The Best of America V.1 - 2011 Oscars Edition
As for the column, expect a mixture of pop culture, sports, arts, entertainment and technology -- basically anything that catches my attention during the week.
Think of it as the hypothetical love child of SI.com's Extra Mustard and VH1's Best Week Ever with Dave Grohl as the kid's godfather and Flava Flav as his wacky uncle. (No, you don't get a complementary clock necklace for reading this. You can buy one here for $15, though.)
The theme of Volume 1 of Best of is the Oscars, but there's some other stuff mixed in as well.
Let's get into it.
Best Oscar highlight: Anne Hathaway and James Franco's 'Inception' spoof
Hands down the high point of the night -- and the show had barely even started.
Not only was Franco in his element (acting is his strong suit, not live TV), the producers also brought in some top notch guests (Alec Baldwin and Morgan Freeman) and incorporated scenes from The Social Network, The Fighter and The King's Speech.
The idea of hacking into Baldwin's dreams was genius, and paying homage to Back to the Future was an inspired choice too.
More moments like this one and Hathaway's anti-Hugh Jackman song and this would have been a top-notch Oscars (rather than a mediocre one).
Side note: How is there not higher quality video of this sketch on YouTube? NBA highlights are posted in HD before the game is even over. I guess we're spoiled in the basketball blogosphere. We have @jose3030. Still, I can't believe the best the web has to offer is the shaky, blurry abomination below. Step up your game, entertainment bloggers.
Best moment: Natalie Portman winning Best Actress
As tempted as I am to go with Melissa Leo's F-bomb (more on that later), I have to say Portman winning Best Actress was the coolest moment of the night.
I know Portman's been selling out lately to pay for her unborn baby's college fund (No Strings Attached, anyone?), but she's had a good career and I was happy to see her win. Anybody who has a sketch like this (NSFW) on her resume deserves good things to happen to her.
I didn't see Black Swan, but I can only imagine it was the lesbian scene with Mila Kunis that put Portman over the edge with the Oscar voters.
Think about it. As good as she's been in just about everything, what times has Portman been nominated for an Academy Award? Black Swan and Closer. The two roles where she gets down.
I'm telling you. It's not a coincidence. Oscar voters like that kind of thing. They reward it all the time -- right, Halle Berry?
Hopefully, Scarlett Johansson is taking notes.
Portman side note No. 1: How scary is Portman's memory? She rattled off the names of everybody involved with Black Swan -- from her makeup person to the caterer (okay, not the caterer but you get the idea) -- like she had seen them all that morning. It was uncanny. I can't even remember what day of the week it is half the time, let alone the name of my makeup assistant.
Side note No. 2: I don't care if it's weird, I think Portman looks good pregnant. Yeah, I said it. She's still hot -- just like Jessica Alba was still hot when she was pregnant. Some people can pull it off. She's one of them.
Side note No. 3: Oscar or no Oscar, there's no way in hell I'm going to watch Thor. Sorry, Anthony Hopkins.
Easy choice considering sleepwalker James Franco was involved -- I can't believe the Oscar producers picked him to do a live show. Don't they know he's stoned 80 percent of the time?
Hathaway looked good. She cracked jokes. She sang. And she looked comfortable all the way through the show -- something Franco painfully never achieved.
She did an awesome job. Between this and the sex scenes in Love and Other Drugs, her stock has never been higher in my book.
Maybe next year they'll pair her with somebody with actual hosting chops -- like, say, Alec Baldwin.
Best presenter: Kirk Douglas
Douglas was far and away the most entertaining presenter Sunday night. The guy is 94 years old, and he was still the biggest ladies man in the house. First, he put the moves on Hathaway -- "I wish they had you around when I was making movies." Then, Best Supporting Actress winner Melissa Leo -- "You look a lot better tonight than you did in The Fighter."
In between, Spartacus stole the show by prolonging the winner's announcement not once but twice and horsing around with his cane during the envelope exchange -- I'm not sure what that game was that he played with his handler, but it was awesome. So awesome that he was a trending topic on Twitter.
I hope I have half his energy when I'm 94.
Best unintentionally funny moment: Melissa Leo's F-bomb
I'm about 98 percent sure Melissa Leo expected not to win Best Supporting Actress because when she got up to the stage she was a mess.
Not only did she fumble her way through the first third of her acceptance speech, she also dropped a completely unecessary (yet completely awesome) F-bomb.
Even Cyndi Lauper on the Celebrity Apprentice was more composed.
"Yeah, I am kind of speechless; golly sakes, there's people up there too," Leo said. "When I watched Kate two years ago, it looked so f---ing easy!"
Leo later explained that the slip up was a vocabulary thing. She uses F-bombs all the time. She got excited. She couldn't help herself.
That's a lame excuse, but I can't say I blame her. I nearly dropped an F-bomb on live radio Thursday. It happens. You just have to go with it.
At least she's getting some good press out of it.
King's Speech wasn't exactly a runaway winner -- it won four Oscars -- but it did win more awards than any other movie this year, which I thought was a bit unjustified.
Don't get me wrong. I saw King's Speech. It was good. Colin Firth was excellent in it. Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter were too. It just wasn't that good, especially when it came to winning Best Director.
What did Tom Hooper do that another director couldn't have done?
He had great actors and great subject matter (which had been conveniently sitting in reserve for the last 25 years until the Queen Mother died). I'm sure he did a good job along the way, but is what he accomplished really more impressive than what Christopher Nolan did with Inception?
I say no.
Inception created a whole new world, a whole new dynamic. Nobody had explored the world of dream sequences like that before -- not in that way anyway. And Nolan was responsible for all parts of the movie: writing, directing, producing. He didn't just direct Inception, he created it fully. And it was a great effing movie.
For him to leave empty handed on Oscar night was a crime.
Hooper's win was the equivalent of Mike Brown winning Coach of the Year in 2009. Brown had LeBron James. Hooper had Firth, Rush and a great script from David Seidler, a deserving Oscar winner himself.
Hooper steered a ready-made boat safely into port. Nolan built his from scratch and did the same.
He deserved more credit for what Inception accomplished. I think future projects from both directors will prove who should have won the award Sunday night (and, in Nolan's case, who should have been nominated in the first place).
Okay. Enough Oscar talk. Let's talk about something else...
Best new rock: Young the Giant
Young the Giant is a SoCal band that formed in high school and recently broke onto the radio scene with their single "My Body." They mix anthemic songs like "Body" with lower key stuff like "Cough Syrup" and "Apartment."
It's all catchy as hell, though. Lead singer Sameer Gadhia is phenomenal.
I can't tell you what chords they play or who their influences are, but I can tell you this: this band is really good. They've been in my head all weekend.
Best new hip-hop: Dr. Dre, Eminem & Skylar Grey - I Need a Doctor
What can I say? I'm a sucker for Eminem-Dre collaborations. They're the Scorsese-DiCaprio of hip-hop -- only Scorsese isn't beefed up on steroids and DiCaprio isn't a recovering addict (not that we know of anyway).
"I Need a Doctor" is right up there with "Forgot About Dre" as an homage-paying, vitriol-spewing anthem. Eminem gets the first two verses and kills it. Then Dre comes in with Black Mamba-like venom, skewering everybody not named Mathers.
It's equal parts love (for each other) and hatred (for the world at large), I Love You, Man with a murder spree subplot.
Skylar Grey (a.k.a. Holly Brook, the girl who sang the chorus on Fort Minor's "Where'd You Go?") sings the hook with conviction and makes a cool, apparition-like appearance in the music video, which is also really well done (see below).
This song makes me forget "Crack a Bottle" ever happened. And that's a good thing.
Hopefully the rest of Detox is just as good.
Best Jersey Shore moment: Mike sending 'the Meatballs' to NYC
Usually, I find The Situation about as bearable as a night with Roseanne Barr. Fame has touched him. He's annoying and plays to the camera every chance he gets. (It probably doesn't help that his ego's being fueled by a reported $5 million a year salary.)
Occasionally, though, Sitch'll break through with a hilarious moment, like when he sent Snooki and Deena on a cab ride to Times Square on Thursday's show.
Snooks and Deena, the so-called "Meatballs," inexplicably decided to put marshmallow-sized balls of dough all around the house. They put them on mirrors, walls, countertops; they even put one on the duck phone. It was the lamest prank ever but of course they thought it was hilarious.
Mike found out about it and, out of retaliation, offered to call them a cab to a local club, only to turn around and pay the driver to take them to New York City. I would've sent them all the way down to Miami, the way they were acting. But, hey, I guess he was feeling nice.
Anyway, the cabs showed up and the girls got in.
Once they reached the Turnpike they started freaking out and bouncing around the back of the cab like Mexican jumping beans. The driver kept driving and they kept shrieking in a routine that repeated itself all the way to the outskirts of the city, where they capped off the first leg of the trip with, what else?, a run to the liquor store.
By the time they got back, it was too late to go out but they were hammered and pretended like they had had a great time to spite Mike, who could've cared less. The whole thing was high comedy. It was almost enough to make me forget Sammi's impending return to the house.
Next week's gonna get real interesting...in a pouty Ronnie, whiny Sammi kind of way.
I liked it better when she was back at home.
Speaking of Jersey, how bout that Deron Williams?
Over the course of his first two games with the Nets, D-Will is averaging 14.5 points and 14.5 assists; nearly doubling previous point guard Devin Harris' dimes per game average.
Still, the Nets lost both games handily (106-96 to the Spurs on Friday and 123-108 to the Rockets on Saturday). Williams' presence has hardly mattered in the win column.
On Friday, I rated New Jersey's acquisition of Williams as the league's best trade deadline move over at SLAM. The rating had more to do with what the trade symbolized for New Jersey -- a return to relevancy and a capacity to bring in star players -- than what it would do for them in the immediate future.
Seeing the Nets' early struggles with Williams at the helm has me reconsidering a bit, though. Not that I expected them to be great right out of the gate. Every big move comes with a reasonable adjustment period. Basketball is like life. You don't just move houses or enter a new relationship and have things go smoothly right away.
Then again, you see what the Knicks are accomplishing across the way with Carmelo Anthony and you have to wonder: will the Nets ever get the right pieces around D-Will?
Within 'Melo's first week in New York, he has already led them to two wins, one of which was a "signature victory" over the Heat in Miami Sunday night.
Like I said, it's too early to make definitive judgments, but early indications are that I was wrong to give the Nets a trade deadline edge over the Knicks.
Best Cam Newton-related opinion column: Dan Graziano, "Cam Newton Shouldn't Change for Us, the NFL or Anybody"
AOL Fanhouse is about to be absorbed into The Sporting News, thus taking away roughly a hundred jobs -- one of which happens to belong to senior NFL writer Dan Graziano, which is too bad because Graziano wrote a helluva column this week about Cam Newton.
While others were grousing about Newton's ego and his outsized sense of self-entitlement, Graziano was pushing a different message: do you.
If Newton's modus operandi is to be confident and boast, then do that, Graziano says. It means he believes in himself. NFL teams should like that about him.
"Newton is confident," Graziano writes. "He is engaging. He has a superstar's smile and a well-earned belief in himself that should make teams feel better, not worse, about making him their quarterback. He wears the mistakes of his past with a grown-up's wisdom and perspective. He has all the makings of a potential icon, and an entertaining one. The only thing telling this kid not to strive to be awesome is the stodgy old NFL establishment that recoils against anything and anybody who's off-script. Newton should shrug it off and keep scrambling out of the pocket en route to greatness."
I don't 100 percent agree with what Graziano has to say here -- self belief can be good, yes, but it can also be dangerous to things like team chemistry and preparation if its not tempered properly. Still, I appreciate his take. It's refreshing.
He flipped the idea of ego on its head and turned it into a positive, which is insightful -- how do you think Ben Roethlisberger has been able to win two Super Bowls? It's not because he's a nice guy, right?
With a situation like Newton's, it's easy to take the popular approach: He's an asshole. He thinks too much of himself. He's not going to succeed.
But the popular approach is rarely as insightful or illuminating as the alternative.
Graziano could be right about Newton. He could also be wrong, and the masses right.
Either way, I think it's cool that he took a different approach. It gave me a different perspective on the situation, and I appreciate that.
Hopefully, Graziano will have work waiting for him when Fanhouse folds on March 1.
Best Google spoof: The Google Toilet
There isn't much to say about this one other than to congratulate the good people over at Current on a job well done.
A Google toilet that analyzes your shit and makes advertising suggestions based on the results? Pure genius, my friends. Watch below.
Best pioneer of wedding crashing: Louis Zamperini
You've probably heard of Zamperini. His book, or rather Laura Hillenbrand's book about him ("Unbroken"), has been No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list for weeks.
His life is one worthy of four lifetimes. He has so many tales of adventure and near-death experiences you'd think he'd made it up if the evidence wasn't right there staring you in the face.
I had the good fortune of meeting Louis on Wednesday. He spoke at a class I'm TAing for at USC (his alma mater). He shared his story and answered questions and professed his love for Matt Barkley (no, seriously, he's a huge fan).
Having represented his country so outstandingly in a number of different ways (Olympian, soldier of war, ambassador), there's no doubt 93-year-old Zamperini is one of our greatest living heroes.
He was also a pioneer in another way, though. He was a trailblazer in the field of wedding crashing.
He and his buddy were Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson before their time.
After he returned safely from a Japanese prison camp, Zamperini was given an expenses paid vacation to Miami. While he was there, he crashed the finest weddings the city had to offer. He and his buddy would simply dress up in their finest suits, stake out the doorway for info about the bride and groom, and walk right in as if they owned the place.
When people questioned their connection to the bride or groom, he and his friend would tell the truth. They weren't related to anyone. They were just crashing.
The other guests loved it.
In fact, that's how Louis met his wife, Norma. He crashed a private beach, told her he was crashing and wound up convincing her to go on a date with him. Soon after they were married.
It's hard to imagine a movie like Wedding Crashers being based on a 93-year-old, torch-carrying war hero, but Zamperini paved the way for wedding crashing -- whether he's credited for it or not.
Until next week...