A note to Oscar (re: 2021 show)

Oh, Oscar, Oscar! I’ve never felt sorry for you up to now. Yes, you’ve been ridiculous, and full of self-centeredness and virtue signaling. But with the pandemic and the dearth of movies in theaters, I had faith that you would turn a negative into a positive, and that the new approach might be refreshing in these most unusual times. I expected record low viewing numbers, as the thin movie year yielded a number of excellent smaller and independent films, but the big popular movies that lead to lots of viewers just weren’t there.

Things started well with a long shot (that was admittedly TOO long in duration), but that featured the talented, intelligent, and articulate Regina King. And just when you had me willing to go along on this new approach, there she was, bringing in current socio-political events that apparently she just HAD to talk about. She was right that folks were reaching for their remotes at that moment. You didn’t lose me at that moment. To quote many people, I wasn’t angry, I was just … disappointed.

There were actually a lot of happy moments, though none were completely unexpected.

Emerald Fennell’s Oscar was partly for her arrival and skill at her first film, right? Yes, the screenplay was good, but everyone knew she wasn’t going to win Best Director this year, right? (And isn’t it against some law somewhere to not give this to Aaron Sorkin?) But she is a bright new light in cinema, and this was a great encouragement for her.

Of course the best competitive acceptance moment was the overlong but gut-wrenching sharing of Another Round director Thomas Vinterberg’s story about his daughter. This was one of those great personal moments that will be remembered by everyone who saw it (low as those numbers are). The other great moment was Yuh-Jung Youn’s win in the Supporting Actress category. Again, lovely and memorable, but this time lighter and funnier.

No host again, huh? I know it’s hard for you, as there is a reason that everyone on the planet is unsuitable for hosting, and everyone out here is poised to be offended by … something. But really, can we reconsider, Oscar? A good and popular host may actually improve the numbers, and make the show worth watching again. What about an actor/actress who can actually speak intelligently? Everyone loves Clooney and Pitt, yes? What about either? What about both of them?

Thank you for not having full-length and time-consuming performances of the five nominated songs, of which, lately, perhaps two or three are worth listening to. But did you have to take the music away from the main show, and relegate them to the pre-show, where pretty much no one could hear them? I’ve been telling you for years that there should be one, grand, knock-your-eyes-out medley of the Best Song nominees. We’d get the flavor of the songs without taking up so much time. Is that so hard to manage?

I liked the roving camera that showed us the various nominees in many of the more technical categories. Nice touch—human and engaging. And done pretty well to boot. Also, a nice job on the remote nominees and winners. Tricky stuff and you did it well. Two thumbs up.

I won’t mention the name, but you know who I’m talking about. Can we please just have a show that’s about the movies, and not about anything else? I understand that this is a platform now—a smaller one than ever, but a platform, nonetheless. But there seems to be some kind of impetus to go beyond the world of film and thankfulness. You can actually see when the switch happen sometimes. Winners just STOP, and then they think, and they just HAVE to say something, and since it’s not planned, it’s generally not clear. Or appropriate.

Related to that was an idea that didn’t quite work. THANK YOU for not having inane “banter” between two stars before giving us categories and winners. Good job, there! But winners tended to share a little too long, and some of them, well, again, I won’t mention names, but a few were quite painful to listen to, especially as they droned on.

You did get one big response from me during the evening. When Lil Rel started to move into the audience for his bit about songs that may or may not have been nominated, I started yelling at the television. I was screaming for you to stop it, now, please, for the love of all things good, please stop this immediately. You clearly didn’t listen to me, and it’s a  good thing that the reputedly spontaneous but clearly prepped Da Butt/Glenn Close thing happened; it distracted from what a bad, bad, bad, bad, stupid, awful, if-you-asked-me-about-this-I-would-have-shut-it-down-immediately, bad idea. Please don’t ever do anything this awkward and poorly done again. Please. Let’s just keep things moving.

The sad thing about an experimental format that only partially succeeds (and I’m being nice here) is that most of the voting was actually something I tended to agree with. There were no egregious, horrible choices, no career Oscars for mediocre or cringeworthy performances (thank you for not giving GC her Oscar for this film). There were some surprises, and if I’d been part of an Oscar pool, I don’t think I’d have won. But even when surprised, it was generally either a happy surprise or at least an “it’s OK” one. (I did feel bad for Halle Berry, who messed up the name of the one of the nominees, and then had to repeat the name—doing a slightly better job—when he won.)

…which of course leads us to your decision to mix things up a little, departing from tradition, and doing the unexpected. Mostly it was fine; I don’t think anyone is going to lose any sleep over the preceding year’s Best Whatever winner for giving the award to a person of the same gender this year. But oh, that ending. Not good. Throwing the Best Picture award into the show when you did was confusing, and it undermined the award. Then you had Best Actress, which I was happy to see. I was rooting for Carey Mulligan, but was happy that Francis McDormand, the early frontrunner, was the eventual winner. Yes, she will always refuse to get glammed up, and you never know what she is going to say, or howl. But always entertaining.

Putting the Best Actor award at the end was a bad choice. Yes, I know you and everyone else expected Chadwick Boseman to win for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, (as did I) and you gambled that it would bring the show to an emotional close. Instead the opposite happened.  Instead, Anthony Hopkins wins for The Father, and you’re left holding the bag. Since your cronies had refused to let him be seen or speak on Zoom, he was just an unresponsive face on the screen. There was no one to accept the award, and Joaquin Phoenix did the best he could do to bring the embarrassing and awkward moment to a close. His gracious acceptance speech the next morning put the previous night’s Best Actor decision to shame. I know you’re trying to rescue the choice by saying that hey, we’re all talking about it. And we’re all taking about COVID still, too.

The highlight was Tyler Perry’s deserved Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and his elegant speech. He took advantage of the moment to put forward not a political or social agenda, but a human one. It is the kind of speech that deserves to be heard and remembered. He was absolutely shining that night, and the audience that stopped clapping when he suggested that those whom we should not hate include police officers showed themselves to be as shallow as he was deep, as unthinking as he was thoughtful. Quite telling.

We all hope that this coming year will yield more and richer choices, though this year’s quality was the equal of any. The roster for film releases looks promising. So Oscar, I beg you, do a thorough and far-reaching post-mortem on the show, keep what works, fine-tune it, and toss the rest. No matter what, I’ll be watching. And I’ll always have a suggestion or two.

About Mark DuPré

Retired (associate) pastor at a Christian church. Retired film professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. Husband for 45+ years to the lovely and talented Diane. Father to three children and father-in-law to three more amazing people. I continue some ministry duties even though retired from the pastoral position. Right now I'm co-writing a book, working on a documentary (screenwriter and assistant director), and creating a serious musical drama (I am writing the book and lyrics).
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