Turner Classic Movies provides so much enjoyment for film buffs one almost hates to identify its occasional shortcomings. But the channel’s feature-length documentary to kick off its annual “31 Days of Oscar” showcase, “And the Oscar Goes to…,” is one of those productions that tries so hard to incorporate everything as to wind up being about nothing. With so many rich angles to explore and a wealth of footage and interviews, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman settle for an assemblage of moments and recollections that don’t add up to much more than a calorie-free stroll down memory lane.
There are a half-dozen different mini-sections within the 95-minute doc, each of which — fleshed out and pumped up — could almost have provided its own solo topic: Great (or terrible) Oscar acceptance speeches and moments, including backstage comments; hosting the Oscars; Oscar-related controversies and politics, such as Marlon Brando declining his award, or Jane Fonda and Michael Moore delivering anti-war messages; the history of the Academy Awards; explaining what lesser-known technical categories actually contribute to a movie; and what the validation of winning an Oscar means to the recipients, and their careers.
Instead, the movie delivers what amounts to a medley of them all, extracting some amusing anecdotes and observations (“It’s your bar mitzvah times a million,” says director Jason Reitman) without giving any one aspect enough time to truly resonate.
Narrated by Anjelica Huston, the filmmakers provide some history of the awards, their relationship with the industry through the years and how the advent of television (NBC initially paid $100,000 for the broadcast rights, a mere pittance versus today) changed them. That evolution, however, is mostly lost amid a lot of misty-eyed reminiscing about what it’s like to hear one’s name called, without going beyond that to, say, what “Moonstruck” meant to Cher once the Oscar glow faded.
As usual, TCM — gearing up for its 20th anniversary celebration — will feature Oscar-winning and nominated films throughout February in conjunction with the awards, and it is touching to see Jane Fonda discuss bringing the Oscar for “On Golden Pond” to her ailing father; or a clip of Hattie McDaniel breaking the color barrier for her role in “Gone With the Wind” — and the other African-American performers who followed — right before showing the movie.
Simply put, though, the audience’s sophistication goes beyond the structure of “And the Oscar Goes to…,” which, for a project about the movie business, suffers from a fundamental and rather glaring flaw: It lacks focus.