If you’re a movie fan, there’s no bigger night than the Oscars. And if you’re really into the Oscars, then you probably can’t help but be disappointed when the show doesn’t live up to your expectations. Perhaps they don’t call your favorites. Maybe you think the production numbers stall the show. Heck, you might not be able to get over some of the tacky dresses. The Oscars loom ginormous in our minds but seldom live up to such heights in the reality of execution.
For me, I’m been incredibly disappointed in the show these last few years. The experiments of Franco & Hathaway, and the sophomoric Seth Macfarlane singing about boobies were astonishingly awful shows. Granted, this year’s show wasn’t close to being the train wrecks that those two shows were. This year’s host Ellen Degeneres is always likable and amusing. So why didn’t she put on a better show? The Oscars should be more than just her daytime talk show writ large. But it didn’t feel much different from that.
I am continually irked at how average the Oscar show is, considering that it’s Hollywood’s biggest night of the year. And after a decade of diminished returns, a movie fan has to wonder if we’ll ever see a show as entertaining and sharp as the glory days of Billy Crystal two decades ago. Think I’m complaining too harshly or I’m expecting too much? Consider these egregious parts of this year’s broadcast:
Why was the mumbling, monosyllabic, dazed & doddering Harrison Ford chosen to explain the mouthful of plots to three of this year’s Best Picture nominees?
Was John Travolta’s mangling of Idina Menzel’s name due to his utter buffoonery or did he not bother to show up for rehearsals?
Why play the theme music from THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, with the lyrics “If it takes forever I will wait for you”, when elder statesman Sidney Poitier struggled to walk onstage with Angela Jolie? (And why the random music for him when Ford got the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK theme music? Inconsistent. And stupid.)
How can Degeneres, of all people, make a transgender joke at the expense of Liza Minnelli? And did Ellen’s daytime show prevent her from preparing any decent material that didn’t seem like bad riffing after her short monologue?
What was the point of the time-wasting salute to THE WIZARD OF OZ when it was not a particular anniversary of any sort for it in 2014, and why was Pink chosen to sing the titular “Over the Rainbow” from it?
Are C-listers like Jessica Biel the best 'gets' the producers can muster?
Why did the ‘hero’ clip packages rarely ever show women characters, or any movie made before 1990 for that matter?
Why was Henry Cavill shown as Superman in four clips for the last hero clip package when Christopher Reeve still remains most people’s idea of the definitive Superman?
Why were so many stars left off of the “In Memoriam” section once again? This year’s oversights included actors Jonathan Winters (pictured above from IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD), Harry Morgan, Dennis Farina, Corey Monteith, Michael Gough, Jeff Conaway, Russell Johnson, Marcia Wallace, and James Avery; Oscar-winning costume designer Eiko Ishioka; directors Raoul Ruiz and Theo Angelopoulos; producers Tom Clancy, Gary David Goldberg and the Oscar-winning Martin Richards; and Sarah Jones, the crew member killed on set just two weeks ago whose death has been the talk of the town the entire time.
And why did Bette Midler get three solo minutes to sing her hoary chestnut “Wind Beneath My Wings” after that incomplete memorial segment?
Look, you may think that passing around Pharrell’s trademark hat amongst the A-listers to collect funds to pay for Ellen’s pizzas is the kind of sophisticated material worthy of a show that reaches a worldwide audience, but I do not. I expect a monologue as sharp as those that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have given the last two years at the Golden Globes. I expect dance numbers to equal the brilliance of Jimmy Fallon’s “Born to Run” number that opened the Emmy’s four years ago. And I expect a host to be as engaged and anxious to give it his or her all as Neil Patrick Harris does during every Tony outing he’s hosted.
The fact is this: the Oscars are the biggest awards show ever, and it's been continually trounced in class and entertainment value by the Tony's, the Emmy's and even the no-budget Golden Globes in the last decade. That's ridiculous when you consider that the Academy has over six months of preparations for their show with millions of dollars at their beck and call. And yet, their best effort is to trot out someone like a puffy, discombobulated and groggy-voiced Kim Novak. Is that anyone's idea of top drawer entertainment or immediacy in 2014?
Of course, this year’s show benefited substantially from something it couldn't prepare for, but was eminently fortunate to have, and that were some stunningly good speeches. All four acting winners - Jared Leto, Lupita Nyong’o, Cate Blanchett and Matthew McConaughey - gave utterly stirring "thank you's". They all had enough sense to prepare cogent and heartfelt remarks. If only the rest of the show was half as good or enthralling as those acceptance speeches turned out to be.
Will the Academy change? Well, the ratings were terrific last night so there's probably precious little incentive for the producers to change their mismanaging ways. Still, they need to. The show is so-so when it should be so great. They need to get only A-list stars, rehearse them, stop the barrage of 'the history of film' clip packages, come up with truly clever material and compelling production numbers, and convince us that Hollywood knows how to put on an important show such as this with the best and brightest the industry has to offer.
Oh, by the way, if I really wanted to kvetch, I could go on and on about an Academy that gives 7 Oscars to GRAVITY, the largest sweep in years, but fails to give it the final accolade of Best Picture. Nothing against 12 YEARS A SLAVE, a fine film, but if the shoe was on the other foot, don’t you think there’d be acrimony? Indeed, Hollywood may have finally reckoned with America’s horrendous history of slavery, but the voters still seem incapable of wholly embracing the new world of digital technology and its effect, as in films like Alfonso Cuaron's masterpiece.
But hey Academy, let’s start by putting on a better awards show, shall we?