Monday, February 28, 2011

Academy Awards Running Diary: 2011

For the past three years, Arbitrary Judgment has brought you a running diary of The Academy Awards. An irreplaceable and arguably historic staple of this blog, the diary has never been more relevant than it is this time around. The ceremony is attempting to cater to a younger, hipper crowd by selecting James Franco and Anne Hathaway as hosts, and if Arbitrary Judgment doesn’t scream young and hip, then I don’t know what does.

Coverage of the event started on E! sometime last Tuesday, but I’m picking it up on the Red Carpet a little before 8 p.m., because I actually had things to do. Not important things, but still…

And now, live from the Kodak Theatre at the Hollywood & Highland Center in Los Angeles, California, the 83rd Annual Academy Awards:

7:45 – Pretty sure there is no classier bromance on the planet than Colin Firth and Geoffery Rush.

7:53 – Wow. Mark Wahlberg’s biceps look huge even with that tux on. And oh by the way, that will be the first of many homoerotic thoughts I have regarding Wahlberg throughout the evening.

8:03 – Really wish James Franco would have sported the Pineapple Express haircut.

8:07 – If 21-year-old “me” could go back in time and tell the 14 year-old “me” that I would actually really enjoy and be entertained by Justin Timberlake over the next few years, 14-year-old “me” would have kicked 21-year-old “me” in the groin. But with that said, I really enjoy and am entertained by Justin Timberlake.

8:14 – It’s like Nicole Kidman’s face is frozen in time. It doesn’t budge. Not even a little.

8:27 – In order to avoid my girlfriend getting extensively pissed off while reading this, I will cram all the smoking hot people I saw on the Red Carpet into one breath: Mila Kunis, Jennifer Lawrence, Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon, Halle Berry, and Matthew McConaughey.

8:30 – We finally head inside to the actual event. You can go home now, Maria Menounos.

8:38 – James Franco and Anne Hathaway pretty much nailed that opening, with a little help from some friends (Alec Baldwin, Morgan Freeman, etc).

8:48 – This Oscar for Cinematography could easily be the most prestigious one that Inception wins throughout the evening, which seems rather ridiculous when you think about it.

8:53 – This is a little harsh, I know, but Kirk Douglas makes Dick Clarke look like a spring chicken.

8:58 – Melissa Leo takes home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in The Fighter. Can’t disagree. I thought Amy Adams was great in the same movie, and I really would have enjoyed seeing Hailee Steinfeld win for True Grit (even though she was actually in a lead role), but Leo nailed her character.

9:00 – And then Leo drops an F-bomb in her acceptance speech. The Academy appreciates it, I’m sure.

9:03 – Justin Timberlake drops what will probably be the best joke of the evening (referencing un-photographed, possibly disguised nominee “Banksy”), but the story is so unknown that maybe 10% of viewers got it.

9:08 – Toy Story 3 wins the Oscar for (wait for it…) Best Animated Feature Film. Meanwhile, the ceremony itself is kind of stumbling along.

9:23 – The Oscars is sputtering worse than Colin Firth’s dialogue in The King’s Speech (rim shot).

9:33 – Christian Bale wins the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his incredible work in The Fighter. Even with a nomination field that was deeper than 1992 Olympic Dream Team, Bale certainly deserved this award. He even had a nice, “un-Christian-Bale-esque” acceptance speech, too.

9:46 – Trent Reznor wins Oscar for Best Original Score in The Social Network, slits wrists onstage.

10:02 – The way things are going for the show this evening, President Obama’s little video-cameo could actually send his approval plummeting.

10:15 – Regardless of how things have gone, James Franco is proving that he is a genuinely funny guy.


10:32 – After presenting at the Golden Globes and now the Oscars, Robert Downey Jr. is batting 2-2 with a couple homers.

10:41 – Anne Hathaway has had more wardrobe changes than jokes landed.

10:53 – Celine Dion singing during the annual “Passed Away Montage”…there has to be a cruel or off-color joke in there somewhere.

11:00 – Hey Anne Hathaway, Eddie Murphy in Raw from 1987 called. He wants his blue leather jumpsuit back.

11:03 – Tom Hooper wins Best Director for King’s Speech, although I have to disagree. Really think David Fincher deserved to win for The Social Network. And on that note, Ben Affleck (The Town) and Christopher Nolan (Inception) at least deserved nominations. I’m no expert, but I know that much.

11:10 – Francis Ford Coppola = NFL legend Paul Brown. If you are a Bengals fan and have seen The Godfather Part III, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

11:17 – Natalie Portman wins the Academy Award for Best Actress in Black Swan. I agree with this one 100%, although Jennifer Lawrence and her Oscar dress get a close runner-up from me.

11:19 – Wow, Portman has put on A LOT of weight. (I’mKiddingIKnowShe’sPregnant)

11:21 – Sandra Bullock, back stage, after the show: “Umm, Natalie…You aren’t engaged to a tattooed, motorcycle loving, greasy haired d-bag, are you?” Natalie Portman: “Uh, no. Why?” Sandra: “No it’s nothing…You should be fine…Enjoy the award.”

11:26 – Colin Firth wins the Academy Award for Best Actor in The King’s Speech. This is another one that everyone saw coming, although there is a reason for that. He was pretty freaking brilliant. I didn’t love the movie, but he was great.

11:28 – And yet another reason why I think Oscar nominees should be forced to attend the ceremony in character, costume and all. Who wouldn’t enjoy watching Firth stutter through his acceptance speech while dressed as a royal British monarch? This is easily the best idea I’ve ever had.

11:33 – James Franco has this “I’m pretty sure people have hated this and are going to be bashing the show for the rest of the week” look in his eye.

11:35 – I challenge you to find anyone (other than the Academy) that didn’t think The Town was one of the best 10 films of the year. Go ahead, see if you can do it.

11:38 - The Academy Award for Best Picture goes to The King's Speech, winning the battle against The Social Network. Personally, I would have rather seen The Fighter or The Social Network win this one, but The King's Speech is the type of movie that the Academy tends to gravitate towards. Can't say I agree (I thought it was a wonderfully acted yet boring film), but I guess that's why they are voting on the Oscars and I am sitting in my apartment eating Frosted Flakes and writing this recap.

11:43 - The clumsy, awkward, and yet always entertaining ceremony ends with a bunch of 12-year-olds in fluorescent shirts singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." For some reason, it just seems fitting.

And with that, I conclude my coverage of the 83rd Annual Academy Awards

Thanks for reading

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Straight Outta Irvine

Let me take you back, to the turn of the century, the time of Eminem’s second multi-platinum selling CD…

Eminem had already become a cultural phenomenon by the year 2000. He had previously released one major album, and was in the midst of the release of The Marshall Mathers LP, which remains his best selling album to this day. Known largely as the most (only?) successful white rapper in American history, Em was also defined by his brash, intense, calculated, and often humorous style of rapping. He was almost immediately a commercial success, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at or listening to him; his approach to fame and accomplishment was much more Kurt Cobain than Miley Cyrus.

This attitude was no more evident than on one of Marshall Mathers' hit singles, “The Real Slim Shady.” On the track, Em clearly displayed his displeasure and indifference toward mainstream success and admiration, defiantly rapping:

You think I give a damn about a Grammy? / Half of you critics can’t even stomach me, let alone stand me. / ‘But Slim, what if you win, wouldn’t it be weird?’ / Why? So you guys can just lie, to get me here?”

Fast-forward to 2011. That same artist – the same angry, insensitive, self-concerned, rapper — is not only showing up to the Grammys, but winning Grammys, being nominated for Album of the Year, performing at the show with a pop star, and thanking his fans and colleagues for recognizing him with such a prestigious honor. Oh, and this is coming from a guy who now cameos on Entourage and does endorsement commercials for Brisk Iced Tea and Chrysler during the Super Bowl.

Quite a turn around, eh?

Don’t get me wrong — this isn’t an indictment on Eminem. This is just one of many examples of how the major rap artists of today’s society are becoming more and more commercialized, abandoning the hardcore, street-cred posturing that once defined the genre of hip-hop. A collection of (self-)proclaimed gangsters and thugs have now become nothing more than spokesmen and caricatures…and it’s only made them all the more rich and famous.

Slim Shady was once the most controversial artist out there, unapologetic for his language, actions, and the bridges he burned on his path to stardom. He embraced the fact that he was “the worst thing since Elvis Presley / to do black music so selfishly / and use it to get myself wealthy.” He was releasing albums that kept the FCC awake at night and brought accusations of inciting violence amongst suburban youth. He was cutting songs that were pointed at as homophobic, sexist, and perverted. He was a menace to society.

But things eventually changed. He went half a decade without releasing a new studio album. He suffered through drug problems and a sub-par record (Relapse). He drifted away from the public eye, before finally coming back a different person. His new music had lost an edge. Ironically, his raps were actually angrier and more intense, but the humor was gone. The rebellious nature was gone. The lack of sympathy and concern for his fans, haters, and critics alike was gone. And even though his most recent album (Recovery) was just as successful and impressive (if not more so) than some of his earlier releases, it was more of a pop-rap album, something that could be played on the radio and achieve more mainstream appreciation. This led to Em grabbing ten Grammy nominations for 2010 (the most of the year) and winning two. And when he accepted those awards, when he was onstage performing, and when he was addressing the audience and millions watching on TV, it certainly appeared as if he cared. It sure looked like he gave a damn about a Grammy.

Eminem falls into place among a long line of rappers that have either relinquished their badass bravado or avoided it all together. He was discovered by Dr. Dre, arguably the most badass rapper to ever lay down a beat. Breaking onto the scene in the late ‘80s as the leader of NWA (an acronym which I don’t feel entirely comfortable explaining further), Dre and the rest of the lineup were the pinnacle of West Coast gansta rap. Their debut album, Straight Outta Compton, set the tone for their explicit, no-holds-barred persona. One of the release’s smash singles, “F--k tha Police”, told you everything you needed to know about the group, without even hearing a note of their music. Dr. Dre eventually went on to a very successful solo career, releasing The Chronic, founding Aftermath Entertainment, and discovering big names such as Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, and of course, Eminem.

But despite going through the ‘90s as one of the top five people you wouldn’t want to find in a dark alley, Dre has recently taken on new ventures. He’s done commercials for Dr. Pepper and HP computers. He’s pimped out his Beats By Dr. Dre headphones to MTV’s The Real World and any other media entity that will have him. The man who was once roaming the streets of South Central Los Angeles and telling cops to go have sex with themselves is now promoting a major soft drink and appealing to the audience of reality television.

Ice Cube, a fellow founder of NWA, actually put Dre’s story to shame. Cube was cut from the same Compton, cop hating, f-bomb dropping cloth as Dre, releasing songs titled “No Vaseline” (I think you can figure it out) and “Why We Thugs.” From there, he went on to star in family films, produce a sitcom on TBS, and direct a sports documentary for ESPN. Nowadays, you’re more likely to find him eating sushi with Hollywood hobnobs than busting up punk bitches on the mean streets of South Central.

The list goes on and on. 50 Cent was a crack dealer that got shot nine times; he’s now getting his tattoos removed for a better shot at more conventional movie roles and has been romantically linked to talk-show host Chelsea Handler. Jay-Z, who is probably the coolest (and luckiest) man on the planet, went from dealing cocaine in Brooklyn to developing a clothing line and cologne, doing commercials for Budweiser, part-owning the New Jersey Nets, and chilling with President Obama.

Yeah, Lil Wayne was just incarcerated on a gun charge, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has an assistant cut up his steak for him and spends his free time talking sports with Skip Bayless and Woody Paige on ESPN. Wayne’s protégé, Drake, is a half-white Jewish Canadian that got his start playing the role of a silver-spooned paraplegic on a Nickelodeon teen drama series. Now he’s considered the best young rapper on the planet.

Ludacris has been busy making romantic comedies with Ashton Kutcher and dropping rhymes for Justin Beiber. Kanye West has never even tried to color himself as a hardcore rapper, concerning himself more with Versace sunglasses, Levi jeans, and $180,000 Tiret watches. Even Ice-T, a pioneer of street-cred, gangster rap, has spent the last decade of his life portraying a NYPD Detective on Law & Order. It’s like Bizzaro World.

Over roughly the past ten years, the hip-hop scene has morphed from a collection of gun-toting drug dealers to commercialized, savvy businessmen. Rap artists have gone from Avon Barksdale to Stringer Bell. And yet, everyone seems to be better off. The genre of music has never been more popular, the stars never brighter. Sure, record sales are only a shell of what they used to be, but rap albums are consistently among the current best selling albums, evidenced by Eminem’s Recovery topping sales charts in 2010. The music itself hasn’t suffered either. Recovery, Jay-Z’s The Blueprint III, Drake’s Thank Me Later, and Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy are some of the best works by their respective artists, and some of the better overall productions of the past few years.

I know, I know. There is certainly some hypocrisy in the fact that Jay-Z is slinging $80 fragrance bottles instead of 8-balls of coke, or that Ice Cube has a cable show that comes on after reruns of Seinfeld, but it’s tough to get too nitpicky about that stuff. The music is still good (if not better) and the artists are making plenty of money for their efforts. Is the transformation really such a terrible thing? I enjoyed Recovery as much as the Grammy voters did, so if Em wants to bag some extra cash selling Chryslers on the side, then by all means. If Dr. Dre keeps discovering the next great rapper, then I can live with him pedaling soda pop (even if it tastes dreadful). It may feel wrong on the surface, but why is that exactly?

The game is different, although not necessarily in a bad way. As long as the product is good, the talent can do whatever they want. They have the right to freely choose their persona. Nevertheless, these hip-hop kings must pick a path and stick to it; wavering back and forth between hoodlum and mogul is no longer a viable, believable, or respectable option. You’re either downing a fifth of vodka or swigging Brisk Iced Tea, but you can’t be both.

Would the real Slim Shady please stand up?

Thanks for reading