Nobody wants to read about the Oscars three days later, and I already posted these comments on MSN Movies, but because I've always shared my post-mortem of the Academy Awards broadcast on this blog, I feel compelled to include this here as well. This year I live-blogged the entire evening with a colleague from MSN Movies. It was fun, exhausting, and definitely colored my experience a little. (If you want to check out any of those ramblings, it was in three separate posts: pre-show, Oscars part 1, and Oscars part 2.) Writing about something as you're watching it changes your perceptions, there's no way around it. I think film critics should watch a film once straight through just to be in the experience, immersing themselves in the story and images without taking notes or thinking about what they're going to say. Then they can watch it again before they write it up. Of course that's never going to happen--who has the time?
Not that watching the Oscars broadcast more than once would have changed my opinion that it was a bit of a snoozefest. True, the show was a vast improvement over last year’s utter FAIL, hosted by a comatose James Franco and a perky-to-distraction Anne Hathaway. At least the Academy let go of its obsession with appealing to a younger, hipper crowd (apart from a brief and funny moment with Justin Bieber in Billy Crystal’s opening film sequence). After an opening montage in which Crystal predictably but amusingly inserted himself into clips from the nominated films, the dependable host all but disappeared into the woodwork of the former Kodak Theater, appearing every once in a while to tell an unfunny joke about Christopher Plummer’s age (we should all be in such shape when we’re 82!) or an uncomfortable remark about “The Help” (Billy, there actually ARE black people living in Beverly Hills!).
I was happy enough with the awards themselves (and scored a Personal Best by correctly guessing the winners in 19 out of 24 categories), but things were so glaringly predictable that any half-hearted attempt (whether deliberate or accidental) to spice up the proceedings (the “Wizard of Oz” focus group bit, J-Lo’s and Diaz’s butt shot, Angelina Jolie’s odd right leg maneuver, Ferrell and Galifanakis, Downey and Paltrow) were tweeted more than the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
What gives? Is this show such a grandiose behemoth that there’s no way to save it? After watching this year’s better-but--boring telecast, here are five suggestions for next year’s producers:
1. Once and for all, STOP CUTTING PEOPLE OFF! Don’t get me wrong—I realize no one wants to hear the winners go on and on, thanking their managers, accountants, and dog walkers. I get that the producers need to keep the show on track, but the obnoxious way that the Academy cuts people off just makes already nervous winners way more nervous. Case in point: Octavia Spencer. It seemed like the actress had no sooner reached the podium when they started giving her the sign to wrap it up. Her real emotion was a breath of fresh air but giving her the bum’s rush just made her step all over her words and miss an opportunity for a more moving speech. The most egregious moment came when the folks who made the documentary “Undefeated” were giving their delightful speeches and had their mics cut off in mid-sentence. Really, Academy? Thank God Meryl Streep has been around long enough to simply ignore the control-room hysteria and do whatever she wants—and her speech was wonderful. I can think of a million other things to trim to give the winners more time. I also liked the idea I read on Slate.com last week about having all nominees supply a list of people they want to thank in advance. Then, when someone wins, the names would appear in a scroll on the bottom of the screen, freeing them up to be more thoughtful and inspiring.
2. Ground the clip montages in some kind of context. As an avid lover of classic films, I am always down for a fun montage of old movie clips. But they need some kind of context. The clip sequences on this year's show seemed all over the place. They were not well thought out or executed. And sticking the “Twilight” couple in the middle of clips of beloved actors from some of the greatest films of all time made everyone in my house scream in horror.
3. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but bring back the Best Song performances. The bizarre Academy rules that led to only two song nominations this year have to be changed. And, as much as I’ve been a vocal critic of the frequently awful Best Song category, it just seemed weird to not have performances of the nominated songs. Why? This year’s show could have really used some more live entertainment. I was almost missing Debbie Allen’s much-ridiculed dance numbers of yesteryear. (Bring back Rob Lowe and Snow White’s dirty dancing!) Seriously, this is a SHOW, throw the audience a few bones between the awards. Take a look at how the Grammys do it! True, there was the Cirque du Soleil performance that, like all their efforts, was absolutely amazing…and yet, if I may, what relevance did it have to the general proceedings?
4. Restore the honorary Oscar recipients to the main show. I find it outrageous that the honorary Oscars are now part of an untelevised event and that we only get to see a few edited moments from those proceedings. The way that sequence was edited, it was hard to even follow who was being honored. Oprah? James Earl Jones? These awards belong IN the show, even if they have produced some uncomfortable cringing in years past involving a few elderly celebrities. The truth is they've also provided some of the most moving moments in Oscar history. Show some respect, Academy! And if you’re worried about time, simply limit the number of recipients to one or two.
5. Find some new writers! No offense (!) to the writers of this year’s telecast, I know it’s not an easy job, but am I the only one who longed for more jokes? I mean, jokes that are actually funny? Has Bruce Vilanch been kicked off the show? Where was all the topical humor? Is there nothing to skewer in today’s news? How about the Republican candidates’ newfound fear of contraception? Why not a few jabs at Oprah’s OWN network? At the new craze of converting older movies to 3D? Come on, people. Billy Crystal was playing it so safe I kept imagining what it would be like if Ricky Gervais were hosting. Or the originally planned Eddie Murphy, for that matter. I’m not saying Crystal was bad, but I doubt anyone would say he hit it out of the ballpark and he probably won't be asked back for a while. Is it too late to exhume Bob Hope?
HOLD THE PHONE: Forget everything I've written about the Oscars, the biggest travesty was leaving our friend Betty Garrett out of this year's "In Memoriam" tribute. She died on February 12 last year and wasn't included in the show later that month because they said she was past the "cut-off date." But Whitney Houston died on February 11 this year and WAS included in Sunday's Oscar tribute. (And God knows Betty had a hell of a lot more to do with the movies than Whitney.) Really outrageous. I'm ashamed I didn't realize this hideous omission until three days after the broadcast when I read the blog of our friend, Naomi Caryl, one of Betty's closest friends, who was understandably horrified by the Academy's mistake. Kendall was infuriated that they left Dorothy McGuire off the list when she died in 2001 but this is worse!
I'll never forget when Kendall and I went straight from the Cedars NICU where Charlie was still struggling for his life to the celebration of Betty's 90th birthday at the old Henry Fonda Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. It was one of the only times we broke away from the hospital but I'm so glad we were able to honor our friend and attend that event. Here is a wonderful video retrospective of Betty's career that they showed on that night: