Monday, March 03, 2014

oscar kvetching. stop already!

Credit: Bradley Cooper
The only thing more boring and annoying than movie awards shows is complaining about movie awards shows.  I think you know what I mean.

Every year, from late December to early March, people don't talk so much about movies themselves as they do about the alleged awfulness of movie awards shows.  Some rant on and on and on, sounding approximately like crazy cabbies. The cynicism and negativity can be toxic.

If they are so outraged, why do they bother to watch, I ask.  And the outrage is more than a little excessive, given something as simplistic (simple-minded?) as your average movie awards show.

And, yes, your average movie awards show is indeed a simple creature, no matter how it is dolled up (and often with its excesses of its own):  Someone steps up to a podium to read the names of those vying for a certain award and is inevitably joined by the winner(s) in that category.


The perennial whipping boy of all the movie awards shows is the Oscarcast, largely because it is the most important and most luminous of the bunch (some might call it self-important and elephantine) - but also because it's the very last movie awards show of an increasingly long movie-awards season, which this year seemed to go on for an eternity.

And being the last is what's caused it so much heartache in recent years.

There is such a glut of movie-awards paraphernalia that precedes it that the Oscarcast has become anti-climatic, and I'm not including the silly critics' awards - which includes, among many others, The National Board of Review, The Critics Choice Movie Awards (formerly known as The Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards - whew!), The New York Film Critics Circle and The National Society of Film Critics, a group that I politely declined to join (I'm dating myself here) way back in the 1980s.

It doesn't matter who's hosting or what the theme may be. For the Oscars, it's always a matter of too little too late.  There's no surprise, no suspense because the usual suspects rule the night.  The major winners at Monday's Oscar festivities are the exact same who/that dominated the Independent Spirit Awards the night before - and, before that, the Golden Globes.

Ennui sets in.  It's unavoidable.  Who cares that Blanchett and Leto won?

Haven't they each won four other acting awards in as many months?

If the powers that run the Oscarcast really want to give it a shot in the arm, they'd leapfrog ahead of all the others and schedule the event in January, when all the nominees are fresh and new and there is still some excitement surrounding them.  But that's too big a risk.  It's easier to do some relatively minor tweaks in terms of host and production design.

The Oscarcast isn't the only movie awards show undergoing constant nips and tucks and scrutiny.  For some bizarre reason, four years ago, someone with The Hollywood Foreign Press came up with the bright idea of introducing a host to the Golden Globes telecast.  As much as I enjoy Tina Fey and Amy Pohler, they're unnecessary.   For years, the Globes got by with just a faceless announcer and a parade of presenters and then someone decided to impose Ricky Gervais on the proceedings.  He was funny and irreverent.  I loved him.  But he was also ... unnecessary.

Last year, the Oscarcast elected to spice things up and avoid its funereal reputation by recruiting the scamp auteur Seth McFarland to host.  He took a risk:  he approached the Oscars as if he was overseeing a fraternity hazing and, well, even if you didn't watch the show, you can imagine what transpired.  But he was better than Billy Crystal, who was brought out of mothballs the year before to host, and way better than the team of James Franco (who was on stage but somehow "absent") and Anne Hathaway (who always seemed to be hugging herself) the year before that.

This year, Ellen Degeneres made an appealing host and, in her own subtle way, was shrewdly subversive.  The alert viewer would have noticed that she played down the notion of competition and even movies themselves and played up the lost ideal of fraternity (but not the Seth McFarland kind).  She waded through the audience more than once, networking with the glitzy celebrities and bringing them together.  It wasn't an awards show.  It was a party at her house, see, and she even ordered pizza for the occasion and took a picture of herself with her starry guests.  She was our surrogate - a fan who found herself in a fantasy world of movie stars.

And, running the risk making a fool of herself, she instead demonstrated what it is to have a whale of a good time.  And, by projection, we did, too.

It didn't matter that the blest Cate Blanchett and Jared Leto won yet again. Who cares really? What mattered was that we got to see Meryl Streep and Brad Pitt, both dressed to the nines, eating pizza.

Note in Passing:  And bravo to the Academy's In Memoriam this year.  Extremely well-done and pretty much inclusive.  Glenn Close's disclaimer that perhaps some beloved faces might be missing - but "they remain in our hearts" - was a wise move and very well put.  And, finally,  Bette Midler’s moving rendition of "The Wind Beneath My Wings" (alternately known as "Hero") topped it off quite nicely. A lovely touch.

And a most appropriate one.

BTW, the official Oscar site has an unedited memoriam of 160 names in all, 78 of which are represented with photographs and are alphabetized.

The list, alas, was ultimately pruned down to 47 names for broadcast.


Sheila said...

Well put! I've been waiting for someone to say exactly this! Bravo!

Kevin D. said...

Yes! I love how people who fancy themselves sophisticated and smart watch the Oscars and then complain about the show. If they are so above it all, as you ask, why do they watch. They could be doing something more cultural.

joe baltake said...

Yeah, like reading Proust maybe.

Gil Fahey said...

I admire the sense of caring that Degeneres brought to the show this year. She really centered it and, although it ran its usual length, it seemed much leaner than it has in recent years.

Joe Richardson said...

I have no guilt liking the Oscars. There, I said it! It's big and hulking and takes itself way to seriously. And the hosts that have tried to humble it and bring it down to earth - I'm thinking of McFarland and Chris Rock in particular - are demonized for their efforts. This year, Ellen went in the opposite, more humane direction and is being accused of being a bore. Wow! People just like to complain, that's all. I think she did great, just great.

joe baltake said...

You nailed it, Joe. People like to complain, not just about movies and the Oscars, but about everything. They probably thinks it makes them seem discriminating and selective. Not true. They only come across as miserable.

wwolfe said...

I enjoyed Ellen. She balanced a fundamental warmth and generosity with enough tartness to make her a good companion for the evening. If nothing else, this edition of the show got points from me for two simple, but very gratifying choices: 1.) at least for the major awards, the winners were allowed to talk without getting cut off by the orchestra; and 2.) the director finally (!) turned off the microphones in the theater during the "In Memoriam" section, so it didn't become a tasteless contest about who got the most applause.

joe baltake said...

Bill! You bring up two excellent points. The major winners were not cut off when responding to their wins and - yes! - there was no applause during the memorial. -J

Ellie Branch said...

I loved everything about the Oscar show this year. For me, it worked. Yes, Ellen was the host, but she was a subdued one. I liked that. I agree with you that putting on an Oscar show is a losing proposition. Malcontents and people who fancy themselves film aficionados will complain. I say, they deserve their misery!

Dick said...

I think Ellen did a good job. And the pizza order made it fun. I hear that the deliveryman walked away with more than $1,000 as a tip.

Wade said...

Thanks for the link to the Academy's memorial - really impressive. I find it interesting that, of the 160 names listed, not included is Diane Clare, who I believe you questioned when she made Turner's list. I still can't believe that Turner never paid tribute to Maximilian Schell when he died. I mean, he won an Oscar, for heaven's sake!

joe baltake said...

Wade- Both Maximilian Schell and Philip Seymour Hoffman passed during Turner's annual, all-inclusive Oscar marathon. It's "All Oscar All the Time." There's room for little else, although Turner did honor Shirley Temple. She couldn't be ignored. Plus she's closer to Turner's "brand." As for Diane Clare being included, that remains a jaw-dropper, particularly when one considers who was left out. I've worked on enough newspapers and magazines to know that these lists are highly arbitrary - popularity contests really. Someone at Turner obviously liked her and made sure she was on the list, despite her obscurity. She had an advocate. I've been there and done the same thing.

k.l. said...

I love it. Agree totally!!!!!!!

Steven said...

Way to go, Joe!

Katie said...

Spot on, Joe! Perfect.

jbryant said...

Ditto to all this, except "The Wind Beneath My Wings." In a show already running long, it was quite anti-climactic in coming AFTER the In Memoriam. Maybe if I were a bigger fan of the song it wouldn't have bothered me.

You're right, it's beyond boring when people trot out the same lame criticisms and "fixes" year after year. The show is what it is, and always has been. You either like this sort of thing or you don't. If you don't, ignore it. Even worse are condescending comments that pop up in online forums to the effect of "I feel sorry for anyone who has nothing better to do with their time than watch the Oscars." Of course, I'm sure those who write such comments never do ANYTHING that's fun but inconsequential. Plus it's a straw man "argument" -- in our age of multiple cable channels, streaming video services, the internet and, you know, books, there's no such thing as someone watching the Oscars because they can't find anything better to do. People who watch, WANT to watch. I couldn't care less about, say, the Super Bowl, but it's no skin off my nose if others live for it. Why can't Oscar-haters take the same tack?