MCN Commentary & Analysis

The State of Oscar. 021020. Oscar’s Climax (Pt 2 – The Show Review).

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.

14 Responses to “The State of Oscar. 021020. Oscar’s Climax (Pt 2 – The Show Review).”

  1. Rams says:

    0-10 “The Irishman” 300 million well spent Netflix for your zero-sum business model!! And, I can assure you that “Parasite” as good as it is will not fill the ratings bucket next year.

    The opening number was almost as embarrassing as the Rob Lowe -Snow White debacle of a few years ago.

    The best song of the year “Beautiful Ghosts” from “Cats” wasn’t even nominated.

    We can look forward to Ron Howard’s “Hillbilly Elegy” next year so Ms. Close can win her Oscar. And MP can enjoy Meryl Streep in the unforgettable “The Prom”. Oh, and we will endure another version of “The Boys in the Band” which undoubtedly will be viewed by 50 eyeballs.

    Hooray for Netflix!!

  2. Pat Hobby says:

    The AMPAS has – ZERO – confidence in film as an art form, they have – ZERO – idea of how to convey to the public film’s important place in our popular culture, and they have – ZERO – knowledge of the history of film or how to celebrate it. They are lost.

  3. Bob Burns says:

    Just as one person’s reaction. I did not notice the inclusion theme as being intrusive, or abnormal. Inclusionmis the plot solution to at least half the big movies at the top of the box office list. it’s very Disney.

    The awards community has become touchy on the subject of inclusion. Natural to be touchy after years of criticism, but from the outside looking in, we regular Americans are accustomed to an inclusion message as useful in an increasingly diverse country, where we sell our products and try to get along.

    The film industry absolutely has to sell each and every one of its products to a wildly diverse ticket-purchasing audience worldwide. Seems perfectly normal that the largely white male, film industry would use its premier event, where it explains itself to the world, as an opportunity to say, ” we care about each and every one of you.”

  4. Karl R says:

    Here’s a list of bad ideas because I love the Oscars but also couldn’t help myself.

    Nix the live performances of songs. Instead, make a Spotify playlist or something where you can scan a 2D barcode on the bottom of the screen and listen for free to the songs and the scores.

    Use the ABC or Oscars app to watch the show via multiple streams – broadcast, press room, backstage, host. Make it easily gif-able and meme-able for social media. Imagine the shot of Marty squinting at Eminem goes viral in the moment – viewers follow.

    Clip packages of people speaking passionately about the nominees. Moments. Lines. Performances. Technical disciplines – why is the cinematography of this scene incredible? How did the sound mixing give you shivers? Educate people to appreciate the technical awards. And you can even load the clip packages with stars who aren’t in attendance as a promo boost. Give people a reason to want to see the nominees they haven’t seen yet. Post them to social media afterwards.

    Bring in more of the history of the awards. Anniversaries of milestones. Connections with past and today’s nominees. Firsts and records.

    Or just give into the inevitable. An entire ceremony hosted and presented by CGI recreations of all of history’s celebrities. Judy Garland gives out Best Actor. Heath Ledger presents Best Actress. George C Scott gives out Best Picture on the 50th anniversary of PATTON winning. It’s the 30th anniversary of PRETTY WOMAN in 2020 so de-age Roberts and Gere and have them present as a pair.

  5. Hcat says:

    Rams, I am no longer a die hard Netflix defender, however, they are playing by the rules. They are giving their films the required run in theaters to qualify. Would I like full wide releases, sure. Would I prefer Marriage Story (among others) to have landed at a traditional distributor, absolutely. But they are willing to pay what they do so it is likely a boon to the exact type of filmmakers we would hope more media would champion.

    That they are willing to adapt Broadway shows like The Prom or Boys in the Band is perfectly fine with me. That they are willing to give $45 million to Howard to adapt Hillbilly Elegy (I cannot imagine a major that would invest half that for the adaptation), should be taken as a good sign. It is better to have Irishman and Dolemite on Netflix than not have them at all.

    There are MASSIVE issues about streaming that could adversely effect the movie industry. That slightly off center movies are being funded is not one of them.

    But being of middle age myself I did find it endearing that you would refer to 1989 as being a ‘few’ years ago.

  6. Stella's Boy says:

    I’m with Hcat. Netflix still annoys me on a regular basis but I’m glad they made The Irishman when no one else would. They also have been making more mid-budget genre fare from filmmakers I really admire like Jim Mickle. Oh and Hillbilly Elegy is an awful book. Wish no one had made that movie.

  7. Daniel H says:

    I can’t post anything better than Bob Burns did above. Diverse audiences, and global audiences, are the present and future of the film business. It is not in the cold, hard, financial bottom line interests of the film business to operate with any other mindset.

  8. Yancy says:

    Actually, “Lose Yourself” was an original track from the 8 MILE soundtrack. Didn’t exist before then. Note the reference to “Mekhi Pfeiffer.”

  9. palmtree says:

    Yancy is correct. The movie and the song are intimately linked, which is why it won the Oscar and deserved so.

    Honestly, the Oscar being too much about diversity is just what it feels like when the Oscars normally aren’t diverse and don’t talk much about diversity at all. In a year when Oscars So White was very close to a repeat, overemphasizing diversity isn’t necessarily a bad choice when you consider the alternative.

  10. Glamourboy says:

    First blog post Dave that I completely agree with. You really hit it on the head. The weird tone of apology throughout the show was so odd….as if the TV show and the Voting Academy were two different entities, and one had to apologize for the other’s behavior. It reminded me of our divided country…one half being Trumpsters and the other half apologizing for him. One half being old and stodgy and the other half trying to apologize by bringing out Grammy moments. The love of movies was totally missing. It was a total mess and made me uneasy.

  11. YancySkancy says:

    I’ve been kind of surprised that in all the ink about Joaquin’s speech, the focus has been on cows and veganism, when he also slipped in a rather pointed criticism of cancel culture.

  12. Stella's Boy says:

    Here in Wisconsin his comments about cows were not well received. Media got a lot of mileage out of that. Stories quoting angry farmers, etc. But considering the Oscars aren’t what they once were it doesn’t surprise me that a winner’s speech is, generally speaking, quickly forgotten. By the next morning it was back to Trump and the Dem primary.

  13. Stella's Boy says:

    That and maybe it just wasn’t effective criticism as cancel culture actually isn’t out there unjustly canceling people the way certain rich & powerful white men want you to think it is.

  14. sam says:

    At this point so many of the winners sound like they’re accepting the Nobel Peace Prize instead of a trophy for acting. It felt that by the time that Zelweger won she felt compelled to give this long winded speech instead of being in the moment. It really would have been great had done a speech that reflected how she must have felt to have this kind of return.

    An example of the overbearing polemic was Michelle Williams at the Globes thinking that somehow her winning had something to do with her birth control practices. No, they had everything to do with

    Don’t beat up on Netflix for producing The Boys In The Band and The Prom. They have the resources so why not venture in theatrical adaptations, especailly the former? Boys is a Ryan Murphy production and has a Netflix deal but the real drawer would have to be Jim Parsons so one has to wonder if there was a bidding process involving Big Bang Theory/Young Sheldon producers (Warner) and network (CBS) so that they could continue to support one of their biggest stars/producers.

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