Two years ago, the Oscars crossed the line from Annual Guilty Pleasure into Annual Torturous Ritual, and by the look of things last night, that’s where it’s planting its feet. The main issue I raised in this space about last year’s telecast remains unsolved, namely that apparently no one running the thing actually comprehends why people watch the show in the first place. (HINT: Because they love movies and the people who’ve made them great. It’s not rocket science, folks.)
Once again, we get a bare minimum of movie clips, save for a stingy sprinkling of them throughout the well-produced In Memoriam segment and a half-hearted James Bond montage. Oh, and were any of the Bonds of the last fifty years even in attendance? Or the directors? The producers? If so, could they have maybe been pointed out? And if not, why not? Once again, the arguably most important and poignant segments of past telecasts — the special awards for lifetime contributions and humanitarianism — were given out in a previous, separate show altogether, which was then compressed into an ultra-brief montage and some wordless reaction shots of the recipients.
Why? Because efficiency! Gotta keep the show zipping along so the viewers don’t get bored, right? Except, of course, the show still went long, still felt even longer, and devoid of the few pearls that made the show watchable in past years, was more boring than ever, and boy howdy, is that saying something.
Comparing this year’s show to the previous two is like contemplating which type of rotten fruit you’d rather eat. How was Seth? Seth was fine. Seth wasn’t the problem. Like previous Oscar hosts Jon Stewart, Chris Rock and David Letterman, Seth suffered the misfortune of being an “edgy” choice for a show that has zero interest in actually being edgy. All you get out of that is a guy sheepishly delivering the type of hokey material that they have built an entire career ridiculing. That’s why Billy Crystal (and before him, Johnny Carson) were such ideal choices for this gig; not that they were so hilariously brilliant at it; it’s that they were exactly as square as the material was supposed to be.
I doubt he’ll be returning, but Seth was hardly the “WORST OSCAR HOST EVER!!!” as Nikki Finke had already decided long before he’d even stepped on stage. He wasn’t the right guy for this, but more to the point, regardless of who had been hosting, the show was pure, tedious crap, its few memorable moments being the rousing closing moments of the musical performances of Jennifer Hudson and the legendary Shirley Bassey. The show’s theme, incidentally, was musicals. Why, you ask? Because it was a big year for musicals, wasn’t it? There was a whopping… one! And it was awful. And in the previous years of five Best Picture nominees, it would have never made the cut.
But whatever, the show’s theme was musicals, as carefully selected by producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, known best as the producers of previous BP winner Chicago, which they took great pains to remind us was celebrating its tenth anniversary, stopping just short of plugging the inevitable tenth anniversary DVD. Because they’re classy.
I still don’t get why the show is so hopelessly underwritten. It’s once a year, people. It’s a ten-minute monologue, a funny song or two, and maybe fifteen ultra-brief award intros. Your average late-night talk show goes through more material than that every day, four or five days a week, and it’s usually at least sort of good. But this was awful. Honestly, if you’ve been hired to write an awards show, and you can’t come up with a way for the likes of Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy to be amusing for thirty seconds, you should return all your paychecks and quit the business. I’m serious, it was that fucking bad. Those two in particular felt as if they’d both decided, independently of each other, to ignore the Teleprompter and just ad-lib something, but not bothered to tell each other. Try to watch it without cringing.
So that was the show. As for the awards themselves? Nothing to complain about, but no great upsets or triumphs either. All the winning actors were the best elements of their respective movies: Silver Linings went from nearly unwatchable to amiably diverting once Jennifer Lawrence entered it; Anne Hathaway’s big number was practically the only reason to see Les Miz; Christoph Waltz pretty much owned Django Unchained; and DDL was pre-ordained for the Oscar from the moment he was cast.
Tech awards for Les Miz, Lincoln and Life of Pi seemed appropriate enough, particularly the special effects for Pi, a movie I didn’t care for but will gladly concede that it gave good fake tiger.
And the rest of the awards were neatly and fairly divided among the other major nominees: Ang Lee’s visually spectacular (if heavy-handed and dramatically thin) Life of Pi bests Spielberg’s stately but stagy Lincoln; Amour deservedly gets Foreign Film but cedes Original Screenplay to Tarantino (who still, eighteen years later, is mind-bogglingly incompetent at giving Oscar acceptance speeches); Zero Dark Thirty, still battered by the controversy over its torture fact-fudging, is forced to settle for a lone technical award (and tying for it at that).
And the rest goes to Argo, a well-liked, perfectly competent non-fiction (well, half-fiction) thriller that manages to give America in general and Hollywood in particular a hearty pat on the back, which is no mean feat for a movie about the Iran Hostage Crisis, so it seems like a rather obvious choice now. In my prognostications, I’d been leaning toward a Lincoln victory, only because of the non-nomination of Affleck’s direction, which remains puzzling. In any case, Argo, which I don’t consider quite the masterpiece others do, was certainly in the upper tier of the BP nominations, so no complaints there.
Best moment of the show? Drawing from some very thin gruel, but I guess I’ll go with when Sean Fine, the co-winner of Best Short Documentary (for Inocente) made a lovely comment on the importance of supporting artists, and managed to do so before getting cut off by the obnoxious Jaws music. Seriously, though, there were more classic movie clips in the pre-show than in the actual show. What the hell do we have to do to get the old Oscars back? I swear, if I thought it would do any good, I’d even sit through Les Miz again.*