Even though most of us these days can see awards for the cynical media manipulation they are, we also enjoy the spectacle, stage-managed as it is.
Today almost all of us are hyper-aware of the artifice and sham behind an award, but we don’t care. It’s like a giant televised play for our celebrities to star in, loosely scripted in story, where they ad-lib all the dialogue. In that sense, awards season has become the ultimate celebrity-version of a reality show.
And so now, every year, the campaigns are in full-swing before Thanksgiving. Then, after the Christmas trees are sent to the dump along with the wrapping paper, it begins in earnest. Critics’ Choice, Golden Globes, Indie Spirits, People’s Choice, SAG, Directors Guild, Writers Guild, Producers Guild, BAFTA, and finally, the one that settles it for history, the Oscars.
Watching these celebs, movers and shakers in close proximity in such a compressed time frame is a definite trip behind the curtain, even if you’re watching from home (and maybe even especially so). Behind-the-scenes shows are so Old School. Anything “behind-the-scene” is now the scene itself. Set your DVR and watch Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood and Extra all back-to-back and you will see so much awards-intimacy it will start to feel like home movies.
And, yet, through it all, there are two shows that count. January’s Golden Globe Awards and February’s Academy Awards and everything else is just everything else.
Of course, people decry every year that the Golden Globe Awards don’t deserve to be important because it’s a meaningless award. But we also know that the Hollywood Foreign Press crowd’s show is actually one of the best parties of the year surrounded by an entire system of satellite parties. And this year, literally back by popular demand for a third time, there’s Ricky Gervais smack-dab in the middle of it, doing his live global high-wire act after last year’s “he’ll never work in this town again” first time out. No pressure there. The question with this one — if you like Hollywood and movies and the awards season reality show — isn’t whether you’ll watch, but how is it possible not to watch this one?
If Hollywood were some dysfunctional family unit, then Ricky Gervais is the crazy drunk uncle who comes to your house and tells inappropriate jokes that horrify and crack everybody up in equal measure. You don’t know whether to throw him out or tolerate him, until he crosses the line and says something about grandma’s nasty bathroom habits, and when he gets called on it, he’s had too much to drink already, and he storms off to the nearest hotel to sleep it off. Then, the next year, you all assume he should never be re-invited, but the memories have dimmed of the off-color jokes and all you remember is how much fun you had.
Then we have the Academy Awards.
This season’s Oscar telecast has been problematic from the start. Brett Ratner got himself fired, Ratner’s choice of host Eddie Murphy took a walk when their movie tanked, and the Academy hired Brian Grazer who made the safest choice he’s ever made and hired Billy Crystal to host for the ninth time in his career.
In our Hollywood family, Billy Crystal, in contrast to Ricky Gervais, is the really funny older brother or family friend who tells great stories, knows a couple of magic tricks for the kids, can lead with “Happy Birthday” or “Hava Nagila” when called upon and, when the kids are out of earshot, is renowned for his annual telling of some off-color joke that is perfectly calibrated to shock but not really offend anyone. You know he won’t cross the line, really, because he’s a good guest — he’s come to the last eight dinners and each one was a warm memory, even if you can’t quite remember one from the other. They all kind of blend together but he’s so nice and, besides, he’ll show up even if you ask him late because that cute guy from the office can’t make it after all. He’s Jay Leno-safe, except that he can also sing and dance.
When it comes to hosting, most people have more anticipation for Britain’s cheekiest export to the United States, Ricky Gervais than America’s aging funny man, Billy Crystal. Gervais could show up drunk or tank or soar, it’s unknown. But Crystal has had a lot of practice. He’ll get the job done.