My condolences to anyone else who watched the Oscars last night. It was absolutely painful. Beginning at 8:30 EST and technically only ending this morning, this year’s ponderous telecast was almost twice as long as the film it benighted as the best of year.
The Oscars are a cultural touchstone that, much like O.J. Simpson, Sarah Palin, and Paris Hilton, seem to exist solely as outlets for our equally powerful desires to gape and gawk as well as to belittle and ridicule. We all ooh and ahh at the shiny dresses and beautiful faces, and when one of our favorite matinée idols ascends to the podium, we sit on the edge of our seats, waiting for them to forget a co-star, agent, or spouse so we can rob their pivotal moment of all triumph. It’s tradition. Disturbing, but still tradition.
Yet just because a good portion of the viewing audience is hoping for a small scandal doesn’t mean that the entire telecast has to be one enormous clusterfuck. The Oscars have never been easy, but this year’s broadcast was more lethargic, less surprising, and just more frustrating than any I can remember.
As such, I offer the following suggestions for next year’s event. If followed, I believe we can have a more fluid, more exciting, and noticeably shorter Oscar telecast.
The Oscars are a televised event that celebrates the best in film. What sense does it make then to place the entire affair in the hands of a choreographer?
That’s all Adam Shankman, this year’s head honcho, is. Sure, he’s good at what he does, but Hollywood doesn’t give a shit about song and dance. And the American viewing public doesn’t care about it either, unless they get to send people away via text message. So next year, how about we hire a producer/director who’s familiar with the medium. Someone who can run a tight ship and turn out a product that hums along, smoothly and steadily. The gang at 24 has churned out taut TV under the most stringent of time constraints; why not hire their two most veteran directors Jon Cassar or Brad Turner? No one did fast-paced, arresting television better than Thomas Schlamme and John Wells on The West Wing. If we’re going to insist on these bogus interpretive dance numbers and ham-fisted openings, why not let Ryan Murphy and the Glee gang take the wheel? Or how about you take someone who has directed for the small and big screens, who has never displayed anything but admiration for the industry, and who continually pushes the bounds of whatever medium he chooses to tell a story in? Joss Whedon, I hope you’re free next March.
Song & Dance
Despite wanting Shankman forever barred from chairing the Oscars, I am not asking for a complete cessation to the Oscar production numbers. What I am asking for are ones that make sense. This year, we were treated to an interpretive number set to selections from each nominee for Original Score (at which point I decided flossing my teeth was more interesting), and a derivative opening song from Neil Patrick Harris. The former is a complete waste of time; the latter would have made sense if NPH had actually been hosting the Oscars himself. I say, do away with both of them and keep it simple. The Oscars have a Best Original Song category, but this year we never got to hear any of the nominated songs. That seems counterintuitive. Why not let these people perform? Often times, popular recording artists lend themselves to a soundtrack. In recent years, we’ve had nominations and thus performances from Beyonce, Melissa Etheridge, Dolly Parton, The Counting Crows, Sting, U2, Randy Newman, and Three 6 Mafia. Now, everyone’s taste may differ, but these artists have followings and command an audience. So let them sing!
You must be this famous to approach the podium
People watch the Oscars to see glamorous movie stars. They do not watch it to see scraggly-haired dweebs give an exhausting acceptance speech when celebrating their win for Best Sound Editing. No matter how sexy or interesting they might try to make these categories (a short explanatory reel presented by Zac Efron and narrated by Morgan Freeman, using examples from a popular movie that’s over two years old? Swoon!), it just never works. I’m all for equality and ending discrimination, but segregation must reign at the Oscars. There are the Movie Stars and Everyone Else. Call it segregeektion. That’s why they have those Technical Oscars a week before the main event, and that’s why they summarize the entire evening in less time than it takes to introduce the nominees for Best Picture: because nobody cares who’s going to win the hotly contested race for Best Use of A Steady-Cam During A Rotoscoped Zero-G Sex Scene or Action Sequence!
And I’m sorry, talented Hollywood craftsmen, but nobody cares about art direction, cinematography, costuming, film editing, make-up, sound editing, sound mixing, or visual effects either. Oh, they might care about the visceral thrill they provide for the senses, but they don’t care about the people who did it. I understand that they are integral parts of the process, but how many forced jokes about self-conscious beautiful people urging the wizards of the screen to make them look flattering do we have to endure? Relegate these awards to the technical ceremony, or at least present them before national broadcast, the way the Tony Awards do. Yeah, that’s how bad this year’s Oscars were: I’m suggesting that they take tips from the Tonys.
This May Be Your Life, But You’re Wasting Mine
Now even though the beautiful people are the main event, there does come a point of oversaturation. I think we could have shaved thirty minutes from the telecast if we did away with this absurd new practice of having previous nominees, co-stars, directors, or anyone else tangentially connected to the best actor and best actress nominees run up the clock by telling the nominees what wonderful people they are. We already know they’re wonderful; they’re nominated for Best Actor and Best Actress! This is masturbatory theater at its most extreme. It’s nothing more than a cheap way to get more famous faces on the stage and to ratchet up the tension in a manipulative American Idol fashion. Of course, for it to work, there has to be tension to begin with, something that this year’s contests were lacking. Yes, Best Actress may have been a toss-up, but did you really think Meryl Streep was going to trip Sandra Bullock on her way to the podium and storm out of the Kodak Theater (with Stanley Tucci scampering behind, simply out of habit)? I don’t care if one of these contests even ends in a tie (and it has happened), this express canonization has to stop! And what was even more ridiculous was that after these interminable introductions, they re-read the names of the nominees! Probably because by the time they were done introducing the fifth, everyone had forgotten who the first was! I allow no room for negotiation on this point. It simply has to stop.
A Middle Finger Salute
Another thing that I expressly forbid in future Oscar telecasts is any kind of salute beyond the traditional “In Memorium” montage. This year, that midget juicehead and bitchy sourpuss from Twilight introduced a salute to horror, which was kind of like having Tiger Woods and Elizabeth Taylor introduce a salute to marital fidelity. Little Miss Crankypants even mentioned that it had been thirty-some-odd years since a horror film received an Oscar. If that were true (and it’s not), then why the hell are we saluting it? And why did John Hughes get his own special memorial? I’ve enjoyed some of his work, but was he really the one dead person to elevate above all others? You could argue that his work was influential to a specific generation of movie-goers; I might counter that it was just because his actors are now all washed-up and were foaming at the mouth at the prospect of appearing on the Oscars.
A Host of Issues
I had faith in Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin to host the Oscars. That faith seems to have been misplaced. Clearly, these two were kept on a short leash, forced to adhere to some B-grade writers’ non-threatening, pedestrian material. I say that because I’d hope that a Snuggie joke was not the best that these two could have come up with on their own. If you’re not going to let talented comic performers deviate from a shapeless opening monologue of point-and-laugh one-liners, or the requisite prerecorded parody segment, or any of the other staid Oscar gags, then why bother having hosts at all? Cutting out hosts would eliminate an astonishing number of minutes from this lumbering showcase. The forgettable introductions could be scrapped. The witless banter could be avoided. You don’t need hosts! All you have to do is have that overeager announcer lady inform you of who was approaching the podium to present the next award. But what about the opening, you ask? I have a solution. It turns out that aside from those boring accountants and the doddering old president, there is a Board of Governors within the Academy that includes a representative for all the actors out there. That current representative is Tom Hanks. Can you think of a better person to kick off the Oscars? In his capacity as First Vice President of the Academy (his official title, I shit you not), all Tom Hanks has to do is deliver a two-minute monologue about how magical movies are, kick it over to a montage of all the nominated films, and then walk off stage as the first presenters approach. If that were the case, we could have presented three awards by the time Alec Baldwin had unhooked his safety harness.
Finally, let me address one of the aforementioned Oscar gags that really pisses me off. I don’t want to see another “interview” with a cartoon. Look, I adore animation in all its forms, but this stopped being amusing after Toy Story. No one is impressed anymore that you can have actors interacting with CGI characters, and no one is fooled into believing that this bit hasn’t been prepared months in advance. Don’t insult my intelligence with this crap, Oscars. You already have enough ways to do that.
I hope someone of influence out there is reading this, and that my recommendations can be considered before next year’s ceremony. With any luck, next year’s Oscar night 11:00 news might actually air at 11:00.