The critics choose embarrassment

Posted by · 8:43 pm · January 10th, 2013

I apologized to Broadcast Film Critics Association president Joey Berlin after this evening’s Critics’ Choice Movie Awards for being frank about it, but I couldn’t tell a lie: this year’s show was an embarrassment. Appalling, I’d go so far to say.

Why? You’ve got Tony Kushner on stage during a commercial break, that’s why. You’ve got Rich Moore talking over the crowd during another one upon accepting his Best Animated Film prize, that’s why. You’ve deteriorated into the People’s Choice Awards with added air time for Jennifer Lawrence to make some more “Hunger Games” remarks and Judd Apatow padding a show that could have dealt a little more courtesy to the winners of the evening.

So if Kushner can’t have air time, I’ll give him a little in that snap shot to the left. It was just disgraceful, to reduce the screenplay categories to the sidelines like that. The crafts categories, added a few years back, have always been dished out on the red carpet and announced as a bumper to commercial break, but it’s just wrong. I was sitting next to “Life of Pi” cinematographer Claudio Miranda. He joked that his win was the best kind because he didn’t have to get up and make a speech. Nevertheless, it’s a level of disrespect that I don’t find in keeping with the BFCA’s stated purpose.

They want to make a principled alternative to the Golden Globes. But this is as tacky if not more so than anything I’ve seen the HFPA do. They added a slew of populist-geared categories this year, presumably to curry favor with The CW and boost ratings by getting people like Jake Gyllenhaal and Christian Bale in the mix. But it’s so transparently ludicrous, and when I saw Kushner and Rian Johnson resorted to between-segment recognition, I nearly blew a cork.

And it was in the room. “There’s a sense of, ‘What is the point of this,'” a high profile individual who shall not be named told me. “They need to get their act together,” said another. It was palpable. But maybe I was just being a dick about it, so I sent out a floater on Twitter. How was the show playing at home?

“Genre awards bring it to a stand-still.” “The CW move seems like it inspired a complete change in ‘prestige.'” “Awkward. Clumsy.” “Low budget.” Those were the replies.

Oh, and it didn’t help that someone had the bright idea to blatantly insult nominees this year. An email went out to BFCA members asking if they had ever panned one of the nominees or some such. It would be cute to needle them a bit, I guess was the idea. Well, a barb for Anne Hathaway and “The Princess Diaries 2” sure blew up in their faces when she called them out for misspelling her name on the big screen after she was up for, and won, Best Supporting Actress. Good for her. Who thought that was a good idea? And who decided to execute it like a sledgehammer?

Sam Rubin as host was another sticking point for viewers, it seemed. I had wondered why there hadn’t been a host announcement. The BFCA went with one of their own, a local (KTLA), and he apparently landed just this side of a ton of bricks.

The defense is that the BFCA is trying to find an audience. Awards for genre performances are meant to draw bigger numbers. But forgive me if I don’t think that should be the goal. Maybe the audience should come to them. That’s what “principled” is. Not blatant pandering that couldn’t be more desperate if it tried.

With all of that off my chest, I was happy to run into a few people at the show. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” director Benh Zeitlin was a favorite amongst the audience, constantly courted during commercial breaks. He was brought around by Kathleen Kennedy to meet Steven Spielberg, surely a huge moment for him. He said he shrieked when he heard his name called this morning as a surprise Best Director nominee. It’s such a lovely story.

Ben Affleck was hounded by iPhone camera-wielders most of the show (many of them, sadly, BFCA members). He admitted to me that he was upset over his Best Director snub by the Academy this morning but it wasn’t all frowns for long as he and his film won top honors at the show. I let him know that I think the film still has a decent shot to make a play, despite what the “stats” might say, because of the preferential balloting system. It’s simply a year so strange that anything can happen. But he noted he was in good company on the sidelines, given Kathryn Bigelow’s absence.

Best Actress winner Jessica Chastain was there with her grandmother as her date. She said she just performed “The Heiress” on stage in New York yesterday and has more of that to come this weekend. The double-duty would be murder for anyone but she’s a hard worker. And her heartfelt speech was a touching note.

I also ran into Sony Classics honcho Michael Barker, who gave me a fierce handshake and said, “I told you!” Indeed, he had a lot of confidence going into this morning that “Amour” would land big nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress. And it did. And like me, he thinks Emmanuelle Riva has a real shot at winning the Oscar. The strategy is percolating to life, believe me.

At the after party I spoke with “Flight” screenwriter John Gatins at length, a bit of a surprise nominee this morning. He’s on cloud nine and reiterated what he told me this morning, that his friend Rian Johnson should have been there for “Looper.” Quvenzhané Wallis, meanwhile, was dancing the night away. The girl loves the camera and plenty had theirs out to grab photos and videos (me included). She just lights up her corner of the room. Finally, John Hawkes puffed a cigarette outside, way more okay with being an Oscar snubbee than you’d expect of anyone. He is, as ever, humble, happy, himself.

So if the show itself was unfortunate all around, at least the chance to convene with these talented people the day many of them got some great news was enjoyed. And I hope the BFCA figures it out one of these days, but on this trajectory, I’m not all that hopeful.

Check out the night’s winners here. And now, Quvenzhané Wallis is going to dance for you.

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