| March 26, 2020
The show, simply, sucked.
And the first big reason it sucked was because of the producers and The Academy paying endless homage to diversity in a way that was so ham-fisted and poorly managed that it felt like a husband whose wife caught him in their bed with 2 strippers and a donkey trying to win her back with 100 pieces of jewelry.
But it wasn’t just diversity that had The Academy sweating up a storm, but a nearly demented chase for youth culture that was not only self-defeating, but often didn’t make sense (see 47-year-old Eminem performing a song that was a massive hit, which then inspired a movie about his life, which led to him snubbing The Oscars 18 years ago).
Not every attempt failed completely. The ebony and ivory comedy duo of Martin and Rock was terrific. If they would ever do an entire show together, they would be the best possible answer to the host slot, not only balancing race, but also comic styles, answering the problem that has come up with having comics with strong voices host in the past and being too much of one flavor (including, for many, both Rock and Martin).
Like many movies that are better regarded than they really deserve, The Oscar show came together in the third act… but only because of the performances of the winners.
Parasite wins Best International Picture at 2:35 of the show runtime. 2:51, Bong wins Director. Excitement rises. 3:03, the speech by Joaquin, which was a performance not unlike Joker. Renee Zellweger kills the energy by not being quick and clever. But… Jane Fonda brings it home a few minutes later with the Parasite win, which was clearly where the energy was in that theater… with people of all races and gender. Would Sam Mendes have been as fun to see win, even if you loved his film? No. Not his fault. Having spent a little time with Sam over the years, I think he has that gear… but we have never seen it in a way that excites people.
In any case, that last half hour, plus Laura Dern, plus all 5 of the comedy pairings (Martin/Rock, Wiig/Rudolph, Louis-Dreyfus/Ferrell, Romano/Oh, and Wilson/Corden, even if the Cats gag about FX was unfair), plus speeches by Pitt and Guðnadóttir, plus Olivia Coleman killing it in her intro, were the good things about the show… none of which were round pegs forced into well-intended square holes.
There were ELEVEN music moments that took anywhere between one minute to five minutes. That adds up to, with commercial breaks, more than an hour of the show. Was there a full hour of actual footage of movies? I don’t think so. We know there was over an hour of award presentation and acceptances. So, there was no room for the movies. There wasn’t even a presentation of the 9 Best Picture nominees in clips of a minute or longer.
I will get more into the significance of the ratings in the third and final wrap-up piece on the awards. But the Grammys dropped to their all-time low this year. The Emmys set a new record too, with just 6.9 million viewers. So what did Oscar do? They booked a lot of musical performances and actors seen primarily on television. Hmmm…
The thing about trying to be inclusive in the show… relentlessly inclusive… obsessed with inclusion… is that at some point, it feels desperate. This is how The Academy has approached everything for the last decade or so. That does not make the intentions bad. That does not mean that The Academy should not be making every effort to be inclusive, including loading up on new member talent that seeks a better balance within the organization. But no one turns on the Oscars to be woken. (Well, not no one… maybe 20%.) People turn on the Oscars to be entertained… to watch the stars look glamorous and stressed and happy and sad… to love on movies, even if they have not yet seen the movies… to celebrate.
The industry is not balanced. The movies that were on the offer for this award season were not balanced in the areas of gender or race. And with all the love that I truly feel, the Parasite win doesn’t change that at all. You can’t have a show that celebrates something that doesn’t exist and engage the audience in a great way. It doesn’t feel genuine.
Television is about habit. Television is about comfort. Television is about 80% familiarity and 20% surprise. And thank the TV Gods for Parasite’s win and the 9 comedians and a naturally funny actress and the speeches that were engaging… because otherwise, the show would have been a complete failure.
No one tuned in to see Eminem because it was a secret. And how many people will watch the show next year for a big musical surprise by a middle-aged guy doing a 20-year-old rap song that is now used as elevator music? ZERO!
Even Janelle Monáe, who I love to watch perform, trying to raise the energy of the room to some kind of higher level, failed… even though the number itself was excellent. Why? Multiple reasons. First, because they celebrated movies that were not nominated and didn’t bother to tell us. Imagine if they said, clearly, that this was a celebration of ALL movies and not just the ones that got the big nominations. And instead of picking a half-dozen films to costume the dancers, pick 20. Make it something to go back and figure out later. Include Thanos and Héloïse from Portrait of a Lady on Fire and The Lighthouse guys and Godzilla, etc, etc, etc. God bless Midsommar… but how much of the audience for The Oscars saw the $27m domestic grosser and got either the text or the subtext?
The only real progress in the show was that they didn’t trot out the stars of every new film coming this year… though Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus open in the very off-beat but very funny Downhill on Friday.
On the other hand, instead of getting something cool from Lin-Manuel Miranda, we got his acolytes who might be recognized as rising movie talent in the next year or two…but right now, mean nothing to the audience.
Still, the primary lesson of this show should be that what was memorable and what will be talked about for years to come is the competition of the night – even though it was underplayed by the show itself – and the people who won and said something memorable – and the unexpected moments, like the standing ovation for Scorsese that Bong created in the moment.
A great musical number that connects will still work. Billy Crystal’s songs, Hugh Jackman’s opening number, some of the memorial moments. But what makes them memorable is that they connect to the overall theme of the night, which is movies… not inclusion, not gender, not race. I’m sorry. These are really important issues and they have their place in the show. But they are not The Show.
In an odd way, the show reflected the season, in that the movement towards Parasite filled a vacuum of passion that was not there for this very, very high quality list of nominees. There was nothing in this show that made me consider wanting to see 1917 or Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood or Little Women or Marriage Story or The Irishman or Jojo Rabbit or Ford v Ferrari or Joker win. Anything winning other than Parasite would have been – as a matter of drama – anti-climatic by the end of that TV show. And that is a failure of that TV show.
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