Monday, February 25, 2019

the 2019 oscars ~ professional, polished, elegant

Refusing to be distracted by all the unsolicited advice of the media know-it-alls, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences instead focused exclusively on streamlining and enhancing its annual awards show and the result was an Oscarcast that regained its station. It was downright regal.

During the past two decades or so, movie awards shows have multiplied at a freakish rate, diluting the importance of the Oscars and diminishing its legendary status. Snarky naysayers had written it off - but naysayers be damned! The show rebounded this year. And fabulously. The 2019 Oscars was professional, polished, elegant -and, once again, inarguably iconic.

Kudos go to Academy president John Bailey; the show's director, Glenn Weiss, and Weiss's team of (all-female) art directors Alana Billingsley, Margeaux Lapresle and Amanda Stephens. Their sets for the Dolby Theater stage were handsome and sleek, unfussy and unostentatious.

Basic. Much like the show itself.

And Bailey and company proved conclusively that an awards show does not need a host. Again: An. Awards. Show. Does. Not. Need. A. Host.

This is not a radical idea. For years, The Golden Globes got by without a host. A host gets in the way. The standard opening monologue eats up time with predictable (hit-or-miss) jokes about the stars in the audience. The 2019 Oscars had an unseen announcer who introduced the presenters who introduced ... the winners. Basic. It was all about the awards. Period.

There were any number of memorable moments. The show had an electric opening with Adam Lambert performing Queen's 1977 double-sided single, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” with original members of the band that's celebrated in Bryan Singer's "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Following quickly was the three-way hilarity of Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler who announced the supporting actress nominees, while assuring everyone that, no, they were absolutely, definitely not hosts.

But this was easily topped by Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry, outrageously costumed in the spirit of the award they were presenting - for costume design. The ever-game McCarthy was decked out like Olivia Colman in "The Favourite," in a gown festooned with little bunny rabbits. (You have to see the movie to understand this joke.) McCarthy even wore bunny gloves which made opening the envelope, well, a tad awkward.

And, despite the usual unavoidable omissions, the In Memoriam sequence this year was especially touching, with musical accompaniment of a composition by John Williams - played hauntingly by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, with Gustavo Dudamel conducting.

Best of all, among the winners was the year's underdog, "Bohemian Rhapsody," a terrific film (dismissed by clueless critics) which took home the most awards of the evening - four - in the actor (Rami Malek), film editing, sound mixing, and sound editing categories. This wasn't supposed to happen. The evening was supposed to belong to "A Star Is Born."

The day before the Oscarcast, The Film Independent Spirit Awards was telecast - and the contrast could not be more dramatic or jarring. If the Oscars show is polished and professional, The Film Independent Spirit Awards is decidedly not. But I've a hunch that's the idea.
Easily the silliest movie awards show, the Spirit Awards is a gig where art-house celebs have no qualms bounding on stage to embarrass themselves, inevitably shouting some school-yard obscenities and trying desperately to be cool. This show has a host and this year it was Aubrey Plaza, who has no trouble trying to be cool because Aubrey Plaza actually is cool. She was the show's sole saving grace.

Watching it this year, it occurred to me that, unlike other awards shows with which I'm familiar, I had no idea who picks the nominees and eventual winners of the Spirit Awards. I mean we know who makes up the Oscar voting block and who votes for the SAG awards and the Directors' Guild, but who votes for the Independent Spirit Awards, which the astute Anne Thompson of IndieWire has described as "the alternative to the Oscars"?

So I reached out to friends, one of whom is a member of Film Independent, the force behind the awards. Apparently, the public - average moviegoers - makes up a sizable portion of Film Independent.

Which, I guess, makes it nothing more than a variation on The People's Choice Awards.

Anyway, if I had to compare the Indie Spirits show to a movie character it would be Baby Jane Hudson - weird and slightly terrifying. The Golden Globes, meanwhile, is like Auntie Mame - madcap and unpredictable.

And the Oscars? Easy. Margo Channing - legendary and unattainable.

Oscar! It's back on top, baby.

Note in Passing: While, the 2019 Oscarcast received enthusiastic reviews from The New York Times, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and IndieWire, among others, there were the usual naysayers who, this time out, complained about the length of some acceptance speeches. Bulletin! No one really has any control over how long a winner goes on or how many people he/she thanks. Jeez. It's an awards show. "Thank you's" are to be expected, see? But I doubt if any of the naysayers can appreciate or process that. It's unlikely that any of them will be in a position to win an award of any kind.

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you.

(from top) 

~ One of the sets on the Dolby Theater stage, designed for the 2019 Oscars by Alana Billingsley, Margeaux Lapresle and Amanda Stephens
~photography: ABC/ The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences 2019©

~Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry, in costume, presenting the costume design award 
~photography: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP  2019©

~Aubrey Plaza hosting the 2019 Film Independent Spirit Awards
~photography: IFC/Film Independent 2019©


Deana said...

Totally agree with you, Joe! I was delightfully surprised by all of it, especially the non-predictable winners.

mike schlesinger said...

I agree, a well-done show, though I still think a host isn't a bad idea.

Correction: It's Bailey, not Baily.

joe baltake said...

Thanks, Mike. Correction made. I agree. Nothing wrong with a host but it's a highly expendable element. I didn't miss either one of the two Jimmys last night or their self-consciously scripted barbs. Not exactly spontaneous, which is the very least that an awards show should be. -J

mike schlesinger said...

Au contraire, Kimmel proved to be an adept ad-libber, and let's not forget that he quickly dumped a closing bit with Matt Damon to rush back to the stage and restore order after the LA-LA LAND screw-up.

Jason said...

Great piece, Joe! I love that the Academy streamlined the show. I know I certainly don't miss Jimmy Kimmel and crew going to a nearby theater and inviting the audience there to the Oscars. That whole bit took a good 15 minutes of precious time. What a waste!

joe baltake said...

Jason- I forgot about that ridiculous segment. Thanks for the reminder. I'm with you. It's not missed - and it was indeed a waste of time.

Mike- We'll never agree on this issue. You like awards-show hosts; I think they're unnecessary. That said, I never said I didn't like Kimmel. He's absolutely great at what he does. But an awards show doesn't really need him.


mike schlesinger said...

For the record, I said I prefer a host, but agree one isn't necessary, as this show proved.

Kevin Deany said...

I always enjoy the Academy Awards. Always have and, I suspect, always will. The length of past shows never bothered me. After all, It’s only once a year. Do people complain that weekly football games or World Series games can run three-and-half to four hours? Nope.

For me, one night a year, we get a big, lavish celebration of movies, and that’s something to celebrate.

The way I look at it is it is the Academy’s party, and they are nice enough to invite us to their evening. I prefer to be a gracious guest.

I make a party of it too. Every year I have friends over, and now their grown kids join us, and we fill out ballots and eat pizza, chips and dip, eclairs and other things bad for us, and a wonderful time is had by all.

I was absurdly pleased with myself as this year I did pick Olivia Colman to win Best Actress. I thought THE WIFE was too small a picture to have been seen by the majority of Academy members, and the fact that Glenn Close had been nominated seven times before without ever winning didn’t mean anything. Look at Richard Burton (seven nominations, no wins) or Peter O’Toole (eight nominations, no wins).

I picked Rami Malek, as many people did. I saw BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY at a second-run theater, months after it had opened, the theater was sold out and people applauded wildly at the end. I bet many a prestigious movie would love to generate that kind of audience reaction. He got my vote that night.

While my personal taste is such that I often disagree with the winners over the years, I think, for the most part, the overall nominations are a good reflection of the year in movies.

It’s not perfect, but few things are in life. Don’t fix what isn’t broken.

StreamOscars said...

The Academy Awards is just knocking at the door, now it's time to enjoy the Oscars 2020 fantasy.