The 84th Annual Oscars are now history. There were few real surprises. Oh sure, Meryl Streep finally broke her 30 year string of losses with a Best Actress win for “The Iron Lady”, after everyone, including her, seemed to believe that it was Viola Davis’ year. And “Hugo” pulled a big upset over “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” besting it in the special effects category. As great as “Hugo” is, it didn’t deserve to win there. (Every ape was a CGI effect and that beat any train effect!) But the real surprise, year in and year out, is how dull the Oscars show is. With the amazing amount of resources in Tinseltown, why can’t they put on a truly wonderful show? Is it that hard to do something fresh, funny and relevant?
This year, we not only got Billy Crystal’s 9th time as emcee, we get so many of the same old gags he’s always done, that it felt like a show from the early 90’s when he started to host. Once again he inserts himself into movie clips, and sings a song that parodies the Best Picture nominees, and quips with lines that sound like Catskill leftovers. (Really, a joke about the French being joyless? After what they gave us this year with “The Artist”?) Some of his one-liners were sharp, like the topical references to Kodak’s bankruptcy but too much of his material felt phoned in from decades before.
Maybe because movies like Best Picture nominees like “The Artist”, “Hugo” and “Midnight in Paris” salute the past, it was appropriate that the Oscars seemed so retro. But other than turning the theater into a classic movie palace from the 1920’s, I don’t think nostalgia did the show any favors. Most of the tried and true formula that worked in past years felt utterly stale this year. With all the talent in Hollywood, why bring out Ben Stiller to once again do his droll exasperation bit as a presenter? Why serve up corny, over-produced dance numbers from troupes like Cirque du Soleil that have nothing to do with the industry? And why show the same ‘greatest hits’ clips package of old Oscar winners again and again and again?
Of course when Oscar tries to jazz things up and get a little edgy, the results are often just as bad. The Robert Downey Jr. & Gwyneth Paltrow bit was grating and went on and on. The recurring documentary bits with actors talking about movies seemed woefully sexist due to a shockingly low number of actresses represented in it. (Were there any actresses interviewed except for Gabby Sidibe?) Even when the Oscars exhibit some fresh thinking, like keeping the “In Memoriam” segment simple with only still photographs, they ruin it halfway through by introducing film clips.
I don’t know what they pay a host, or the writers, or any of the other folks hired on to put together a show, but I’m sure they don’t come cheap. So why does the show always feel like it was slapped together in a week? You’d think with the size of the worldwide audience the telecast reaches, the Academy would feel obligated to bring together great minds to create the most prestigious of all award shows, but clearly that isn’t the case. Why is it that Jimmy Kimmel’s writers can do such a sharp and contemporary spoof after the Oscars like they did with this year’s “Movie: The Movie” skit? Why aren’t those guys hired for an Academy Awards telecast?
At least the speeches were roundly entertaining. Christopher Plummer is a born raconteur. The winners from “The Artist” are always genuinely delightful. And almost every below-the-line winner gave a tight and clever thank you. And none had to be played off either. If they can all be cogent and clever, why can’t the people who put the Oscars show together?
It wasn’t the worst Oscar show ever. Nothing this year came close to the cringe-worthiness of Rob Lowe singing with Snow White, or last year’s debacle with Anne Hathaway and James Franco. But who thought the “Wizard of Oz” focus group bit was a gem? Who approved the introduction of the lead acting nominees the same way they have been presented for the last few years? And for God’s sake, who was minding the control booth? How could anyone let that distracting microphone feedback plague the first two hours of the show?
Why is it that the Tony Awards are almost always brilliantly entertaining and deft? Is the talent pool in the Broadway theater community more stunning than that in Hollywood? I doubt it, but at least the Tony people don’t repeat so much of the same shtick year in and year out. Perhaps the Academy should concern itself less with trying to bring in a younger viewing audience, and more with simply trying to put on the best show possible. That means giving the six talented women from “Bridesmaids” something to talk about other than male anatomy. That means resisting superfluous dance segments. And that means not missing a golden opportunity to bring the crowd-pleasing Uggie from “The Artist” onstage to do something truly special. Good thing the filmmakers of “The Artist” knew what to do with him. Now if only the Academy would hire some equally visionary artists to turn their show into a truly stunning entertainment event.