Monday, March 3, 2014

So ... About Those Oscars

So let’s talk the Oscars, shall we?

The thing I always find interesting about them has less to do with the awards themselves than with everything surrounding them.

The most obvious of these is the way in which they’ve become the ne plus ultra of awards shows. In my youth, it was one of the few shows – other than sports or news – that was shown live on the west coast. To this day, almost every show is delayed three hours after it’s been seen in the east. In the last few years, we’ve gotten the Emmys and Golden Globe live – followed by a rebroadcast, but almost everything else that isn’t sports is old. (This was particularly egregious during the Olympics, when the prime time events were almost 24 hours old.)

But there must be something about the oversize nature of the movies – from budgets to personalities to screen size – that inflates their importance in our minds.

Now, as I mentioned the other night with the list of worst best picture thing, these lists and awards are, for me, completely subjective. Awards shows might have a bit more credibility in that they’re voted on by a group – although even that group’s standards are arguable (hence the list the other night). The Academy’s awards and assessments really aren’t going to affect my own feelings. If I think “Network” is a better movie than “Rocky,” the latter’s Oscar isn’t going to color my opinion.

I watch the Oscars as I watch all of these shows – with a grain of salt. If someone or something I like wins, it’s nice. If not, well, it’s like Thomas Jefferson’s quote about religion: “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

In years past, I used to get really wrapped up and involved in who won things; the Oscars, World Series, Super Bowls, etc., until one year – I think it was 1979 – when I realized I had no real stake in any of it, and I thought, “why the hell am I so invested in this?” I still have rooting interests in most sports championships, and when a team I have an active rooting interest in (the LA Kings, USC, and especially, my Dodgers) wins, it’s great. And I get depressed when a team I actively dislike wins, but it doesn’t overwhelm me like it used to.

So, like most of us, I can watch the Oscars as the overblown and overly self-important spectacle that it is, but pretends not to be. By that, I mean that, in spite of the gowns (and just what is the fascination with the red carpet? I’ve never gotten that one) and the tuxes and the spectacle of millionaires awarding each other the world’s most prestigious bowling trophy, everyone plays this game of “Aw, we’re just folks.” I think that’s one of the reasons they chose Ellen to host; that she gives off an air of casual normalcy that should contrast nicely with the overall pomposity. (The broadcast really did tip its hand, though, with both the Jimmy Kimmel segment on the pre-game show and the pizza bit on the broadcast itself. Kimmel attacked people like me who sit at home and snark at the proceedings, but rather than showing reasonably normal people like you and I, he attacked poorly-dressed freaks. There’s plenty of fodder for mockery that you don’t need to resort to cheap shots. And the pizza thing – which I thought should have paid off with Ron Jeremy making the delivery and Ellen “not knowing” how to pay for it – was just a time-waster without a payoff – almost literally, as she went through the audience gathering cash. Spacey stole that bit, easily, I thought.)

Unfortunately, her niceness came off to me as more bland than anything. And, again, I can understand why the Academy would have wanted that after the controversy over last year’s host. It really is a no-win job, though. When a successful host comes back, they get nailed for being tired and passe (see “Crystal, Billy’). When someone is too edgy, they’re disrespectful or resort to bad taste. When someone is too respectful, they can come off as bland.

The biggest problem with the broadcast, I think, is the bloat of things like clip packages. This year we highlighted “heroes” (which was novel; I mean, you never see those in movies …). They came off as unnecessary time-killers in a broadcast that didn’t need them. And while I appreciated the grouping of Best Picture clips, they were (I think, rightly) slammed for being little more than trailers that didn’t give a real sense of the movies themselves.

The musical numbers were, for once, not too bad – Idina Menzel excluded. I don’t know if she was thrown off by how badly Travolta botched her name (and how long are we going to be subjected to that meme?) or if it was just her natural tendencies, but I thought she was just overwrought and screechy – and I think she knew it, based on her expression at the end of the number. The other loser was the number from “Her,” which reeked of every lousy singer-songwriter who ever sat in on a coffee house open mic night.

The acceptance speeches were generally good and sincere – no real upsets, so the winners seemed prepared for the inevitable – and I appreciated that no one got played off. If nothing else, it allowed McConaughey to fully express his unique phraseology.

To continue yesterday’s theme, did I hate watch? Yes, in a sense. I mean, I didn’t actively dislike it; it was just a little too bland to really work up any feelings about. I’m grateful that it gave me opportunity to snark, but I can pretty much work myself up for that with anything. Did I enjoy it? In parts. But, as I said, it was too bland to really have positive feelings toward, either. It was just kinda there.

What would I do differently, were I in charge? An all-new host – either Kevin Spacey or Benedict Cumberbatch – both of whom seem to have a sense of subversive respectfulness. (Tina Fey would be good, but she doesn’t seem to have enough gravitas.) Fewer clip packages. New writers who’ll cut back on the stupid banter – which never works.

Or just go back to the original concept. Hold a small banquet at the Hollywood Roosevelt and give them out over the course of a couple of hours.

Or follow the example of the Golden Globes and get them all liquored up.


  1. Back to something you said on Facebook, I saw a lot of Letterman influence on Ellen's hosting. Quite a bit of irreverent humor and awkward silence but, like you said, she won't be crucified for it because she's nice and he's cynical.

    I kinda liked the pizza bit. It was a nice reminder how truly unimportant these events really are.

    I think it's funny how they honor "heroes" when 98% of the hero movies they showed never stood a chance of Oscar credit.

  2. My problem with the pizza bit wasn't that it was there, it was that there was no payoff. It was as though one of the writers said, "Hey, you know what would be funny? Ordering pizza," and it ended there. The New Yorker compared it something Andy Kaufman would have done, and I can see that, but Kaufman would have made some bigger point.