Last night’s Oscars telecast showcased the essence of what’s wrong with Hollywood.
The good was on display, too, in the “Happy” song performance, with its unabashedly bright, cheerful tone, smart, jazzy moves and mixed-age dancers in a burst of energy and talent that matched the song. Jared Leto’s gentle reminder to remember those we’ve lost to AIDS, those who bear the burden of injustice and the single parent who rises above adversity to raise a child with grace, skill and self-respect was moving, punctuated by a refreshing streak of activism to root for those oppressed in Ukraine and Venezuela. Lupita Nyong’o recognized that the performance for which she was chosen by her peers for the highest praise was made possible by a slave, a cold, hard and rational point which was perfect. Sally Field’s tribute to heroism was well done. So was Pink’s sincerely rendered version of “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz. Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen’s acceptance, introduced by producer Brad Pitt, showed why the director understood the theme of Solomon Northrup’s book better than most understand that a serious movie about slavery is superior to a perceptually-bound immersion like Gravity. McQueen asserted that every individual deserves to live, not just survive.
The evening started with an amusing monologue by hostess Ellen DeGeneres.
That’s when the trouble began. For whatever reason, the typically benign DeGeneres made jokes at other people’s expense, putting nominees and legendary stars on the spot – as past cynics have done in these tired routines – and then spent most of the evening roaming and assaulting the audience. A pizza delivery bit was stupid, a photo of a cluster of guests was an equally pointless gesture, and everything DeGeneres did seemed intended to sneer at nominees’ ability and works of art and destroy any sense of glamor. She didn’t host as much as deride, like an overbearing party guest who knocks everything and doesn’t let up. She had help from the show’s directors, who in what seemed like an overly rehearsed production down to the pizza schtick and photo gag, apparently forgot to rehearse how to operate a camera for television. The whole telecast seemed like a closed-circuit broadcast for industry insiders on how not to do the Oscars, like one of those amateur government agency videos that Fox News airs to blow the lid off the latest waste of taxpayer money. The technical aspects of last night’s show were that bad.
Best Actress winner Cate Blanchett, who already attacked Judy Garland this awards season and is becoming as misanthropic as the characters she portrays, said it best when she accepted the Academy Award for her role in a Woody Allen movie and promptly but no less deliberately chucked the Best Actress Oscar as a “random and subjective award.” Blanchett captured both the fact that Hollywood is centered on itself, not on its audience, nourishing ability and celebrating art, and what Hollywood thinks of itself, which doesn’t amount to much. But this view is distorted. People of ability in Hollywood create beautiful gowns and elegant menswear and write, create and produce thought-provoking movies such as The Artist, The King’s Speech, Mud, Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years a Slave. Some are newcomers like Lupita Nyong’o, who evoked what was once called the American Dream. Some like Leto, Dench, Hopkins, Minnelli and Redford have worked for years. Many remain undiscovered and they look to the Oscars for affirmation that a commitment to a career in art is possible. Too much of what they got last night was evidence that success will be rewarded with a self-centered snapshot, a piece of pizza and a put-down.