“And the Oscar Goes To . . . ” screens Wednesday at Eastgate and Sundance Cinemas. Not rated, 1:35, two and a half stars out of four.
You know those movie montages that seem to be included in every Academy Award ceremony, those scattershot “We love movies!” clip collections that never seem to have any theme or coherence to them? (The “hero” montage from last month’s Oscars, which shoehorned everyone from Iron Man to Atticus Finch, comes to mind.)
The documentary “And the Oscar Goes To . . .” is sort of like that, trying to range across 75 years of Academy Awards and most of the categories in around an hour and a half. The film by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (“Howl”) is a hodgepodge of backstage footage, A-list celebrity interviews, historical context and clips and clips and clips. Yet, perhaps inevitably, just like a favorite moment from a favorite film will surface in a montage, there’s enough good moments in here to make it worthwhile for an Oscar buff.
But is it ten dollars worthwhile? “And the Oscar Goes To . . .” was first broadcast in February on Turner Classic Movies, and now is coming to movie theaters for one night only. It seems a little odd to make people pay to see something they could still have on their DVR, but whatever.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has always been very careful about protecting and preserving its image, and one of the valuable things about the film is that it lets some air and light into the Oscars. And not all the attention is positive — the Academy originally started as sort of a bulwark for the studios against the encroachments of unions in Hollywood, only later becoming a place to honor good work. And the Academy’s complicity in Sen. Joe McCarthy’s Red Scare and the Hollywood blacklist is disgraceful — when “Bridge on the River Kwai” won best screenplay in 1957, the award instead went to the author of the source novel, Pierre Boulle, because the screenwriters were on the blacklist. It was if they never existed.
But of course the film is mostly positive, as an array of stars (Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Cher, Billy Crystal, Benicio Del Toro, and Helen Mirren) talk about what it’s like to be at the Oscars, both in the seats and backstage. There are great backstage stories, such as Jim Carrey and Nicolas Cage getting absolutely tongue-tied before Sophia Loren, and a wealth of backstage footage, such as a giddy Anthony Hopkins after his “Silence of the Lambs” win.
The film also spends some valuable time explaining what some of those early-evening categories actually are, such as Best Art Direction or Best Editing. (In 60 seconds, I learned more about film editing than I ever did from an Oscar broadcast.)
There’s also some talk, both humorous and serious, over whether it makes sense to turn moviemaking into a competition. The reason most of the comedy is contained in the first half of the broadcast is because, as writer Bruce Vilanch puts it, the room “fills up with losers” as the evening goes on who aren’t much in a mood to laugh. Mirren, while delighted by her win, acknowledges that awarding one performance over another is “kind of wrong.” But she’ll keep it.
The definitive movie about the Oscars has yet to be made. But “And the Oscar Goes To . . .” goes some way towards demystifying the secretive Academy and giving a sense of what it’s really like to be there, your head in a little box along with four other nominees, waiting for the envelope to be open. The Oscars are a highly flawed way to celebrate the movies, but they do still celebrate them, and if a gold statuette gets someone into the theater to see “12 Years a Slave” or to their video store to rent “To Kill a Mockingbird,” it’s hard to complain.