For the most part, I like the Oscars. Yes, the awards season campaign is way too long and, yes, campaigning in general takes what’s supposed to be a celebration of films and turns it into something a lot more unsavory. But, if there were no campaigning, then we wouldn’t get gems like that essay from Sean Penn where he thought, at least at that one moment when he was writing it, the greatest travesty to befall human civilization would be Bradley Cooper not winning a trophy because the fourth version A Star is Born is just that good. What a world. (For the record, I still really like A Star is Born.)
There’s a good chance this year’s Oscar ceremony will wind up being “fine” despite itself. Without a host and with a few of the awards supposedly being handed out during commercial breaks, everyone already has low enough expectations, it probably won’t be too difficult to surpass those. All the show will need is one surprise moment and everyone will remember it for being exciting. I mean, quick, what was the best Oscar moment of the last five years?
It’s impossible to plan someone reading off the wrong winner, but, goodness, that was fun to watch. I loved how the Academy has assured us steps were being taken to make sure this never happens again. On the contrary, this should happen a lot! Not on purpose, but maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing to hire an accounting firm sloppy enough that they make a mistake here and there. Mistakes make for good live television. Everything is so prepackaged now. Prepackaged fun! Even the unscripted moments are scripted. In 1973 a streaker ran out on stage as David Niven was speaking. We need more of this! (Fun fact: the streaker, Robert Opel, was murdered in 1979 at age 39.)
(And Niven’s reaction, then punchline, get a lot of credit, but he somehow deserves more credit. If this happened today, I’d never believe he came up with that line on the spot. Also, with social media, could you imagine if this happened today? I honestly can’t, but I also want to see what would happen.)
For the life of me, I can’t even figure out what the Academy is trying to accomplish with all of these changes. I guess the easy answer is “better ratings” and “make the show shorter.” And a lot has already been written about making the show shorter and how that’s a bad idea, but I think the ratings aspect and the length aspect are two different things. No one really cares how long the Oscars are except the people who are in attendance. That’s why all those, “Can you believe this is still going?,” Billy Crystal jokes never make a lot of sense on television. I always remember thinking, “What’s he talking about? This is much better than watching an episode of Wings, or Hope and Gloria, or whatever.” But what I didn’t realize was he wasn’t talking to me. He was talking to the people in the audience who just wanted to get to their afterparty.
Unfortunately, these tend to be influential people in that industry. People at home don’t care! No one is upset if the Super Bowl goes into overtime. (Well, I guess except the people who bet on the game and risk losing money due to it continuing.) But the people in the audience get restless. After the opening number, at any given moment, you’re seeing a lot of seat fillers in that audience. Honestly, I think that’s what’s going on more than whatever us schmucks at home might think.
To be somewhat fair, I’ve been to a few events where awards are handed out to people for making movies. By the end, yes, it’s hard not to get antsy. But watching at home, it’s always great. Anyway, the lesson here is, never attend an awards show. And during the Grammys I saw a lot of, “This is a long show and no one seems to mind.” Well, yes, because it’s essentially a concert. Concerts are fun to sit through. A series of speeches are somewhat less fun.
The Academy is panicking and it’s a bad look. The whole “popular film” fiasco was so bad that I can now just label it a “fiasco” and move on. The truth is, this stuff is cyclical. But, in the end, people do like tradition. Saturday Night Live is a good example. It played around with its format in the first season, but since then it’s basically been the same show ever since, at least format-wise. There have been seasons that were bad and people would call for SNL to be drastically changed, but then, a couple of years later, the show was back to being good again. The format never changed, just the talent. This seems like a good lesson for things that people mostly like that have been around a very long time.
Honestly, the best Oscars I can think of would be, for the most part, one with no script. Sure, the host would write a monologue and some jokes. But no “bits” or big selfies. For the life of me I can’t remember one Jimmy Kimmel joke from the two times he hosted, but I sure remember, “Warren, what did you do?!” Let these famous people just go out there and say whatever they want to say – in both presenting awards and accepting awards. And let them talk as long as they want. If Glenn Close wants to stage a four-hour filibuster on whatever topic she deems worthy, let her. And if Sean Penn wants to leave during her speech so he can write another essay about Bradley Cooper, let him do that, too. Maybe it will be good. Maybe it will be bad. But at least it would be real. In the end, that’s what people like.
But it does feel like the Academy is doing everything it can to suck the real out of whatever it is we might be seeing. Just embrace it rather than squash it. But, somehow, I think it may find a way to sneak in there this year anyway. Who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky and there will be another streaker.
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