Friday, February 25, 2011

10 TIPS FOR A GREAT OSCAR SHOW NEXT YEAR


This year’s Academy Awards show is rehearsed and ready to go for Sunday. I am hoping that hosts Anne Hathaway & James Franco will be delightful though their tepid commercials give me pause. Granted, it’s hard to be really funny in a 30 second commercial, but c’mon, every spot is a stinker! Hopefully it is not a harbinger of what’s to come.

I will have a thorough review of the Oscar program on Monday, critiquing both the show and the way the awards went, but right now I’d like to offer 10 tips to make the Oscar show even better next year. (I don’t think I have any producers following me yet, but a guy can dream.)

HIRE TINA FEY & STEVE CARELL

Other than Johnny Carson, no comedian has ever really aced hosting the Oscars. Billy Crystal has, but he’s not a comedian really, he’s a comedic actor. That’s the difference. The host needs to straddle the line between being an outsider commenting on the proceeding with a certain detached humor while remaining an insider who laughs with the Oscars, not at them. David Letterman, Chris Rock and Jon Stewart all went too far as the smart-ass outsider glibly assessing the Oscars as a fool’s folly. And because of that, they failed for the most part. That’s why insiders like Fey and Carell, who make movies and are funny, are perfectly suited. Plus, they always kill whenever they present together at award shows, be it the Golden Globes or the SAG Awards. 
MAKE IT ABOUT MOVIES OF TODAY, NOT YESTERDAY

If the reports are true, once again this year’s Oscar show will be heavy on the film clips of Oscar’s greatest hits. Wrong! They do that every year and the Oscars are not about the history of movies. They are about the given calendar year’s movies. Those are the ones being honored, not GONE WITH THE WIND or CASABLANCA or others from eons past. So to make the show tight, relevant and fresh, the producers should concentrate on clip packages from the calendar year and not continually bring in clips of old favorites.

HIRE PRESENTERS FROM THE YEAR’S MOVIES

The presenters should also be from the calendar year’s films, not those with movies coming out in the new year. Keep the PR flacks out of it!

GIVE THE WINNERS A MINUTE TO SAY “THANKS”

Right now, as it has been for some time, every winner is encouraged to keep his or her remarks to just 45 seconds. At that moment, the exit music starts. How disgraceful. This is their biggest moment and they’re on the clock?  I don’t want to watch another Javier Bardem race through his speech. It’s painful. And disrespectful. Give every winner a full minute. (They never clock the lead acting winners anyway.) And if they need to be so cognizant of time, cut the leaden production numbers. 
NO INDEX CARDS ALLOWED

Listen up, winners. Stop reading the names of the people you want to thank off those god-awful, folded pieces of paper or shuffled index cards. Say something meaningful instead. And if you thank your lawyer, like Halle Berry did three times, we may have to take your Oscar away!

HAVE THE TECH NOMINEES INTRODUCE THEIR WORK

They’ve done these little filmed intros in the past and they’re always entertaining as well as educational. A few quick, deft remarks on what went into the thinking behind this melody or this costume, by the people who did them, gives an authenticity to the proceedings, as well as puts the spotlight on these rarely seen below-the-line talents being honored.

NO MORE SUPERFLUOUS DANCE NUMBERS. EVER.

No guest performers from STOMP clomping about to clip packages to demonstrate editing. No Debbie Allen choreography to accompany the best song nominees. Sing the song nominees if you must, and preferably in a medley, but stop with the crap interpretive dances. Hollywood should be able to put on an amazing show. Not one that looks like some loony dance recital from a bad episode of FAME.

KEEP UP SOME OLD PRACTICES

I loved it when two years back they had previous Oscar winners in the acting categories introduce that year’s nominees. It not only felt like they were welcoming a new member into the exclusive club, but it seemed tremendously regal. So keep doing it, only the presenters must be past Oscar winners. Last year they tried it again, only this time with friends of the nominees, and it seemed more like a best man’s cheesy toast than something important.
CREATE AN OSCAR FOR STUNT WORK

If they’re going to honor songs that mostly play over the end credits of movies, they should give out an annual award to a category that would always field five worthy nominees and honor the most popular genre out there - the action picture. This year the Academy could have picked from worthy possibilities like UNSTOPPABLE (shown below), THE FIGHTER, INCEPTION, TRUE GRIT, KICK-ASS, ROBIN HOOD, KNIGHT & DAY, SALT and RED. What a list!
NEVER ADMIT CHARLIE SHEEN INTO THE KODAK

Ban him from the Emmys too. And any other awards show. What an ungracious, arrogant trainwreck.

2 comments:

  1. I'd like to preface this by saying that I agree with most of what Jeff writes. However;
    The fact of the matter is, this is an entertainment show. The network is expecting the viewer to stay engaged for 3-4 hours. You HAVE got to provide some entertainment. Jeff, not to argue semantics, but Billy Crystal IS a comedian. His career started out at The Improv and Catch A Rising Star, and he was actually scheduled to appear in the first episode of Saturday Night Live. He appeared as a regular on SNL several years later (who can forget his “Fernando” sketches). On the other hand, I have to agree that the host has to have some relation to the film industry (Alec Baldwin comes to mind). They have to have the perfect combination of being a member of the club, with a touch of snarkiness.

    Acceptance speeches are always a tricky business. It is hard to draw the line when some winners have the potential to drone on interminably. My impression is that some people will carry on until Barbara Walters kicks in (I live on the West Coast). Again, we have to remember that this is television entertainment which is based on advertiser sales vis-a-vis ratings. If people tune out, the ratings plummet. Sometimes, less is more (Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby: There are a lot of great movies that have won the Academy Award, and a lot of great movies that haven't. You just do the best you can). The winners should just say what's in their heart, and be provided with a forum in Daily Variety for the gritty details.

    Whilst I agree that the Debbie Allen's interpretative dance routines need to be banished, I think the “best song” performances are integral to the show. I don't know if it is just my generation, but the playing of a specific song will immediately conjure up a specific movie-going experience for me: “Raindrops Keep Falling On my Head” in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”; “The Morning After” in “The Poseidon Adventure”; along with “Fame” , “Arthur's Theme”, and “My Heart Will Go On”. Even this year's “Country Strong” in the dreadful movie of the same name will elicit my memories of that performance. That is what songs in films should provide and should be celebrated (sorry, I'm not a fan of the “medley”).
    Have the Academy Awards ever been anything more than celebrating mainstream (ie: safe) cinematic experiences? Let's face it, Hillary Swank may have won an Oscar for “Boys Don't Cry” (playing the “risky” role of a man in a woman's body), but the academy didn't even nominate the film for Best Picture. The odds for this year's best picture are all on “The Kings Speech”. In my opinion, a nice safe choice, but far from the emotional upheaval in “The Kids Are All Right” with stellar acting performances all around. My question is “Will we ever had a great Oscar show based on the real merits of a film, vs. what “Mddle America” is prepared to accept?”

    Jeff, I am prepared to accept your “Jane, you ignorant slut” rebuttal, to my “Dan, you pompous ass” diatribe.
    Dave

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  2. Actually Dave, you raise some very fine points. Indeed it is an entertainment program and there are viewership numbers to maintain, otherwise the Oscars could be banished to cable. I would love the best song nominees to all get their full 4-5 minutes of performance time if they were indeed as good as those classics you mentioned but in the last 10 years, they certainly haven't been. ("Take It All" from NINE comes to mind as one of the Academy's more questionable picks of recent.) Believe me, a mere two minutes of some of these less-than-stellar songs, even in a medley, is painful enough for my ears!

    Billy Crystal did start out as a comedian, true, but after he lost the SNL gig he got the role of Jody Dallas on the TV series SOAP and was on his way to a career of being an actor and not a stand-up. Again, I maintain the better host is a comedic actor vs. the stand-up who's not much of an actor (like Chris Rock). And I think we agree that the host has to have some reverence for the awards and not be too snarky about what Oscar means.

    To your greater point of Oscar's timidity and the tendency to favor mainstream choices, well, you're quite on the nose. Of course, this is bound to happen when all Academy members vote on the winners. They're not nearly as informed as most critics, and sometimes you have to question whether they have even seen the movies they're voting on. Too often they simply vote for the most obvious nominees: the actor who appears to be doing the most acting or the costume designs that seem the most like costumes. Until the voting procedures are modified I suspect we will continue to see mostly mainstream choices. But hey, at least their choices tend towards quality. Wish we could say the same of all of Hollywood's output in any given year.

    So Dave, I will not call you an "ignorant slut."Quite the contrary. I think you raise points that I am mostly in agreement with. You're just lucky I didn't suggest they drop the song category altogether which I am often tempted to do when the Academy not only nominates dreck like "You'll Be In My Heart" from Disney's TARZAN but then give it the gold statue as well. (And I think Debbie Allen choreographed a dance to it on the show that year too. Quel tragedie!)

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