Because it’s important to get this out of the way, both presenting and hosting the Oscars are hard work. Thankless, even. For proof, let me put together a montage from the 84th Annual Academy Awards.
And somewhere, against all odds, James Franco is buying drinks for everybody. The colossal hosting disaster from last year is now forgotten by the safe, unfunny, retro-disaster that was Crystal making jokes that he laughed at repeatedly and overseeing an Oscars telecast that was as poorly paced as any in recent memory.
While it’s true that the Oscar host gets too much blame when it goes wrong, there was nary a comedic bit from Crystal that didn’t seem like it came from the prior decade or was as obvious as a crying baby in church. If the Academy wanted safe, it got safe, but it also got what seemed like a lounge act that was entirely too chummy and self-satisfied.
But Crystal is just the rod with nowhere to run in a lightning storm. More blame should be placed on the direction of the show, which started deathly slow (after the predictable and no longer fresh or creative video spoof from Crystal) and then got shockingly more slow as it went along.
In years past, the formula that always undid any awards show was simple (and yet few ever fixed it): Start strong, have a bloated and boring middle that then made a mess and a rush of the ending, which is always the most anticipated part of the show. How many times through the years has an awards telecast ran long or too close to the end time and left people we actually tuned in for – best actors, directors and best film winners – to race through their acceptance speeches and thus let all the air out of the room?
Well, inexplicably, this year’s Oscars managed to make that formula look brilliant. It started slow, got slower, bloated the entire affair with montages, glazed the eyes of viewers (“What, was that really the best director award?”) and then ladled on even more montages until it culminated in the predictable – if warranted – crowning of The Artist. About the only thing to raise a pulse was Meryl Streep winning again (in what most people will consider an upset), and that’s only going to piss off viewers even more.
So, yeah, not the Oscars' finest moment. And when it comes nowhere near the ratings of the Grammys, the cherry will drop on top.
For much of the night, there was an annoying feedback coming from the main stage microphone that people complained about with ferocity online. Did no one monitor the sound? There also was no palpable sense of excitement or entertainment. And here’s where it gets a little tricky for the Hollywood community. Yes, so many people in so many varied categories have done great work, and they need to be feted for that, but in the real world when people are watching the Oscars, they don’t really care as much about sound, editing, makeup, etc.
The trick is to include those awards but to keep up the excitement level as a broadcast for people who really only want to know about the acting categories, the director and best film. Sure, film fans have plenty of other categories they love – foreign film, documentary, etc. But the average viewer wants to be entertained while they wait for the big categories.
What they got instead was a ceaseless parade of montages that hammered home the same theme: Movies are magic. They make the world a better place. They make life worth living. Everybody gets swept away at the movies. Isn’t it magical?
First off, stop dropping the anvil on us. Secondly, at some point the level of self-congratulation about how your work makes the life of The Little People more magical begins to feel condescending, arrogant and annoying. So how about three of those montages instead of, what, 33?
The pacing was sloppy and slow until -- hey, here we go -- best actors. People could be forgiven for having nodded off by then or perhaps, lulled into a stupor, missing the whole thing because they walked to the fridge or went to the sink to splash cold water on their faces.
Worse for Crystal, the Ellen DeGeneres commercials were like some kind of counterattack. She was funny in them. Like The Artist, people became mesmerized and leaned into their sets, wishing Ellen would jump out and host. Chris Rock – yes, please host. Tina Fey – please write and host! It was one of those nights.
And not a good night.
Here were a few worries I had: That Sacha Baron Cohen would steal the thunder (a bad precedent – look for one of the Transformers next year or some superhero in a costume or Murphy as Norbit or some Disney balloon). I worried that the great Christopher Guest & Players bit would be the highlight (outside of some really sweet acceptance speeches, it probably was). I worried that people were switching over to The Walking Dead or Luck.
On the other hand, I was happy for people who helped save the show – Emma Stone, Christopher Plummer, even Angelina Jolie sticking her leg out with authority helped distract from the feeling that the clock was melting. There was even a macaroni-and-cheese commercial that provided a ray of light.
Just a guess here – but since this makes two fairly horrendous Oscars in a row, the Academy will have to really rethink the process next year. And not to guess about others' feelings, but you can bet that other critics will revile this effort as well.
For all of this talk about how the movies are magic (montage, montage, montage), maybe someone in the business could have sprinkled some of that magic on this telecast. It certainly didn’t transport us to another world – unless that world was a show on another channel.