How hard can it be to produce a decent Oscars show? That’s the question I ask myself every year.
It’s been two short years since the Franco/Hathaway trainwreck detonated on the stage of the (then) Kodak Theater. Last year the show’s producers overcompensated by dusting off Billy Crystal’s hackneyed schtick after Eddie Murphy bailed on them. It didn’t help that, in addition to stale jokes, Billy brought with him an off-putting attitude of “You people are lucky I came back to save the Oscars.” It was unfunny and condescending. Last year’s telecast wasn’t as bad as the previous catastrophe; it was merely boring.
I was a bit incredulous when Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane was announced as this year’s Oscars host. It’s not so much that I don’t find him funny, it’s just that, aside from his film Ted, MacFarlane isn’t really thought of as a movie guy. I’ve heard over the years that the Academy and ABC won’t hire a guy like Neil Patrick Harris (who’s killed it numerous times as host of both the Tony and Emmy awards), because he’s just a “TV guy.” I’m not sure how Seth has a great film pedigree. NPH was in Starship Troopers, for God’s sake!
My only skepticism with Seth was his brand of humor, which frequently consists of saying the most offensive thing one might be able to imagine. He’s a self-professed fan of Bob Hope. How can that humor work for a show that is as inherently high class as the Oscars?
It turns out Seth came up with a pretty nifty way or managing his crasser impulses, at least during the opening monologue. By using Shatner as Captain Kirk, Seth was able to do all of his edgier, bluer stuff and do it in a way that was simultaneously winking at it. The “Boobs” song was pretty funny, especially the Kate Winslet bit, and Seth clearly has a nice singing voice. It was clever and it was the high point of the show. Seth MacFarlane turned out to be a perfectly adequate Oscars host. And then, things went downhill pretty quickly.
The rest of the show had the distinctly rough feel of a dress rehearsal. Actors stumbled while reading the telepromter as if they’d never seen the copy before. Jennifer Lawrence stumbled up the stairs. Camera cues were frequently missed while some camera angles clearly showed stagehands in the wings. Edits were made seemingly at random, cutting away to crowd shots during acceptance speeches. When two people were onscreen, the show would frequently cut away to the person at stage right, even when the other person was still talking. I know it’s live television, but technically the show lacked a lot of the polish something like the Oscars should have. It was really sloppy.
The much ballyhooed 50th Anniversary James Bond tribute turned out to be really lame; just a random collection of film clips followed by Shirley Bassey singing “Goldfinger.” To be sure, Dame Shirley has a pretty impressive set of pipes for a 76-year-old. But, for a segment of the show they were really hyping, the end result left me shrugging, “That’s it?” The longest-running film series in history, and this was the best they could come up with?
I also didn’t like presenting the nine Best Picture nominees in clumps of threes. I get that the Oscar show is always super long (This one ran about 35 minutes long.), but rushing through the nominated feature films just to save time didn’t sit well. Isn’t that what the show is supposed to be about? If the show should have time for something, it should be the films nominated for Best Picture.
Jennifer Hudson singing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” will never get old. But, the tribute to the “great musicals of the past ten years” segment was nearly as lame as the Bond homage. Random film clips led to a live (well, not so live in Catherine Zeta Jones’ case – that was some bad lip synching) performance. This culminated with the Les Miz cast singing “One Day More,” which led to mass directional chaos in the control booth. So many people on stage singing in counterpoint to each other (and almost all of them famous) led to what looked like the show’s director having an aneurism. Nobody had any idea who to point the camera at. It was mass chaos. And, like in the actual movie, Russel Crowe’s voice was mostly ruinous. If we’re talking about popular film musicals of the past decade, where was Hairspray? Or Sweeney Todd? Or South Park? Or Moulin Rouge? Or Mama Mia!? Are you telling me that audience didn’t want to see Meryl Streep sing?
One of the more offensive aspects of the evening was the near constant reminders that this year marked the tenth anniversary of Chicago’s win as Best Picture. The reason this was so annoying is the Oscars were produced this year by Neil Maron and Craig Zudan. It turns out those guys produced the film version of Chicago. Using the Oscars show as a platform to remind us of their past success was self-aggrandizing ego-stroking of the worst kind, crass even by Hollywood standards. It’s not a good idea to remind us of your past accolades while your Oscars show is using the Jaws theme to play off the winners with long acceptance speeches.
You read that right. They played the Jaws theme when acceptance speeches were getting long. It was kind of amazing to watch. It’s always bothered me that winners in the “lesser categories” are treated like second-class citizens because they aren’t famous. But, this is their life’s work, too. Many of them will never get the chance to stand on the Oscars stage. If you’re going to cut off their microphone (like they did the winning FX artists when they starting talking about effects house Rhythm and Hues financial problems), it’s downright disgraceful. And, what was up with seating those nominees to the sides of the Dolby Theater stage where they couldn’t possibly see the show? The Academy needs to just cut those categories from the televised show if you’re going to disrespect those artists like that.
Cutting off the speeches robs the show of any passion or spontaneity. It wasn’t until the last third of the evening that we got some good speeches. Anne Hathaway’s was great. Daniel Day-Lewis’ joke of being the first choice for The Iron Lady was one of the night’s biggest laughs. And, watching Ben Affleck return to the Oscars stage after his acting career had hit rock bottom was heartfelt and moving. The Oscars need more of that! And, it should be easy to generate seeing as this is a room full of people whose wildest dreams have just come true.
So, I ask: how hard can it be to produce a decent Oscars show?