if I felt that it was more deserving, certainly a number of voters had the same opinion.

When La La Land was announced as the winner I was disappointed, but didn’t feel like Moonlight got robbed, exactly. I understood why La La Land could have won, it was the expected winner, and as I said, it was good. I saw a photo album page I recognized in Moonlight (as I said, I grew up in the inner city with drug houses next door and across the street; Moonlight is the first and only time I have ever seen a neighborhood like that depicted with complexity and humanity. It meant a lot). Voters, I figured, saw a photo album page they recognized in La La Land. Fine.

But wait. The signs were there from the beginning. I interpreted Warren Beatty’s drawn-out announcement as an aging actor trying to be funny, but it was actually a pause to figure out what was going on. Faye Dunaway thought that Warren was allowing her to read the winner, when he was really signaling her in a “do you see what I’m seeing” way. Producers rushed on – well, maybe not rushed; they could have hustled a little bit more if you ask me. They reportedly realized there was a problem immediately but took minutes to get to the stage. Shock can cause delay, though. I was actually more surprised by the producer who (evidently) already had been told that they lost, delivered his speech anyway, then interjected “we lost, by the way.”

God bless Jordan Horowitz for clearing it up with”I’m sorry. There’s a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture”, though at first I thought he was trying to say that Moonlight DESERVED best picture.  Nobody else on stage – not the producer who accepted before him, not the host, not the presenter, not the producers – had stepped in by that point, so I appreciate his quick thinking and decisiveness. Then there was some painfully bad on-stage vamping (KIMMEL. Telling them they should keep it isn’t the way to go; and it wasn’t “nice of them,” the other guys won it), and Warren tried to clear his name (redemption would come later, when it became clear that  he was handed the wrong envelope). A visibly stunned Moonlight cast took the stage. It was baffling.

Moonlight Wins!

Moonlight was my personal pick for best picture. It was so beautiful at times that I wanted to cry not because it was sad, but because it was true. I think my soul broke open in the final scene and not in a bad way. Moonlight is the first Best Picture winner with an all-black cast AND the first LGBT winner as well. It deconstructs masculinity, particularly black masculinity, in a thought-provoking and profoundly touching way.  However, Moonlight was also so beautifully written, filmed and acted that it deserved to win on its merits as a film, not because it was ground-breaking. It’s one of those movies where you can’t really explain why people need to see it, just that they need to.

Remember Their Names (FAME): Pasek & Paul

Pop Quiz: Who are these guys?

 

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If you answered Pasek and Paul, congratulations, you know how to read a blog post title! If you answered ‘I have no freaking clue’, may I introduce to you Benj Pasek (left) & Justin Paul, the musical duo who are about to have the best year of their lives. I’m 99.2% sure of it. Why? They’ve created enough buzz with two big projects that they could potentially be nominated for both Oscars and Tonys in the same year. NBD.

First off, these two are the lyricists behind the songs in La La Land, the movie that everyone is raving about, including me, who lit’rally cannot stop thinking about how great it was since seeing it last week. Second, they’re the creators behind Dear Evan Hansen, the Broadway musical that everyone is raving about, including me, who has not seen it but lit’rally cannot stop playing the only two songs released from the soundtrack on loop.

So before these dudes blow up in 2017, here’s a timeline of their work so far, because with the way their careers are going, I don’t think they’re going away anytime soon.

2005 – Edges

Benj & Justin, both 31, met when they were freshmen at the University of Michigan, and their creative partnership began. Their sophomore year, they created a coming-of-age musical called Edges, which in the beginning era of Facebook (colleges ONLY!) and Mp3 file sharing, became a viral sensation amongst musical theater nerds everywhere. Here’s our boyfriend Aaron Tveit performing Along the Way from Edges a few years after the duo first composed the song cycle in college. Dreamy as he’s ever been.

2007 – Jonathan Larson Glory

Just one year after they graduated from UofM, they were the recipients of the Jonathan Larson grant, which is named after the late Rent composer and honors  musical theatre composers, lyricists and book writers. Given by the Jonathan Larson Foundation in conjunction with the American Theatre Wing (aka the org that’s responsible for the Tonys), Benj & Justin became the youngest people ever to receive the grant. And so far, the grant has paid off.

2010 – A Christmas Story

The musical adaptation of the beloved movie was Benj & Justin’s big musical break and landed them a number of firsts. After their were recruited to write the music and lyrics for the show after the original composer left, A Christmas Story became the first large-scale musical they’d ever written. When it premiered at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in 2013, it became their first Broadway show. It marked their first nominations for the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards. It also marked their first Tony nominations, for Best Book and Best Musical. Who knew Ralphie could give this duo so much acclaim?

2012 – Dogfight

Every year, there are a couple shows Off-Broadway that folks in the theater community can’t stop raving about. In 2012, that show was Dogfight, a musical adaptation of the 1991 movie starring River Phoenix and Lili Taylor. It centered on a Marine who takes part in a “dogfight”, in which each dude adorably attempts to find the ugliest woman to take out on a date. The show won two Lucille Lortel Awards, the Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theater, and earned a Drama League nomination. The show also started a collaboration between Benj & Justin and Stacey Mindich, who comissioned the two to write and compose the show, but she later became the lead producer of Dear Evan Hansen.

2013 – Smash

Go back into the part of your brain that forgot about season two of Smash, because Benj & Justin were recruited to use their fresh talents to write songs for the fake musical The Hit List, which had more of a contemporary musical feel to it, as opposed to the Marilyn Monroe/traditional musical Bombshell. Katharine McPhee first sang this song on the show (and her version is the only one available on the soundtrack), but Jeremy Jordan sang a bit of it in a later episode, and while both versions are fantastic, I hardly ever find fault when it comes to Jeremy and his singing capabilities. It’s one of the more memorable tracks from Smash, and that’s all in part to Benj & Justin’s genius. Later, NBC head honcho (and man responsible for all those live musicals) Bob Greenblatt was so impressed with the duo that he went on to become a co-producer of Dear Evan Hansen. Speaking of which…

2015 – Dear Evan Hansen

Like Dogfight before it, Dear Even Hansen got a shitload of acclaim during its Off-Broadway run earlier this year. Unlike Dogfight, DEH has gotten its shot on Broadway, and recently opened to even more acclaim. Starring Pitch Perfect’s Ben Platt, he plays a high school student with social anxiety and his life turns upside down when his relationship to a classmate who commits suicide is misconstrued. Based on the reviews, it’s both heart-wrenching, funny, heartfelt and extremely relevant right down to its use of social media within the show. Benj & Justin collaborated with Hamilton orchestrator/arranger/musical director extraordinaire Alex Lacamoire, and in a full circle moment, the show is directed by Michael Greif, who directed the OG production of Rent. DEH has already won the dream duo an Outer Critics Circle Award, Drama Desk Award, and Obie Award, and as previously mentioned, could be the one to watch come Tony Awards.

2016 – La La Land

Director Damien Chazelle and his college friend Justin Hurwitz had been working on La La Land for years – it was even in the works before Damien won acclaim for Whiplash – and Justin had composed the music for La La Land, but needed the perfect lyricists to fill in the gaps. Enter a similar duo, Benj & Justin who penned the words to the exquisite tracks in the movie. La La Land is a movie that is about music and artistry at its core, so the hiring of Benj & Justin wasn’t just a random hiring choice. Their work *becomes a character in its own right* in the film, and critics have noticed. It’s already been a big hit in the festival circuit, and the success continues to forge on with its recent Critics Choice Awards and Golden Globe noms. It probably won’t stop when it comes Oscars time, either. While I recommend watching the movie first then listening to the soundtrack (BECAUSE IT’S SO FREAKING GOOD), you can listen to the entire soundtrack here!

2017 and Beyond

So what’s next for these two? They’ll have to navigate through awards season past June’s Tony Awards, but they already have a couple high-profile projects in the works – they’ve written all the songs for Hugh Jackman’s P.T. Barnum biopic, The Greatest Showman, and Disney also hired them to write new songs for the live-action remake of Snow White. Fun fact: Ben Platt’s dad is the producer of both La La Land and Snow White. #Fam. Something tells me Pasek & Paul are just at the very beginning and gearing up to join the ranks of Rodgers & Hammerstein – which is a very good place to start.