Last year the Oscars was, well, it was something. Coming off the Anne Hathaway and James Franco hosting debacle, we had undead marionette Billy Crystal emceeing the ceremony, doing his signature medley of all the Best Picture nominees as soon as the red carpet pre-show wrapped. That was about it for musical performances, other than the "In Memoriam" reel and some other crazy A. R. Rahman thing that no one really wanted.
That's because there were almost no Best Original Song nominees last year, and neither one was performed. Well, the category is back in full swing, and host Seth McFarlane — who has more jazz hands than a dance school in West Topeka — is sure to do some sort of bombastic production number. Oh, and there's going to be an ode to movie musicals too, featuring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jennifer Hudson, Anne Hathaway, and the rest of the We Won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress by Singing in a Musical Club.
Musicals numbers are back, so let's take this time to look at the best and worst (and a couple of so-good-they're-bad and so-bad-they're-good) from awards shows past.
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[Photo Credit: AP Photo]
Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, and Anika Noni Rose sing "Love You I Do," "Listen," and "Patience" from Dreamgirls
It's not often that you get this many vocal powerhouses on stage at one time, so when you do, it's best to make the most of it. This 2008 clip (sorry the quality is so crappy, but someone is trying to keep this off YouTube) will go down in Oscar History, even if J Hud was the only one to walk away with the trophy.
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Snow White and Robe Lowe sing some ungodly creation.
This is the Platonic ideal of an awful Oscar opening number. In 1989, Eileen Bowman played the animated heroine in an odyssey that included dancing stars, Merv Griffin, and a scandal-plauged Lowe singing strange tunes with the words all jumbled around. It's a travesty and you can't take your eyes away. For a full recounting of the whole incident, check out this amazing article.
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Michael Jackson sings "Ben" from Ben
Look past the cheesy '70s set and the awful glittery jump suit. Forget that this is a song about a man who is in love with his pet rat. When all that goes away, we're left with the pristine quality of Michael Jackson's voice before he messed it up with years of drugs and before he messed up his face with more plastic surgery than a Real Housewives of Everywhere reunion. This is one of those instances where talent gets past all of that, and we still love it.
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Bjork singing "I've Seen It All" from Dancer in the Dark
I have no problem with the swan dress. In fact, I kind of love that Bjork opted to wear something so different and daring that we still talk about it 12 years later. What I can't abide is her squawking around the stage and stamping her feet and singing this weirdly-cyclical, boring song. I know she can do so much better, and I'm sure most of the audience at home was as befuddled by the performance as they were the attire.
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Madonna singing "Sooner of Later" from Dick Tracy
Let's face it — it's best that Madonna never win an Oscar for acting. Really, we don't need to give her one more reason to make another movie. But as far as performing at the Oscars go, she is a champion. This is how you can captivate an audience while standing practically still in the middle of a stage. This is Madonna at the height of her fame and prowess in 1991, singing a beautiful Steven Sondheim song that won the Oscar later that night. To prove Madge is Oscar gold, check out her second performance of "You Must Love Me," from Evita. Not as good of a song, but still a top-notch performance.
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Gwyneth Paltrow singing "Coming Home" from Country Strong
Gwyneth Paltrow thinks that everything about her life is great, including her singing ability. She is often wrong.
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Celine Dion singing "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic
Yes, this is an iconic song. Yes, Celine Dion is a very proficent singer. Yes, in 1997 Ms. Dion was everything and her song won the Oscar. But why do I hate this so much? Why do so many people think that she sounds like a bleating goat standing there on stage with a trillion-dollar diamond (the same one from the movie) on her turtlenecked frame (you can take the girl out of Canada but...)? This is one of those numbers that you either love or hate. I fall in the latter camp.
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Pilobolus doing God knows what
This isn't exactly a musical number, but there's dancing, so I'm counting it. The members of this dance troupe figured out how to turn their bodies into iconic shapes from the year's movies. I still wonder just how they achieved this fate today. Amazing. Also amazing: Ellen DeGeneres hosted the Oscars. Remember that?
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Kathleen Bird York singing "In the Deep" from Crash
2003 was a crappy year at the Oscars. Not only did Crash steal a statue from the far superior Brokeback Mountain, we also had to endure this abomination of an New Age song from the film that was nominated for Best Original Song. What do a burning car, slow-motion dancers, and enough dry ice to power every production of Phantom of the Opera in the entire universe have in common? I hate them all.
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Sheena Easton singing "For Your Eyes Only" from For Your Eyes Only
This year, one of the highlights of the show will be Adele getting up to sing "Skyfall" from the James Bond flick of the same name. She will wear a tasteful dress and belt for the rafters and everyone will applaud. It will look nothing like this other Bond number from 1981, which features 007 driving on stage and kicking the asses of a bunch of dancing ninjas while his car shoots a laser beams. And can we talk about Sheena's hair which is straight out of one of the worst Nagel paintings I've ever seen. This this is so incredibly awful. Isn't it amazing!? Even with the crappy video quality, you still can't look away. They just don't make camp like they used to. Sure Adele will be nice, but it's not going to be anything like this.
Next: How Not to Do an Opening Number
Hugh Jackman's Opening Number
I love Hugh Jackman. Of all the celebrities in Hollywood, I would like to see his huge ackman over anyone else's. However, his 2008 stint hosting was marred by this rather dreadful opening number. The joke was that the recession made him scale everything down, which is a cute gag but doesn't work for the whole eight minutes. Combine that with Anne Hathaway giving one of those falsely modest performances that make people hate her and, well, I couldn't even watch it all the way through. However, the joke about not seeing The Reader almost makes the whole thing worthwhile.
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Neil Patrick Harris' Opening Number
Sorry, Hugh, this is how you bring in the show. NPH, who isn't even really a movie star, is better at the awards show game than just about anyone else. He sings a quick song, does some great dance moves, gets us ready for the show with a big extravaganza and then hands it over to the hosts. Just simply distilled perfection. Leave it to a gay to know how to kick off a show. (I'm sure he's not the one who had the Best Actor nominees come out on stage for one full minute of thunderous applause that they did not need.)
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"Under the Sea" and "Kiss the Girl" from The Little Mermaid
As soon as you heard that the dancers were choreographed by Paula Abdul, you knew this thing would be a mess. What's so awful about Samuel E. Wright's performance of these two nominated songs ("Under the Sea" won) is that he just stands in the middle of the blank stage for the first one, and for the second one it's like a sea anemone was stuffed with glitter and then exploded. There is an octopus chandelier, tap dancing scuba divers, and more midriffs than all of Britney Spears' early videos combined. The funny part is this looks like an even worse version of Disney's infamous Broadway version of the show, which was also a giant bomb.
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"Belle" and "Be Our Guest" from Beauty & The Beast
Looks like Disney learned a lot two years after The Little Mermaid, because this two-song medley was much better. The first song is busy and costumey, sort of like the wonderful Broadway version of the show, but then it dissolves into Jerry Orbach (RIP) and some chorus girls doing a top-notch, grounded version of the crowd pleasing "Be Our Guest." Still this wasn't enough to beat the title track for the Oscar, which had a snoozer of a performance (Angela Landsbury can't do a kick line like she used to), but is probably a better song.
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Three 6 Mafia singing "Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from Hustle and Flow
This isn't a bad song, and is, to its credit, the only hip-hop song to win an Oscar. It's just, well, the Academy ain't got no swag. Sure, this bootleg living room is supposed to be reminiscent of the movie, but it looks like a cast-off from an old season of Roseanne. Plus, Taraji P. Henson in a full-length gown while the rest of the guys wear street clothes makes the whole thing feel just... off. And they can't even say "bitches"! They had to change it to "witches," which is the silliest thing to happen since The Doors couldn't sing "Girl, we couldn't get much higher" on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Next: Once Upon a Time
Glen Hansard and Market Iglová singing "Falling Slowly" from Once
Plain and simple: how can you not love everything about this?
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More than 10 000 people are smuggled into the United States for sexual exploitation per the nonprofit organization Free the Slaves. Inspired by a New York Times Magazine article Trade focuses on the attempts of traffickers to smuggle a group of women and children across the U.S.-Mexican border. Director Marco Kreuzpaintner wastes no time introducing us to the two victims he intends to follow from their kidnapping in Mexico to their auctioning off in the United States. Adriana (Paulina Gaitan) is snatched from the street as she rides the bicycle she just received from her brother Jorge (Cesar Ramos) for her 13th birthday. Single mother Veronica (Alicja Bachleda) arrives in Mexico City from Poland believing she’s there to meet with the people she’s paid to arrange her with safe and legal passage to the United States. Only she’s been duped by the traffickers. Adriana Veronica and a handful of other abductees then begin their terrifying journey to the United States under the watchful eye of trafficker Manuelo (Marco Perez). On their trail is Jorge who feels responsible for Adriana’s kidnapping. He risks life and limb to follow the abductees across the border. Once on U.S. soil Jorge crosses paths with Ray (Kevin Kline) a Texas cop who’s trying to break up the trafficking ring for personal reasons. Ray reluctantly pairs up with Jorge to track down Adriana before she and Veronica are sold off to the highest bidder via the Internet. More gentleman than action hero Kevin Kline’s not the obvious choice to portray a police officer hailing from the Lone Star State. Ray’s the kind of law-enforcement bloodhound Tommy Lee Jones can play in his sleep. Heck Kline only halfheartedly attempts a Texas drawl and even then he drops it minutes after his late entrance. This could be overlooked if Kline lent Ray some intensity. For someone on a crusade Kline strolls through Trade without a care in the world. As Trade reaches its inevitable showdown between the traffickers and their pursuers Ray’s faced with a life-or-death choice that would compromise all he stands for. Kline though looks about as conflicted as someone trying to decide what he wants for lunch. Luckily Kline’s presence doesn’t negate the fine work done by Ramos Gaitan and Bachleda. Ramos perfectly captures the guilt of a troubled young man—one embarking on a life of crime—whose ill-gotten gains has cost him dearly. If Ramos offers a study in redemption Bachleda goes to great pains to show the ease with which someone with so much grit and determination can bend and break under the most extreme of circumstances. Gaitan doesn’t endure as much abuse but she’s still one tough cookie. Perez refuses to allow Manuelo to be a mere profit-minded monster—he provides Manuelo with a conscience or what passes for one in his business. Trade is a tale of two countries. While in Mexico director Marco Kreuzpaintner examines the sex-slave trade in an incisive and uncompromising manner. He sheds light on how these trafficking rings acquire their slaves and smuggle them across the border. He puts us on edge the moment Adriana and Veronica fall in their captors’ hands. We’re never sure as to what will happen to them. We know they need to be kept alive. But in what condition? Many of the abductees are drugged beaten and raped. The violence isn’t exploitative—Kreuzpaintner just needs to show the cruelty inflicted upon these victims of the modern-day slave trade. And it only makes us fear more for Adrian and Veronica’s safety. Once Trade reaches the United States Kreuzpaintner and screenwriter Jose Rivera start pulling their punches. Yes there are some moments that make you sick to your stomach. But the moment Kline arrives on the scene Trade gets weak at the knees. There are too many coincidences for Trade’s own good. The sudden death of one character is forced and absurd. And Kreuzpaintner doesn’t know how to extricate Kline from the untenable situation he’s placed in during Trade’s climax. This all leads up to a pat ending one that even the Lifetime TV crowd would find unbelievably spineless.
Three years since relieving ruthless Las Vegas hotel owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) of a large chunk of cash Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his crew--including detail man Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) and novice pickpocket Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon)--have tried to live modest legit lives. Sure it's hard to go straight but hey at least they got away with the heist of the century. Right? Not quite. Seems a mysterious someone has ratted the gang out to Benedict who demands his $160 million back or else. Strapped of most of their cash and too hot in the United States to pull off a job Ocean and company decide Europe would be the best place to score much to the chagrin of Danny's wife Tess (Julia Roberts). Once in Europe however they find out it isn't as easy as it used to be. They run up against the tough-as-nails Europol agent Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who once had a fling with Rusty and Europe's premier master thief the Night Fox (Vincent Cassel) who seems to be one step ahead of Ocean's crew. Let the games begin.
Ocean's Twelve's crop of A-listers have way too much fun making these movies as they recapture that freewheeling spirit and good-ole-boy camaraderie from Ocean's Eleven. Even though sometimes it seems like they are a bunch of frat boys hazing each other the actors clearly are enjoying themselves tremendously--and so do we. Clooney and Pitt continue to be the suave ringleaders speaking to each other in code while Pitt's Rusty gets the love interest this time around. As Rusty's former flame Zeta-Jones holds her own with the boys but doesn't have nearly the chemistry with Pitt that Roberts and Clooney exude as marrieds Danny and Tess. Actually Roberts almost steals Twelve away from the guys: she gets to show off her comedic abilities in one of the film's most hysterical sequences which involves real-life movie stars and Fabergé eggs. As far as the rest of the gang they all are back and raring to go including Damon who comes off as even more green and eager as Linus and the hilarious bickering Malloy brothers played brilliantly by Scott Caan and Casey Affleck. As for the villains Garcia's Benedict has very little do leaving most of the malevolent posturing and stylish good looks to French actor Cassel (Birthday Girl) as the crafty Night Fox.
With one of the keenest eyes in the business director Steven Soderbergh is a pro at letting audiences experience what seem to be very personal moments in his films. Ocean's Twelve is no exception as we become privy to the locker-room antics of our favorite band of thieves. This makes you as much a part of the boys club as its rowdy stars. Soderbergh describes Twelve as a "movie in which everything goes wrong from the get-go " whereas everything went right in Eleven. This allows for some wonderful comic scenes such as Roberts' escapade and the quick-witted exchanges between the boys. Upon finding out that the gang is now called "Ocean's Eleven" safecracker Frank (Bernie Mac) exclaims "Who decided that? I'm a private contractor!" The film's inherent problems come from George Nolfi's screenplay which tries to incorporate the whole "greatest thief in America meets the greatest thief in Europe" idea. Suddenly Twelve becomes less about planning a heist and watching things go wrong than about a cock fight to see which thief can outdo the other thief. At the end when all the convoluted twists are revealed you're left wishing for simpler times.