Monday, February 28, 2005

It's A Wonderful Night For Oscar...NOT!!

Well, that was several degrees of pretty bad.

Everyone says that the Oscar telecast is too long. Usually it clocks in at about four hours and somewhere along the line someone makes a joke about how long things are. This year's telecast clocked in at three hours and ten minutes and Chris Rock made a joke about how next year they'll be handing out the awards for the "lesser" categories at a drive-thru in the parking lot to speed things up even further. That's the thing; some of those four hour plus Oscar shows didn't feel like they were running for four hours because the pacing was good, the presenters entertaining, and there were those unscripted moments that happen that either touch you or make you laugh. Tonight's show wasn't well paced, stifled spontaneity, and suppressed the unexpected. It may have only run three hours and ten minutes but it felt a lot longer.

They seemed to run into troubles almost immediately. Chris Rock's opening monologue seemed to have the potential for what they hired him for initially - to be edgy - and his jokes about George W. Bush (and the laughter they got, even from Clint Eastwood) are bound to have the Raving Right yelling about "Hollywood Liberals". There was a nice bit about the quality of actors involving that had Rock's movie Pootie Tang as a punchline. The trouble is that he quickly lost steam. Just how badly Rock was floundering was proven when they aired the tribute to former Oscar host Johnny Carson. The contrast between the show that Rock was MCing, and the way he was doing it, and the show that Carson did, and the way he did it was obvious to anyone. Chris Rock had a bit where he went to a Magic Johnson Theater and asked the mostly African American audience whether they'd seen the nominated pictures. Not only was the answer uniformly no (but I'm betting the responses were scripted) but the people named some of the worst movies to come out this year, including White Girls. It was mildly amusing even when Albert Brooks made an appearance in the bit. There was a terribly lame bit with Adam Sandler that had Rock reading lines (supposedly) written for Catherine Zeta Jones and Sandler acting like a sex obsessed pig. By the end of the show, Rock was reduced to doing a boob joke about Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayak.

Then there was the way that the awards were presented. Some of the awards were presented the usual way - the nominees sat in their seats waiting for their closeup, the presenter read out the list of names, sometimes with clips then announced the winner, who came out of the audience, getting congratulated by fiends relatives and people they worked with - but this was mainly for the "big" categories. In many of the so-called lesser categories, all of the nominees were brought out onto the stage and given a group shot - no closeup Mr. DeMille - and then the names were read out with clips - where used - projected onto the floor of the stage in such a way that viewers at home would be hard pressed to realize that they were watching a clip of an Oscar nominated film. They were the lucky ones - they got on stage. In some categories the presenter went to the back part of the theater and read out the names on a hand-held mike while the nominees sat in their aisle seats. When the winner was announced he, she or they had to go to microphones located in the aisles to make their 30 second speech. This meant that if people wanted to actually see the person being "honoured" rather than watch it on the big screen TVs in the Kodak Theater they had to twist in their seats. I doubt many bothered. These winners probably didn't get to go to the interview area either. If I were a nominee, I'd want my closeup, I'd want my film clip to be seen in a form that people could see and dammit I'd want my Oscar Walk. Maybe next year they really will hand out awards at a drive-thru.

There were some moments, although nothing even approaching the emotion of Adrien Brody's acceptance speech in 2002. I liked the bit with Pierce Brosnan and Edith Head lookalike Edna "E" Mode (an animated character), but of course that was scripted. Jamie Foxx had the best speech but then he had the time to deliver it. Maybe the most spontaneous and heartfelt speech came from Cinematography winner Robert Richardson who took the opportunity to thank the doctors and nurses who were caring for his mother who had recently taken ill. I also sort of liked that the winner for best song sang some of his song from Motorcycle Diaries as his speech. He sounded better a acapella than Antonio Banderas did with Carlos Santanna as backup. The Best Song category is a problem though; I think it's time has passed. It used to be that every picture would have a song and the songs were known and heard on the radio. This years nominees included songs from two animated movies, two foreign language films and a song shoehorned into an existing musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber for the express purpose of getting his Lordship another Oscar (he's two down on former writing partner Tim Rice). The "In Memoriam" piece was short (shorter than the tribute to a guy who made only one movie - Johnny Carson) and had subdued reactions, thanks in part to Yoyo Ma being on stage playing during the whole thing. No one seemed to want to applaud in recognition while he was playing. And did we really need Beyonce singing three of the five nominated songs? I suppose it was part of the Academy's effort to attract young people. I hope it didn't work - it might encourage them.

The 2005 Oscars didn't really work. There was too many bad ideas and bad moments that outweighed any good stuff that there was. I can't really fault Chris Rock - he wasn't Billy Crystal but I don't know if Billy would have worked well under the restrictions that Rock worked under. I can and do fault the producers for sort of missing the point. Or maybe they just became so obsessed with bringing the show in fast that they forgot that faster isn't always better.

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