It’s a bad sign that my favorite moment from last night’s Academy Awards telecast was when Cate Blanchett called one of the nominees in the category she was presenting “gross.” Right before presenting that nominee with the award, of course.
In many respects, I’m an easy mark for the Oscars. I’m enamored with its history, its spectacle, its lore. I know a lot about the awards and I’m the sort of person who’s equally fascinated by the politics of the voting body and the intricacies of the show itself. When the Cinematography and Best Supporting Actress categories came and went without wins for the Coen brothers’ True Grit last night, I immediately started thinking about the rare company it was likely heading to join in the hearty futility of its evening. When the acting winners are striding to the stage and the broadcast announcer provides background on their previous nominations, that’s information that resides fully at the ready in my noggin. I can’t remember my cell phone number, but I can recite all six films that nabbed Jeff Bridges Oscar nods in seconds flat. So if an Oscar show bores me, I can only imagine how poorly it’s playing with the people who have only a passing acquaintance and interest with the land of Academy-friendly movies.
Last night’s show bored me.
I’ll concede right away that show producers Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer were dealt the same tough hand that it seems every set of Oscarcast guardians will now get. The awards themselves are almost entirely devoid of tension. The long march to Oscar night has become a listless ratification process with the same performers winning over and over again until the sight of them clutching a statue holds no charm whatsoever. It was clear from the reactions of the winners that Oscar still has greater significance that the awards that lead up to it (although it’s possible, given the gauntlet of awards shows that must now be run, that the more emotional responses from Colin Firth and Natalie Portman are akin to the burst of tearful relief that swells in a marathoner when finally crossing the finish line), but the luster starts to fade when the process of opening the envelope seems less like a discovery and more like a formality.
But, then again, the lack of suspense to the awards should necessitate a more enlivening production, and Cohen and Mischer instead delivered a woefully drab show filled with little bits that may have seemed cute and clever when first batted around but weren’t developed or realized effectively. The notion of foisting auto-tune on movie dialogue to transform unlikely films into musical may have produced giggles at some point among those working on the show, but it was so flat-footed and dopey (and, let’s face it, blatantly swiped from online practitioners who pull off the trick far more adeptly) that I can’t believe it wasn’t cut. The whole show was a conveyor belt of ill-conceived ideas, right up to the woeful presentation of the Best Picture nominees, which made it seem like it was The King’s Speech and the nine runners-up even before Steven Spielberg confirmed that to be the case.
Anne Hathaway’s enthusiasm bordered on the frightening, although it could be reasonably explained by her instinctual need to fill the void caused by James Franco’s perpetual apathy. The ideal Oscar host may reside somewhere between the two styles. I don’t think she’d ever take the gig, but the best choice may be Sandra Bullock, whose own trek across the awards season mountain range last year helped her develop a style that uniquely mixes affection, grace and a pointed no-nonsense intelligence. She manages to be appropriately respectful of the occasion while still deflating the moment just a touch. Just let her present all the awards and let Randy Newman deliver all the acceptance speeches.
Then again, maybe they should recruit the producers of Modern Family to stage the Oscars. For the second straight year, their commercial was better than anything on the show.