I know it’s fun to be snarky about the Oscars but I was actually hoping to enjoy the show this year. Like everyone else, I was surprised when the Academy chose actors James Franco and Anne Hathaway to host the awards, certainly an unconventional choice aimed, naturally, at the infamous and endlessly pandered “youth demographic.” But Franco and Hathaway are excellent actors and they both seemed like they had the potential to be funny, competent hosts. Wasn’t Hathaway great when she burst into song with Hugh Jackman when he was hosting a few years back? In shows this complex, it’s rare when you can point to a single miscalculation as the one responsible for utter failure but after watching last night’s debacle, it’s clear that our intrepid hosts sank the ship. They weren’t the only anvil (so many aspects of the show were shockingly bad including the wooden writing) but they made the loudest thud.
Anne Hathaway did her best, but James Franco’s detached, disinterested, and wholly vacant performance only made his co-host’s perky determination seem sad and pitiable. They reminded me of the married couple who goes to a party and the more the husband exhibits a monotone depressive anti-social demeanor, the more the wife tries to compensate with giddiness and enthusiasm. The show started out on a very promising note. The “Inception”-based film clips in which Franco and Hathaway were inserted into all of the Best Picture nominees was brilliant—proving that some skilled actors who can take direction and perform well in character don’t necessarily have any charisma as themselves. Who knows what happened behind the scenes—I heard that Franco had some numbers cut including one where he was going to sing one of the songs from “Burlesque.” Maybe it was the producers running scared of a Ricky Gervais-like controversy that cut Franco’s creative arm off, but whatever the reason for his abysmally bad performance, the guy didn’t seem like he had the gravitas to host a girl scout meeting.
And let’s face it, just as a country can’t thrive with ineffective leaders, just as a school can’t succeed with a lousy principal, the narcissism-fest known as the Oscars cannot work without a strong host. This fact was only emphasized when Billy Crystal appeared on the stage and in thirty seconds had more control over the room than poor Anne and James were able to muster in over three hours. Crystal’s introduction of a hologram-like Bob Hope only further made our hosts seem like amateur-night intruders. I must have seen that clip of Hope opening the 1968 show a hundred times: “Welcome to the Academy Awards, or as it’s known in my house, Passover” and yet I still laughed last night. It’s about delivery, kids, DELIVERY! Even when Franco came out inexplicably dressed as Marilyn Monroe, he still fell flat. True, that bit did provide his one single (if cheap) laugh of the entire evening when he said, in full Monroe drag, “I just got three texts from Charlie Sheen” but Franco just seemed off from the beginning of the show until the end. Serves the Academy right for hiring a PhD candidate.
I truly think this was the most awkward, poorly done Oscars telecast in my lifetime (and I’ve been watching them since LBJ was president). I was happy enough with the (totally expected) winners. I was still holding out hope that Bening would eclipse Natalie Portman but at least the beautiful and talented Portman made a nice speech. As a completely irrelevant aside, Portman became only the fifth Jewish woman to get a Best Actress Oscar—after Luise Rainer, Judy Holliday, Barbra Streisand, and Marlee Matlin. Well, sixth if you count Norma Shearer's conversion (and didn't Elizabeth Taylor briefly convert as well?). But she's the first Jewish winner who was born in Israel. Christian Bale gave a nice speech, and I loved his shout-out to the real-life man he portrayed, even giving the guy's website address (but please tell me that Bale's beard is for an acting role!). Colin Firth was also quite classy in his remarks. Among the acting winners, it was only my beloved Melissa Leo who blundered with an incoherent, F-bomb dropping, non-speech. In her defense, she was probably thrown by presenter Kirk Douglas who couldn’t shut up long enough to even read the nominations and she started out well with a graceful and appropriate curtsy to Mr. Douglas and the Old Hollywood he represents when she reached the stage. But then she fell apart and her babbling, while emotional for her, did not strike the slightest chord with anyone else. Oh well, Melissa, at least you have the Oscar. That’s bound to help you get more excellent roles which I’m sure you’ll perform beautifully. Oh, and while I roundly criticize the Academy for its obsession with getting young people to watch the telecast, I still have to snidely say, “Way to bring in the kids with a 94-year-old largely unintelligible rambling icon at the start of the show!” Oy.
Here's one positive: the video projection screens on the stage of the Kodak Theatre were awesome. However, the technology was squandered by salutes to old movies that had absolutely no rhyme or reason. Case in point: when the burning of Atlanta suddenly filled the screens followed by other scenes from “Gone With the Wind” as a nod to classic Hollywood, it was announced that the next presenter won two Academy Awards. Kendall and I were both excited that the Academy had clearly brought Olivia de Havilland, one of the very few actors from the 1939 film who are still with us, over from France to give out an Oscar. But Tom Hanks appeared instead and the presentation had absolutely nothing to do with “Gone With the Wind.” I’m all for old film clips, guys, it’s an essential part of the show, honoring the past while celebrating the present, but it has to make some kind of sense. While attractively presented, none of the clips followed any kind of throughline. Better they should have followed my own blog device from yesterday of focusing on one show from 50 years ago. Sigh.
Let me see if I can spew a few more observations before I try to forget that I ever watched this monstrosity. Where to begin? There were some terribly talented people up there presenting these awards. And yet most of them (hello, Jude Law and Robert Downey, Jr.) were forced to read badly written lines that creaked with unfunniness. I guess I can see why they don’t want to let presenters speak completely off the cuff, but how about just a soupcon of ad-libbing to make it seem like these folks we admire are actually there? Sad that one of my favorite moments of the whole evening was when presenter Cate Blanchett, watching the nominees for Best Make-Up Design, said “That’s gross!” after watching the clip from “The Wolfman.” That one second of spontaneity felt like a breath of fresh air for the Chilean miners. So many of the pairings fell flat. When they announced that rocker Russell Brand was next up as a presenter, I screamed the loudest. “What’s he doing there?” I warbled in outrage. Yet I had to eat my words a few minutes later by admitting he was one of the best presenters of the night. His bit with Helen Mirren was actually funny, at least compared to everyone else, even though I didn’t quite get why Mirren was talking exclusively in French. When she told him in French that he was a stupid idiot, he responded, “I’m very flattered, Dame Helen, but I’m a married man now.”
I couldn’t believe my ears when Celine Dion started singing “Smile” to honor the Academy members who died during the past year. All I could think of was Jermaine Jackson singing it at Michael Jackson’s funeral. Why, Celine? And again, while I recognize that her voice is clearly an amazing gift, I am still profoundly untouched emotionally whenever she opens her mouth. Even Charlie zoomed out of the room screaming “No! No!” when Dion started singing. And, forgive me, while I worship Lena Horne, why single her out among all the dead people and have Halle Berry give that tired, badly written speech about Lena’s accomplishments? Because they were embarrassed that there were no black nominees this year? If they wanted to really honor Horne, as Kendall wisely pointed out, they should have had her brilliant rendition of “Stormy Weather” playing while they showed the montage of departed celebs instead of Celine Dion’s shrieks.
And to quote Melissa Leo, when the fuck did they stop televising the special honorees? I couldn’t believe when they showed little bits of the presentation of the honorary awards, including some moving words from actor Eli Wallach but not their whole speeches. Excuse me, but isn’t this what the Oscars are all about? Why are these people relegated to a different night? And then to have them come out together on stage but not be allowed to talk, it was just ridiculous and insulting.
Believe it or not, Charlie and I returned to the scene of the crime this morning. He was up super early, and we decided to take a look at the aftermath of the worst Oscar broadcast in history. Unlike yesterday, we were able to walk right up to the front door of the Kodak Theatre (where Oprah was about to start her wrap-up with all of the winners—I can’t believe they all agree to wake up so early following their victories!). Charlie was far more interested in the gigantic cranes and trucks dismantling everything on Hollywood Boulevard than he was with the actual show last night. Here are some photos of the Big Clean-up:
Something’s gotta change for next year. Get some new producers, guys, and God knows some better hosts. Better yet, stop allowing the Academy Governors, a bunch of 70-year-old white guys, to try to appeal to a younger audience, they just can’t do it! No one can, really, just let the Oscars be the Oscars. Many movie-loving young people will watch, the rest will tune into the MTV or Peoples Choice Awards. Oh, and Academy, be sure to release a few movies this year starring Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, and Penelope Cruz, we need them on that stage in 2012.