Photo: 20th Century Fox

Is And The Oscar Goes To... Documentary Gold?

TCM's history of the Academy Awards is quite winning.

"Just what we need -- another clipumentary in which Hollywood not only celebrates itself but celebrates celebrating itself." I thought the exact same thing, but I also like to see all the old outfits, and Turner Classic Movies loves the genre while understanding what side its bread is buttered on, so I gave it a shot.

Worthwhile Show Attempted: TCM's And The Oscar Goes To… doc

Topic: The history of the Academy Awards (and a fond kickoff to TCM's "31 Days of Oscar").

How Far I Expected To Get: I had no expectation; it really depended on how slavish the film was in its devotion to its subject, and how repetitive the archival materials and interviews felt compared to, say, Boffo!: Tinseltown's Bombs and Blockbusters. This isn't exactly unexplored territory, and one of George Clooney's talents is to make the same Bob-Hopeful gentle jokes fresh even if he's used the line a dozen times -- but this documentary nerd is probably going to have heard it five of those times. Then again, the filmmakers also made The Celluloid Closet, and I was riveted by that one.

When It Won Me Over

2:52 (of 90 mins)

What Did It: A red-carpet interviewer asking Jon Voight if the awkward brace-face daughter he brought as his date would become an actress, and Angelina Jolie whinnying that she didn't think so. She's so little, and regular!

I kept watching, of course, and it's not breaking any new ground, but there's really something to be said for a solidly built history with an expertly appealing narrator like Anjelica Huston. Etheline Tenenbaum has a perfect voice for the topic, silvery as celluloid, and she understands her position as an inheritor of a certain mantle and doesn't resent it.

Watching it on mute is an equally valid choice -- Cher alone; what is with that porch-furniture-fabric bikini contraption she wore as a presenter that one year? -- but then you'll miss quotes like Jason Reitman calling the post-nominations "like your bar mitzvah times a million." And I always like the factoids and bits of trivia, even if I suspect I've heard them before: Claudette Colbert being taken off a train to accept her Oscar; Diablo Cody talking about how she learned to structure Juno (I hate that film, and Cody tends to annoy me, but her adapting a very simple shape from Ghost World made me think better of both); Phil Alden Robinson describing how he "moved" the father in Field of Dreams to give us a goose, and yes, I may have Pavloved a few tears at that moment.

The best part of And The Oscar Goes To…, for me, isn't revisiting decorated films I love. It's how it digs into the films I didn't love, that I dismissed or hammered on as shitty or whatever, and gets me to think twice about them, or at least put in a few "but"s and "I'll say this for it"s.

Also, Frank Capra was kind of cute? Learn somethin' new every day.

Worth Taking A Run At It? Definitely. And The Oscar Goes To… takes the historical part of its mandate seriously, and as a result, it's a lot of fun. It's all the best parts of the in-ceremony montages and the actors-about-actors talking heads, but with far more enjoyable proportions of regard to self-regard.

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