Running down the 85-year history of the Academy Awards in little more than 90 minutes, the new Turner Classic Movies documentary “And the Oscar Goes to … ” offers few if any revelations. By default, what counts as disclosure is the gossamer gown worn by Cher in 1988. Back then, she was announced as the “winner” of the best actress prize rather than a mere recipient, as current standards of delicacy at Hollywood’s annual ode to itself apparently demand.
Fascinating? Of course not. But who cares? The flimsy fabric of “And the Oscar Goes to … ” suits the subject of shallow stargazing as perfectly as a Bob Mackie original fits the lead actress of “Moonstruck,” a film now largely forgotten. Available for streaming on TCM’s website through Monday, the doc makes for an enjoyably fluffy pregame show, or a day-after postmortem.
Co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (“Lovelace”) combine teary and/or wacky acceptance speeches, classic film clips and contemporary interviews with winners and former nominees.
Ellen Burstyn, named best actress in 1975 for her performance in Martin Scorsese’s “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” characterizes the Oscar auditorium as a “roomful of sweat.” Director Jason Reitman says that being nominated, as he was for “Juno” in 2008, is like “your bar mitzvah times a million.” Benicio Del Toro says the Oscar is “like a painkiller.” (Aptly enough, Del Toro won for Steven Soderbergh’s drug war drama “Traffic.”)
Although the doc features backstage footage of award-winning stars meeting the press, it hardly goes behind the scenes. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ founding in 1927 — mainly a means for studio bigwigs to shore up power while workers endeavored to unionize — is scarcely even mentioned. Politics are pretty much limited to a clip of Michael Moore yelling, “Shame on you, Bush!” upon winning the best documentary prize for “Bowling for Columbine” in 2003.
This isn’t to say the film is without merit. Indeed, it provides a glimpse of the teenage Angelina Jolie, braces on her teeth, telling reporters she’s “not really” an actress. Johnny Carson, a popular Oscars host throughout the ’70s, announces seeing a “lot of new faces — especially on the old faces.”
Parodying a Hollywood stereotype out of “Gone With the Wind,” Richard Pryor, co-host of the show in 1977, howls in mock stupidity from the stage: “I’m here tonight to explain why no black people will ever be nominated for anything.” (Sylvester Stallone, whose title character in “Rocky” tragically lost to Apollo Creed in ’76, evidently didn’t appreciate the joke.)
Epstein and Friedman clearly go gaga for Oscar, although, in a brief passage, they do plenty to undercut the credibility of the awards with their list of filmmaking geniuses — Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Charlie Chaplin, Robert Altman, Howard Hawks and Orson Welles — who never won a trophy as best director.
Also notable on VOD
Among nominated films available on demand is the already classic “12 Years a Slave,” now available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video, and for rent starting Tuesday.
Amazingly, Netflix has four of the five nominated documentary features on demand, including “Dirty Wars,” director Richard Rowley’s shocking dispatch from the front lines of the war on terror. (The fifth nominated doc, “20 Feet From Stardom,” is on HitBliss with ads.)
Nominated only for best cinematography, the Coen brothers’ underappreciated “Inside Llewyn Davis” will be available on VOD starting March 11, as will the more widely honored “American Hustle.”
Italy’s “The Great Beauty” and America’s “Bad Grandpa” are available now; the former is nominated for best foreign film, and the latter for, uh, best makeup and hairstyling.