Predictable. Shocking. Way too long, with way too much music. Again, we had an Oscar show that had all the potential of actually being good, and again it grabbed defeat out of the jaws of victory.
It all started well, with a very talented Janelle Monáe singing softly and sweetly (and charmingly) with Mr. Rogers’ theme song, bouncing off of Tom Hanks in the front row and therefore buying our full engagement. Then the song went loud and overly, unnecessarily big, with Monáe regrettably making the song about herself for a moment. Big and energetic eventually turned into too much altogether, and the whole presentation got fat and overproduced.
The Oscars were hostless again this year (not a good idea if they are going to keep having new people introduce new people who introduce other people). Recalling better times were Steve Martin and Chris Rock, former hosts that had fun reminding us that they weren’t hosting, and making us miss their presence throughout the rest of the show.
Brad Pitt started us off well with a predicted win for Best Supporting Actor. All of Hollywood wanted this, and other than an unnecessary political reference, it was a very good acceptance speech, setting a bar that went unchallenged after that. The acting prizes, in fact, were all predictable. Laura Dern gave the second-best acting acceptance speech, lovingly referencing her acting legend parents Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern at the end. Nice job.
Joaquin Phoenix’s speech for Joker was sincere but all over the place, and at times quite uncomfortable. After seeing an improvement in his speeches over the awards season, it was a disappointment to hear such meandering expressions that never came together. Note: there will be memes. A bit less confusing but just as wandering was Renée Zellweger’s speech for her Judy win. She was trying to say how looking to our heroes can unite us (ostensibly in this divided social age), which was a good idea. But it spun out of control, and like Phoenix’s speech, simply went on too long. Dear four winners: You all knew you were going to win, so why didn’t you ALL have a concise and meaningful SHORT speech at the ready? Please check out Patty Duke (The Miracle Worker) and Jane Wyman (Johnny Belinda) for the right way to do an acceptance speech.
Music was far too present in this awards show (and this from a musician). Questions: Why, why, why do all the songs have to be presented in full? The only song that really worked was Cynthia Orivo’s “Hang On,” which was a presentation that was worthy of the time spent listening to it. It must be said, however, that Chrissy Metz’ singing of the Breakthrough song “I’m Standing With You” sounded better than anything she’s done on “This is Us”. And Elton John’s version of his sure-to-win song demonstrated why it didn’t deserve to win. But quality aside, full presentations are a waste of time. Please, Oscar producers, find a much better way of handling this (Call me….I have ideas).
Seventeen years after Enimem didn’t show up at the Oscars for receive his Oscar for “Lose Yourself” from 8 Mile, he shows up and does it here. Why, why? As a performance, it was pretty good, if not bleeped countless times. But why was it here—to lengthen an already overlong show? Completely unnecessary.
The “In Memoriam” presentation was music done right, and not overdone–a lovely if occasionally hesitant version of “Yesterday” by Billie Eilish with just enough visual references to honor those we’ve lost without stretching it out too long. Nicely done.
Clothing was an improvement over the outfits at this year’s Golden Globe awards. After all the #MeToo activity in the past few years, it was disconcerting to see far too many women presenting themselves as sex objects with their outfits. Not here. Nearly all were attractive without asking us to gawk, and while they were occasionally a bit overdone, they weren’t embarrassingly underdone.
The Academy did things differently with the acting and musical score categories. The his/her nominated movie. They’ve turned that into an uncomfortable blend of scenes from the actor in question, bouncing from film to different film to different film. I’m all for seeing as many scenes as I can see at the Oscars, but the scenes were confusing and tended to dilute rather than reinforce our understanding and enjoyment of the actors’ hard work.
The music nominated for Best Score was given an exciting treatment by featuring a female conductor showcasing the scores with visuals from the films. Fast and fun. Why can’t the Best Song be treated the same way—as a quick reminder of the song rather than a full performance? Why, why, why? There was a “tribute” to film music that rammed together images and sounds of various famous scores that looked and sounded like a series of jump cuts edited by Godard to intentionally confound and confuse. And then the mid-show rap recap of the first half by Utkarsh Ambudkar was both clever and needlessly time-consuming. Clearly the Academy doesn’t quite know how to feature music in its award shows; we already had the Grammys—we don’t need a film version of them.
The awards themselves? Well, I got 21 out of 24 correct in my predictions, as I thought that 1917 would get Best Director and Best Picture. I wasn’t disappointed on two counts. One, I tied as a winner of my Oscar pool, and how could I be disappointed that the film that will likely go down as truly the best of the year won these two awards? (For the curious, I also missed Production Design, which quite deservedly went to Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.)
Of course, time will tell if this acceptance of the foreign-language film Parasite was a self-congratulatory one-off, or a sign of different things to come. Analysis can go any which way depending on one’s degree of cynicism, Academy history, and hopefulness. I think it is something of a game-changer, however. Brilliant non-British international films may have a chance of winning more than acting awards in the future—awards for screenplay, direction, and film for this film were stunning, and may have opened the doors for more of the same in the future. This may pose new problems for the Academy in how to handle this, as confusion may arise that challenge the generally accepted notion that these are national awards with the occasional reach outside the country. Or…this could also be the Academy’s grand gesture of self-congratulations and virtue signaling that will take care of (read: sideline) other good foreign films for a long time. We’ll see.
Bottom line: The show is too long, has way too much music, has little to no control over the acceptance speeches (which should be given a great deal of latitude of course), and is in desperate need of a host who can pass the PC test (can anyone at this point?) and pull things together. Producers: just contact me, and I’d be happy to be on the production team for next year. I also teach film at a school that’s known for its engineering school; perhaps I can snag a couple of them for their input.