For the first time in ages, not a single winner thanked Jesus in their acceptance speech. What gives? Is Hollywood losing its spiritual edge? With that slight in mind, let's look at last night's Academy Awards presentation in terms of the Ten Commandments God reserves for the annual telecast.
1. Thou Shalt Not Debase the Oscars in the Show's First Thirty Seconds. I like Neil Patrick Harris, but besides the jarring experience of seeing him open the awards instead of the heavily promoted co-hosts, I found his glitzy musical number horribly written and executed. Sorry, Neil, I usually love splashy and sarcastic numbers like that but it was too soon in the show and way too weak. The day before, hyperbolic producer Adam Shankman called it “the most dynamic opening, from drama to spectacle to humor, that has ever been staged.” Um…no. The near-naked showgirls were over-the-top and meaningless (if they really wanted to get our attention, why not gyrating showboys to accompany the openly gay star?) and the references to things like masturbation and prison rape (hello?) were just not funny. I like ribald as much as the next guy but come on. Did he really just mention Dolly Parton’s hooters? Hey, Neil, 1983 called—it wants its joke back! This was one of the worst beginnings in Oscar history and almost makes me long for Rob Lowe’s infamous duet with Snow White. Maybe Hugh Jackman could have pulled it off.
2. Thou Shall Not Squander Great Talent. I thought getting Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin to host together was an inspired move and they didn’t disappoint. Except they were barely there. Remember when a host was really a host? Think Bob Hope, Billy Crystal, even Johnny Carson. They used to hold the show together, providing continuity and recovery from the frequent cringe-producing moments. Baldwin and Martin disappeared for most of the overlong show. When they were there, they were usually funny, even when they were reading dumb jokes. I admit I laughed out loud when Steve introduced “that damn Helen Mirren.” “Not damn,” Alec replied. “It’s DAME!” In general I found the writing subpar this year (where was the biting political commentary that is usually sprinkled throughout the show?). But the little clips of Alec and Steve in bed and watching the show in their Snugglis were spot-on.
3. Thou Shalt Not Sell Your Soul to Get a Better Demographic. I was scared by the producers’ frequent comments leading up to the show that they were trying to attract a younger crowd this year. My worst fears were realized by the vapid teen stars they dragged out throughout the show who had absolutely no business on that stage. I don’t mean to be ageist, and believe me, there is a long list of amazingly talented young performers that should have been up there, from Abigail Breslin and Saoirse Ronan to Mia Wasikowsa and anyone from the “Harry Potter” cast. So why trot out people like Miley Cyrus, Taylor Lautner, and Kristen Stewart? Is their presence really going to make young people watch this show? I think not. Compared to them, Zac Efron, also on hand for the teens, seemed like Laurence Olivier. Oy. Memo to Young Hollywood: SPIT YOUR GUM OUT before going on national television! Yikes. I'm surprised they weren't texting from the stage.
4. Thou Shalt Not Humiliate Yourself in Front of a Billion People. The only truly embarrassing moment came after “Music for Prudence” was named Best Short Documentary. Director-producer Roger Ross Williams had just started an eloquent speech when producer Elinor Burkett burst onto the stage and cut Williams off, Kanye West-style. She mumbled something about women never getting to speak which seemed totally bizarre for the moment and then launched into her own rambling speech, never giving Williams the chance to finish his thoughts. Ouch. Until this morning I believed this was just an accident caused by the over-excitement of the moment. I was surprised to hear that it was all quite deliberate, that Burkett was disgruntled over the direction the film had taken and felt she should have been given the award because it was her original idea. Burkett claimed that Williams rushed to the stage and that his mother tried to block her with her cane. Oh well, this ugly moment may make people remember the mostly unseen film.
5. Thou Shalt Not Be Smug or Ungracious. Again, I want to give the offender the benefit of the doubt and chalk her faux pas up to nerves, but when Sandy Powell won the Oscar for Best Costume Design for the wonderful film “The Young Victoria,” she looked blandly at the award and said “I’ve already got two of these at home so I’m feeling greedy.” It doesn’t sound that bad in print but it didn’t go over well on the Kodak stage, causing me to shout, “So give it back! How about Colleen Atwood for ‘Nine’ or Catherine Leterrier for “Coco Before Chanel’?” Then she dedicated her Oscar to other costume designers but again, her sentiments fell flat. “This one’s for you but I’m going to take it home tonight, thank you.” Oy, Sandy. I think it's a given that multiple award winners should never refer to their previous Oscars in front of hundreds of people who would sell their mother for a single one.
6. Thou Shalt Not Hire Gratuitous Street Dancers. In my opinion, the most appalling sequence of the entire night was the series of interpretive dances to the Best Film Score nominees. Let me be clear: the dancing was extraordinary, no doubt about it, but the dances had absolutely nothing to do with the style or content of the films they were depicting. We know this number was producer Adam Shankman’s baby, he of “So You Think You Can Dance” fame, and I hear that many of the dancers came directly from that show. But why? For this they took away all performances of the Best Song nominees? It added absolutely nothing to the telecast and was a muddled, stylistically incoherent mess. Paging Debbie Allen! At least her dance extravaganzas attempted to relate to the films at hand.
7. Thou Shalt Not Dishonor the Dead. First of all, I love James Taylor, but can we end the practice of a live performance during the clips of people who have died during the year and instead just focus on the video? The problem with the performance is that the camera focuses on that individual with the video screen in the background and we are unable to read the names of the people being memorialized. But the real travesty, as usual, were the omissions. Where, I ask you, were Farah Fawcett and Henry Gibson? Sure, they rose to fame in other mediums (hello Michael Jackson, who WAS honored) but Fawcett and Gibson were both excellent actors who did some wonderful work on the screen. Outrageous.
8. Thou Shalt Not Play Favorites with the Dead. I’ve got nothing against director John Hughes, who died way too young and who made some excellent iconic films, but what was the deal with the loooong tribute to the deceased director? Former Hughes favorite Molly Ringwald looked bizarre and terrified as she haltingly talked about the director with Ferris Bueller himself, Matthew Broderick. Then, in this never-ending sequence, the curtain opened to reveal several members of Hughes’ 1980s Brat Pack along with some stars of his other films. Apart from the shock value of seeing how some of the Brat Packers had aged, I found the whole tribute a bit out of place. Especially since the Academy decided to brush off this year’s living honorees, Lauren Bacall, cinematographer Gordon Willis, and director Roger Corman in an untelevised event. Why? So we can watch Shankman’s dancers breakdance the diffusing of a bomb in “The Hurt Locker” sequence? At least they showed a clip of the dinner with Bacall screeching, “The thought that when I get home I'm going to have a two-legged man in my room is so exciting I can hardly stand it!” But when they came back to Bacall at the actual Oscar telecast, they practically had to beg the audience to acknowledge her.9. Thou Shalt Not Fuck Up the Clips Segment. What, in God’s name, was the salute to horror films about? Or, as pronounced by incompetent Pretty Young Presenters Taylor Lautner and Kirsten Stewart, “Whore Films.” Couldn’t they at least have made up a reason for this out-of-place segment? The hundredth anniversary of the first silent horror film? The 50th anniversary of one of Hitchock’s classic films? No reason, other than to shove gratuitous scenes of the shirtless studs from “Twilight” (gotta get that young demographic!) in between clips of well made horror films and a slew of films that didn't belong there at all. The clips features are often my favorite part of the show, but they absolutely need a proper context. Can we all agree that there’s no reason to bring back this year’s producers, Bill Mechanic and Adam Shankman? I’m not saying it’s an easy gig, I just think all their instincts were dead-wrong. Who produced last year? That was one of the best shows in a long time, and not just because goddess Kate Winslet won for Best Actress.
10. Thou Shalt Not Patronize Half the Population. Seeing rare Oscar attendee Barbra Streisand appear to dish out the Best Director award, I thought maybe it had leaked that Kathryn Bigelow was going to win and become the first woman to get the prize. Why else would Babs be there? (Am I the only one who thought she should have won the Best Director prize for “Yentl”?) The way Barbra and the announcer kept stressing this year the Best Director Oscar could go to the first woman or African-American actually had me feeling sorry for James Cameron (not an easy feat). Oh, yeah, and those other two white guys, whoever they were. Bigelow did win, gave a classy speech, and I’m sure was most worthy of the award (I still haven’t seen “The Hurt Locker”), but who made the asinine decision to have the orchestra play “I am woman, hear me roar!” as Streisand and Bigelow left the stage? Jesus Christ. Would they have played “We Shall Overcome” if Lee Daniels had won?
I give the overall show a solid C, even with the appealing team of Baldwin and Martin at the helm. That said, I have no problem with the winners, and I correctly guessed on all but one of the awards. I knew picking Gabourey Sidibe was a long-shot and I did it only because I couldn’t bear to imagine anyone who starred in last year’s execrable “All About Steve” winning the Best Actress Oscar. I still haven’t seen “The Blind Side” but I thought Sandra Bullock's speech was perfect. Jeff Bridges was very deserving and very sweet, Christoph Waltz sincere and a little scary, and Mo’Nique intense and moving. I found trotting out the nominees at the top of the show unnecessary and the bit of having the actors' pals pay tribute to them as their award was being announced probably sounded better in the planning stage (it didn’t hold a candle to last year’s beautiful moments when five former winners of that category talked about the nominees). Ben Stiller’s Naa'vi bit was mildly funny but what was the deal with Tom Hanks not even mentioning the ten nominees (too many!) for Best Picture and just blurting out “The Hurt Locker” as the winner? Talk about an anti-climax!
Oh well, at least Charlie enjoyed his first Oscars, even though he was deeply disappointed that his favorite actress Penelope Cruz didn’t win. There's always next year, Charlie!