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Critic's Notebook: The nation divides on the Oscars, and a critic hears from everyone

February 23, 2009 | 12:21 pm

Anyone worried that people don’t care about the Oscars can rest assured: People care, all right. They care deeply.

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We have received a welter of response to our coverage of Sunday night’s event. For those who missed it, I myself was less than thrilled by Hugh Jackman’s opening song-'n'-dance and the big musical number in the middle of the show. Many people, including my colleague Patrick Goldstein, agreed.

But many people most emphatically Did Not. Many people loved, Loved, LOVED the show and do not appreciate what they consider my sour and snarky attitude. I’m always happy when people write me no matter what they say, though for the record, I am actually none of these things: post-menopausal, single, under 20 or in possession of a cat. (Though why people consider these things synonymous with bitter I do not know.) I actually love Broadway musicals, the movies and the Oscars. I also find Hugh Jackman handsome and charming.

I just didn’t like the show, which actually seemed to go out of its way to diss the films it was purportedly celebrating.

How else to explain the many digs at the nominees? Jackman’s warbling about how he tried to see “The Reader” but the throngs for “Iron Man” kept him away, Will Smith’s crack about the nominees versus those movies with fans, that we saw clips of “Horton Hears a Who” and “Quantam of Solace” but none of the nominated performances, which was really too bad for first-timers, like Richard Jenkins in “The Visitor” or Melissa Leo in “Frozen River.” No, there was no deadpan comedian making wisecracks about Hollywood, but it often felt like the show was if not openly apologizing for the boutique nature of the nominees, then at least trying to distract from them.

Still, when I see a mailbox filled to the brim with subject lines that alternate, literally, from “Poor critique … disgusting” to “Such a great review, you nailed it,” I am struck once again by the blessed vagaries of taste and the strange job of being a critic.

See, I don’t think there’s any right or wrong about these things. I think the role of the critic is to get the conversational ball rolling, and after we’ve all kicked it around for a while, we’ll see where we are.

I was certainly prepared to be labeled “a hater” by the die-hard Jackman fans, but I must admit I did not anticipate that so many of you would consider this the best Oscars ever. Of course in hindsight, this makes perfect sense. The producers of the Oscars always promise big changes, but Laurence Mark and Bill Condon actually delivered. The show was nothing if not over-the-top, and over-the-top tends to divide people into loud, passionate and highly opinionated groups.

Which is marvelous. I would much rather our flatscreens be filled with discussion-worthy shows than their opposite, and the poor Oscar telecast has been such an overly whipped horse for so long, it’s nice to see people rallying to its defense. If nothing else, the 81st version proved that the Oscars are important after all, that in this digitally splintered world where everyone can find something better to do every single second of the day, there remain media and entertainment experiences we long to share with one another.

Even if we are left looking across the room and saying: “You thought what ? Are you crazy?”

-- Mary McNamara

Photo Credit: Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times

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