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Oscars 2012: The Final Word

Art Tiersky - Contributing WriterWhat can one say about such a non-event as the 2012 Oscars? Perhaps not quite that it was “The Most Boring Oscars Ever!!!!,” as Nikki Finke is apparently obligated to say about every Oscarcast. But it repeated many of last year’s awful mistakes and really only improved in one area, and only slightly — replacing two awkwardly paired and ill-advised hosts with one antiquated and overly familiar one.

Was anyone genuinely excited about the return of Billy Crystal?  And if so, why? The man has not done anything interesting on film in several years, and is still skating by on his one shining Oscar event when he made all those Jack Palance jokes on the fly. That was 1991, folks.

But okay, you can’t entirely blame Billy for not giving it the spontaneous zing of past shows, as there was so very little to zing. The Oscar ceremonies have become so fast-paced, mechanical and soulless, they’re barely even worth televising anymore. Was there a single memorable acceptance speech? Comedy bit? Poignant moment? Outfit, even? The material was stuffed with the usual dead weight cliches; apparently even Bruce Vilanch is phoning it in now. My biggest laughs were evoked by Christopher Guest’s filmed Wizard of Oz focus group bit, and even that was mainly laughter of recognition of an ensemble that made a few hilarious movies over a decade ago.

But funny material is far from the most shameful omission. As with last year’s debacle (which arguably may have been “The Most Boring Oscars ever!!!”), what really got left out were the crucial reminders of why we go to the movies, why we love the movies, and why we watch this generally lame show about them ever year. I counted exactly one brief montage of clips (of mostly the same overused batch; did we really need to see “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse” again?), and a couple of ultra-brief ones during the death montage.

In years past, you would get more clips than that before the first award was given out. Seriously, there would be some brilliantly constructed Chuck Workman film that would inspire gasps of joy and recognition throughout. Then later in the show, there would be a gratuitous but fun theme-based montage of some sort, like great comedy scenes or great action sequences of all time. And most importantly, they would award the luminaries in the field, and they would devote the time to it that these folks deserve.

It would start with some contemporary star, coming out and speaking about how important and influential, say, Federico Fellini is to the world of cinema. And half the viewers at home would go, “Ahh, Federico Fellini!” and the other half would go “Who the hell is Federico Fellini?” And this would lead into an extended montage of great Fellini scenes that would make jaws drop in wide wonder, intermingled with other actors’ and crew-members’ testimonials as to the magic genius of Fellini. And then Fellini himself would make an appearance, either live or via satellite, and he would get an instant and well-deserved standing O. He would be quite elderly and frail, but it would be FEDERICO FELLINI getting a few minutes in his golden years to speak to the world as his entire life’s work is celebrated and shown some due appreciation. And yes, the whole segment might take a while, but that’s because it should. It’s that sort of thing that justifies the Oscarcast being such a worldwide spectacle in the first place.

But what’d they do last year and again this year? The combined several-decade careers of Oprah Winfrey, Dick Smith and James Earl Jones (last year’s recipients were even more luminous: Francis Coppola, Eli Wallach and Jean-Luc Godard) were summarized in about, oh, maybe two minutes of clips, including shots of them being given their awards at another show altogether, then they were shuffled onstage… and wordlessly shuffled right off. I am not making this up. I never dreamed I’d see the day when I felt Oprah Winfrey was given short shrift, but here we are.

Look, we all appreciate the impulse to cut back on the flab; no one misses the dance numbers or the obligatory “appearance” of some animated character. (Remember the year Robocop stormed in and shot at Peewee Herman?  Not kidding.) But for crissakes, lifetime awards for the likes of James Earl Jones and Francis Coppola ain’t flab; quite frankly, it’s the opposite of flab.  Cirque du Soleil? I don’t care how amazing those non-film performers are. THAT’S flab.

As for the awards themselves… meh. The Artist dominated the major awards, Hugo the technical ones. Did you really think it would go any other way? Christopher Plummer essentially gets a Lifetime Achievement award for a movie no one saw, and Octavia Spencer wins for… well, I didn’t see that one either, but we all knew she was a lock. Streep wins, not because anyone actually liked Iron Lady, but because it had been so long since she’d won one, like even longer than it’s been since Billy Crystal was relevant. Woody Allen’s win is a “Biggest Comeback” award, because his Midnight in Paris script was so much less crappy than his last fifteen or so. The Descendants gets Adapted Screenplay as a consolation prize; it’s a good script, but the truly deserving one was Moneyball. I’ve only seen two of the Foreign Film nominees, but I can’t imagine the other three are better than A Separation, so that’s all well and good. Ditto Rango for Best Animated. And finally, in the Best Documentary category, the final chapter of one of the greatest documentary franchises of all time, a franchise so powerful and persuasive that it helped get three innocent men out of prison, loses to a movie about a high school football team that apparently wins a lot of games. Whatev’.

Anyway, it’s not the Oscars if you don’t have something to complain about the following morning, but let’s end by expressing our gratitude for a few small favors:

1. No “It’s a Wonderful Night for Oscar” medley. (There were nine Best Picture nominees. That would’ve been the whole first hour);

2. No Debbie Allen choreography;

3. No obligatory Jack-Nicholson-in-sunglasses shots;

4. No James Franco. Anywhere;

5. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close didn’t get diddly.

So there you go, you can take comfort in knowing that even if it had been “The Most Boring Oscars Ever!!!”… sweet Lord, it could have been so much worse.

5 Comments on Oscars 2012: The Final Word

  1. The Oscars were pretty close to perfect this year, with a few notable exceptions. Billy Crystal did a good job under the circumstances, and we are never going to please everyone with his material. The show moved at a rapid pace, which was great to see, and the acceptance speeches were blessedly short (finally) and mainly free of thanking faceless industry insiders for ten minutes at a time. There were enough awkward moments (the Bridesmaids cast were terrible, IMO, but then, I don’t think the Oscars is the place for penis length metaphors…, while Paltrow looked a little flustered in her bit with RDJ) to keep the snarky bloggers happy, but on the whole I think the ceremony achieved all it set out to – it honored the least average films of the year, gave Streep and Plummer career awards and reminded us just how bad James Franco and Anne Hathaway actually were.

    My tip for next year? Robert Downey Jr to host the whole show. Now THAT’s an Oscars I would enjoy!

  2. Great recap and I enjoyed your running commentary on Facebook last night. I especially agree that more time should have been spent on lifetime achievements. BTW, Christopher Plummer’s film, Beginners, was one of my favorites from last year, so I hope that his recognition sends everyone to Netflix or On Demand. Maybe no one saw it, but everyone SHOULD see it!

    • Great fun exchanging barbs with you! Next year, we’re there! Hopefully in the audience. Actually, hopefully not, but invited anyway.

  3. Hey, Art… what a great read… I think post-Oscar deconstructions are a strong suit for you. Let me book you now for next year! BZ

    • Thank ya kindly! I realize I accidentally left out the Makeup win for “Iron Lady”, which I didn’t see but still think it’s kind of strange for that to beat the likes of a “Harry Potter” movie, and I’m not even a Potter fan. Apparently, neither is the Academy.

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