Monday, February 23, 2009

Thank you, Kunio Kato

The major highlight of last night's 81st Oscars, certainly the most impressive acceptance speech in any case, came from Japanese filmmaker Kunio Kato, who took the award for Best Animated Short for 'La Maison en Petits Cubes.' Future winners may want to accept some coaching from this guy. With great concision and deadpan delivery the man managed to invoke the spirit of Styx at their most pop-savvy and thank an inanimate object, which in itself much surely constitute some sort of precedent. "Thank you, my pencil... Thank you, animation... Domo arigato, Mister Roboto..." So much more charming than the weirdly superior-sounding A.R. Rahman, who won in both the Song and Score categories and talked about how all his life he chose love over hate. I mean, what the hell does that mean?   

Anyway, considering the frustrating number of overt snubs and the ratio of genuine excellence to blandness that clogged the nominees this year, I unreservedly applaud this renovated approach to the acting categories that has five past winners come on stage and introduce each of the nominees personally, bestowing equal attention on all and taking undue emphasis away from the winner (the selection of which does so often feel like the result of a popularity contest even when the nominations sometimes convey a greater sense of adventure and observational powers on the part of the academy). Having the quintet of warm assessors play their parts made these individual moments feel far more intimate and less catty. They imparted (like Penelope Cruz's gorgeous 60-year-old gown and her heartfelt nod to Pedro Almodóvar's role in her career development) a deeper sense of tradition, and made more transparent the essence of what these awards are, or at least should be, really about, which is peer acknowledgment, a sense of community, and a love of the art. The results were far more moving than is normally the case. And Whoopi Goldberg was actually really funny! 

Of course we didn't get to see Werner Herzog win an Oscar, but I certainly can't complain about Man on Wire's taking Best Documentary or Philippe Petit's hugely enjoyable showing off. And even if I didn't feel that either The Reader or Slumdog Millionaire represented their best work, it was actually satisfying to see Kate Winslet and Anthony Dod Mantle get justly rewarded. All in all, it made the twenty minutes I spent fiddling with my rabbit ears more than worth the effort. 

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