You’d think after 83 years, they’d finally have learned how to do it. But, no, as the Oscar broadcast last Sunday proved, the folks who make the hard decisions on how to show off the best films of the year still haven’t figured out how to make the telecast interesting, let alone riveting.
This year’s dud was almost doomed from the start, as the producers selected two co-hosts who had never done any hosting of any kind and were, other than being eminently attractive from a physical perspective, virtually devoid of comic impulses or, for that matter, anything that might qualify as a uniquely engaging personality.
The problem isn’t a lack of talent. Both Anne Hathaway and James Franco have an abundance of talent. Ms. Hathaway even sang briefly—although no clear reason existed for her to have done so (she didn’t even sing one of the nominated songs)—and she displayed a respectable set of pipes in doing so. And Mr. Franco is a fine actor, as his performance in “127 Hours,” for which he received a Best Actor nomination, clearly established.
But as co-hosts, they were about as magical as a rock and a pair of scissors. Suffice to say, other than the half dozen or so gowns Ms. Hathaway wore over the course of the show’s three-and-a-half hours (yes, she is beautiful, but so are half the starlets in Hollywood) and the occasional smile Mr. Franco managed to crack, they were a big step down from Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin (last year’s co-hosts), who were hardly worthy of a return engagement themselves.
But let’s move on, because the co-hosts were really only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what was wrong with this show. In fact, once the clever opening montage showing them interacting in scenes from the real best picture nominees was over, it was all pretty much snooze-time for the viewers.
When the highlight of your show is the ad-libs delivered by a 94-year old recovered stroke victim, you probably don’t have what would be considered a successful production. And that’s taking nothing away from Kirk Douglas, who was really great as he went through his routine (that included not announcing the winner in the best supporting actress category for several minutes, instead pretending to have something else to say while the audience howled in laughter).
When Kirk finally did get around to giving the award to Melissa Leo (for her great performance in “The Fighter”) the viewers got another surprising moment (maybe the last of the evening), as, midway through an otherwise forgettable acceptance speech, she dropped an F-bomb. The audio of the shocking word was covered with silence by the network censors, but what she had said was obvious.
Thereafter, everyone was on their best behavior, even including Charles Ferguson, the maker of the Best Documentary-winning “Inside Job” (a truly outstanding film about the economic meltdown of 2008), who actually apologized in advance for making one very mild and completely unobjectionable quasi-political comment at the start of his acceptance speech. Later, another winner made a single word reference to unions, which was as close as these folks were going to get to real world events.
No, this was not the year, apparently, to speak up for a political position, or to otherwise be relevant to the rest of the world. And that lack of courage, if that’s the right word, was also evident in the selection of the best picture of the year. “The King’s Speech” is a good film, maybe even a very good one, but it isn’t a film that will resonate years from now as “Black Swan” or “The Social Network” or “The Kids Are All Right” or even “The Fighter” most probably will.
The Academy Awards are a relic of an earlier time, a time when movie stars were worshipped by the masses and when movies were the exciting new form of entertainment in a country that wanted to own the medium.
Now, the Oscars are just a chance to see all the beautiful women dressed in gowns that they hope will enhance their beauty (they rarely do) and to hear countless thank yous to a long list of people few viewers have ever heard of.
Here are a couple of suggestions to next year’s producers:
o Skip all but the acting, screenplay, directing and best picture awards. Just list the others in a press release. Eliminating the forgettable acceptance speeches by the winners of those technical awards will free up a lot of time.
o Omit anything that resembles live entertainment (excepting any song that Randy Newman wants to introduce and sing). Eliminating the songs and dances will also free up a lot of time.
o Omit all “banter” between any presenters or co-hosts. Eliminating the wooden jokes that aren’t funny in most instances, and aren’t funny enough in those few when they elicit a mild chuckle, will free up still more time.
o With all that extra free time, show large chunks of the nominated films. Instead of just a snippet here and a snatch there, show full scenes, running five minutes or so, to give the viewers a real sense of how great those movies are.
You are supposed to be celebrating the great works of cinematic art from the year just past. You are supposed to be proud of your craft. You are supposed to be in the business of attracting customers to the theaters that show your creations. Use the show to excite your viewers about the work you actually are all about.