Tag Archives | Oscars

Oscars So Blank

For years now, I’ve maintained that the Academy Awards are overdone, overplayed and overestimated as a commercial or cultural barometer. Last night, host Jimmy Kimmel summed up the fading luster in a single line after the show’s worst display of ineptitude in Oscar’s history. After the wrong winner was announced, Kimmel jokingly blamed the host of another TV awards telecast—known for announcing the wrong winner at a beauty pageant—as the Oscars ended in confusion, not exactly celebration. Despite gracious statements and commentary by various filmmakers and TV hosts, the fiasco capped the Oscars’ increasing irrelevance, which represents the growing American cultural disunity. First-time host Kimmel’s comment comparing the once grand and glamorous Academy Awards to a beauty pageant striving to retain an audience miniaturized an already minimized Academy Awards.

The bigger they’ve become in coverage—with a red carpet that’s wider than ever—the smaller the Oscars became. The culture is saturated with awards and chatter about awards and, while movies that get nominated and win Oscars see a spike in box office receipts, the Oscars barely have relevance to most people’s daily lives, even in the most superficial sense. This is unfortunate, as far as I’m concerned, because movies are getting deeper, more interesting and better in some respects and people need both glamorous, larger-than-life escapism and thought-provoking films more than ever, especially as the middle class is decimated and vanishes. Dropping candy and other tricks, such as duping tourists and taking so-called selfies, only underscores the smallness of the ceremonies.

The real cause of the Oscars blankout is its creeping egalitarianism. Audiences used to tune into masters of ceremonies Bob Hope, Johnny Carson or Billy Crystal in Santa Monica, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion or Hollywood to see movie stars with elegance and ability at their best in a night of galas and celebration of the world’s finest movies. The Academy Awards were an unabashed toast to the best in motion pictures. But they were predicated on the idea that there could, in fact, be a best picture. Today’s Academy Awards are led by a president who instituted a discriminatory new system to impose a certain type of pre-ordained “diversity”, an idea based on multiculturalism, a notion that all cultures are equal. This egalitarian ideal sets the standard as the color of one’s skin, or sex or sexual orientation, as against the quality of the movie, performance or direction. So, no one should be surprised that the Cheryl Boone Isaacs “diversity” campaign against old and white Academy members has sparked an annual accounting of nominees and winners primarily on the basis of race, sex and sexual orientation.

This is not to say that irrational discrimination against blacks, women and gays does not exist in Hollywood. These are loaded, complicated and difficult problems to address. They are not solved by contests between works of art or manipulations of membership based on age, race, sex, sexuality or other factors. They are solved, as the inspiring Hidden Figures and the thoughtful and Oscar-ignored Sully, Loving and Snowden dramatize, through activism, discourse, challenging the status quo and, above all, as each of those movies demonstrates, by being one’s best.

By replacing the Oscars as a selection by members of the best works in movies with the most diverse works in movies, the Isaacs-era Academy and its orthodoxy make the Academy Awards less enjoyable. It’s not just that heavy-handed speeches by millionaires to the masses amid perpetual insider jokes and self-centered congratulations wear thin at a time of post-2008 discord, economic hardship and disunity over complex, confusing flashpoints such as unisex toilets, denunciations of police and whether health care is a right and everyone should be forced by the government to “buy” health insurance at rates and terms dictated by the state. For a moviegoing public beleaguered by nonstop Islamic terrorist attacks—in Tennessee, Texas, Florida, California, Massachusetts—and a radically restructured government now controlling the people with mass, indiscriminate surveillance and mandatory health plans and travel restrictions, the fixation on race and sex during the Oscars telecast—whether scrutiny on those grounds is warranted or not—takes some of the fun out of the Academy Awards. This fatigue, in turn, may lead to vulgar Oscar shows fixated on women’s breasts and other displays of political incorrectness.

So, I think it’s a cycle that spirals downward; the worse the culture, the more churchy the Oscars become and the reverse is true, too. Fatigue sets in for everyone and, I suspect, what almost everyone loves about the Oscars—the glamor and grandeur in toasting the best in movies—slowly, sadly whimpers to an end. Though last night’s show featured outstanding moments, including an eloquent and passionate argument for art by Oscar winner Viola Davis (Fences) and Sara Bareilles’ flawless and moving rendition of “Both Sides Now” in memoriam for those who’ve died, the Oscar fiasco exemplifies the cycle and fatigue. Whichever movie you wanted to win—the romantic, realistic homage to making your life a work of art La La Land or the bleak, stylized warning that life grants one brief moment under Moonlight—announcing the wrong Best Picture winner (Moonlight is the winner, according to the Academy) brought the cycle, fatigue and self-congrats to an abrupt and muddled conclusion. Through no fault of Moonlight‘s or La La Lands or presenters Warren Beatty or Faye Dunaway, last night’s awards show ended in apology, confusion and comparison to a beauty contest. That the Academy left the question of whose picture is best to its presenter, host and false and true winners to figure out is an example of what happens when being the best—and getting who’s best right—matters less than which favored collective gets more power in reaching that outcome.

The 88th Annual Academy Awards

OscarsLast night’s Oscars are a turning point. Despite an abundance of great films (read my 2015 roundup of movies here) and stars, the direction is down.

Everything about Hollywood became smaller, more narrow and less glamorous. This started when the Academy, led by president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, reacted to a campaign based on the race of Oscar nominees; she changed the rules to target people based on age and push them out, especially older Academy members who haven’t been as active in the industry. The implication is that those who led the race-based campaign, such as Spike Lee (Malcolm X), are right that the lack of nominees of a certain race is a sign of Hollywood racism. The rule change, which prejudges older members as inherently racist, is an explicit attempt to influence membership and nominations based on sex, race and factors other than one’s work and ability.

Enter host Chris Rock, who is black. He continued to trivialize the Oscars ceremony, which is already diminished and getting smaller in its smallness every year. Rock’s opening monologue is being praised as brilliant but it is simple to see that it isn’t. Billy Crystal coming up with clever integrations of topics, themes and motion pictures in one routine is brilliant—Johnny Carson or Bob Hope whipping through lines about the trends, shifting subcultures and politics of the day is brilliant—but Chris Rock’s single-tracked monologue is far from brilliant. It is crude, blunt and small. Chris Rock is talented, and his work has merit, but by making an entire movie awards show about race, as he set out to do and did, he brought the whole affair, organization and industry down. In fact, he ended the long evening with the line that “black lives matter”.

This predominant idea of seeing everything through race now haunts the event. Is it humorous that Rock joked that Charlize Theron is whiter than Emily Blunt? If so, why is it funny—and is that funny, too? Or does that make it OK? Does race-based humor have boundaries? What is the comedy of a wealthy black comedian going to Compton to show that blacks and whites live segregated lives in 2016? What is the comedy of a wealthy black comedian raising $65,000 at the Oscars for his daughter’s Girl Scouts troop? Is this humor or disgrace? Rock’s going along with Boone Isaacs’ reactionary line to make Oscars all about race minimizes charity, Girl Scouts, Compton, Rihanna, Theron, Blunt, the nominees and serious issues, including racism, rape and lynching. His race routine maximizes those seeking to derail the Oscars. Chris Rock delivered the derailment.

Last night’s Oscars were innovative in some ways, presenting awards in the sequence in which movies are made, beginning with writing and allowing presenters to read certain script excerpts (which were also projected in screenplay form) as the scene played on screen. I think the thank you scroll is a fine idea, though it was unevenly deployed. Sam Smith surprised with an upset over Lady Gaga for Best Song—then played to the evening’s segregationist theme by making reference to being part of an “LGBT” community—while Chris Rock marginalized the gay singer. The deep politicization of the Oscars was capped by Vice-President Biden, a member of an administration which is forcing a company to make a means of violating its own products. His topic? The wrongness of forcing someone to do something against his will. Biden said he knew that he was “the least qualified man here tonight” and he was. This makes it sadder that it fell to a government official whose administration blamed a movie for an act of war to be among the few to speak in terms of qualifications at a show about awarding the best movies.

The vile and repulsive Mad Max: Fury Road won the most Academy Awards and, in a brief moment of sanity, Spotlight—ironically, a movie about overcoming faith with reason—won Best Picture. Last night’s Oscars were a triumph of smallness, mindlessness and small-mindedness. Some of the best movies were ignored, and some of the best actors were neglected or forgotten, too, such as Sylvester Stallone, who had been strung along only to lose to an actor playing a Communist spy as an innocuous artist in Bridge of Spies, and the late Abe Vigoda (The Godfather) who was absent from the memorial tribute.

The Oscars, as I’ve written many times, are more about glamour than about recognizing ability in pictures. But this is the year that the Oscars became more about race than anything to do with movies. I suspect that Chris Rock’s morally vacant routine means that the irrationality of keeping count by race, sex and other factors will get worse before it gets better.

The Oscars for 2010

oscarAdd James Franco and Anne Hathaway to the names of failed Oscar hosts, practically everyone since comedian Billy Crystal, who paid tribute to an outstanding Oscar host, comedian Bob Hope. Bob Hope, frequent host Johnny Carson, and Billy Crystal were the best masters of ceremonies for the same reason Sunday night’s pair was awful: they had respect for ability, genuine skill in performing on stage, and an intelligent, cheerful sense of humor.

What Hollywood gave us the other night was more of the same sneering, accompanied by an almost snoring sensibility, that dominates the culture, from droning deadbeat Jon Stewart, who leads the charge toward nihilism, to MTV’s soon-to-be-resurrected Beavis and Butthead. Oscar 2010, dropping the F bomb and flipping off the world on behalf of an industry that delivers such sniveling pap as Pulp Fiction, The Departed, and No Country for Old Men, was a bust. Don’t blame it all on James Franco (127 Hours, Milk), who is studying at Yale University, looking tired, and who seemed under-rehearsed, uninterested and vaguely contemptuous of the need to show up. He represents the worst of all youthful stereotypes; that they are utterly bored with existence and simply wish to text, play videogames, and blank out, which he did.

But there was also Anne Hathaway (Alice in Wonderland), who was like an audio file that keeps playing and you can’t turn off. She reminds me of every theater major and showy actress rolled into one, hogging the moment, trying too hard, and sucking the air out of the entire amphitheater. Insulting Hugh Jackman, for real or for fake, high-fiving choir children after a rendition of “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz in an odd attempt at a 1939 theme, and changing outfits, Hathaway just came off as vain and obnoxious, exacerbating Franco’s deficiencies.

The show was an atrocity, from insinuating lesbianism in Toy Story 3 to some vulgar woman’s use of profanity when she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. The songs were abbreviated, with poor Alan Menken’s “I See the Light” from Tangled being beautifully rendered and horribly cut off, and chaotic clips, pacing and jokes. Add the pompous President Obama, who is incapable of expressing a personal preference without lecturing the nation like a doddering old man, the pretentious Oprah, doing an impression of British-accented Madonna in the biggest false eyelashes this side of Tammy Faye Bakker, and, with the passing of legendary motion picture artists such as Patricia Neal, among others with more stature, only Lena Horne, hardly a great movie actress, received singular recognition among those we lost in 2010. As for glamor, the ladies looked lovely and the gents were generally in fine form, too, though the smug, generic suits from the smug, generic The Social Network and Cate Blanchett (Robin Hood), looking like some sort of alien queen or Lady Gaga wannabe, matched the mood of the evening.

Leave it to the Academy voters to restore a golden touch to Oscar, choosing the year’s best movie, The King’s Speech, as Best Picture over a crowd of also-rans. Director Tom Hooper, actor Colin Firth, and writer David Seidler were nearly as magnanimous and magnificent as the Weinstein Company’s movie, elevating a disgraceful affair into at least a partial recognition of ability, humor, and strength. Much like the characters in the movie they made, a picture which earned its reputation as a finely drawn study of friendship and inspiration, these gentlemen showed how to summon one’s best during difficult circumstances in the worst of times.