Alright. Just… alright. It’s early evening here in Australia, about 1½ hours after the Oscars ceremony took place, and I sit here a befuddled man. Yes, I’m tired because I’ve spent the day looking after my daughter whilst trying to watch the Oscars through a haze of “play toys” and “Tinker Bell” (the latter being her latest watch-it-five-times-a-day movie), and now that she’s winding down I have a moment to jot down a few thoughts about the ceremony this year. To save me trying to segue into them, I’m going to list my thoughts in bullet-point format:
- Billy Crystal as host. For somebody who looks like they thawed out of suspended animation about a week ago, Crystal did a pretty good job – even if it wasn’t new or exciting. Man, I so wished the Academy had kept Eddie Murphy on as host; it would have made for infinitely more interesting viewing than James Franco’s stoned-out-of-his-mind performance last time out. Crystal’s jokes, as always, seemed to consist mainly of those old “boom-tish” kind, the sort you’d hear in a comedy club for retirees. No doubt the younger audience watching this had a bit of cultural cringe as Grandad trotted out some saucy material. Crystal had some zingers, sure, but the show still felt like a comfortable pair of slippers. Unlike many hosts, though, Crystal knows how to work the crowd, and his affable charm ensures nobody takes any offense – ever – to any of the barbs he delivers.
- The Acceptance Speeches. Finally, finally, the Academy has figured out how to keep those teary, awkward and often insufferable acceptance speeches short and sharp. The time limit given to each winner is exactly as long as they need to compose themselves and thank those most important to them (Octavia Spencer might disagree with me, however) – and I think everyone got on board with the concept. Only 1 recipient got shot down by the orchestra, and even then he was only thanking his mother.
- Awkward comedy. Kudos to Emma Stone, partnered with Ben Stiller for their presenters moment, who absolutely killed the laughs next to one of Hollywood’s Golden Children of comedy. Stone made Stiller look third rate by comparison, with her impeccable timing and spot-on delivery. Another plus was the Robert Downey Jr and Gwyneth Paltrow monologue involving documentaries. Downey Jr delivered the laughs big time. On the downside, the Bridesmaids crew chatting about penis size as metaphors for length of film, was cringe-worthy. Whoever decided to keep this bit in the show made a bad call. Tom Hanks’ bizarre tribute to a long-standing seat filler at the Oscars was a little shaky, ending with Hanks all but dismissing his achievements in such an awkward off-handed manner: I’m sure Hanks would do that differently if he had his time again. A major misfire was the Kermit + Miss Piggy segment, which failed utterly to be either funny or relevant – how on Earth they could screw up two of the worlds funniest characters is beyond me, but they did.
- Introduction Monologues. For the longest time, the Academy folk couldn’t write introductory monologues for the more technical categories to save their lives. I mean, how many ways can you describe the subject of sound effects editing? Really, how many ways? While the glad-handing of celebrating the industry insiders with the importance of their roles went unabated, this year the introductory monologues were actually pretty decent. As an aside, big congrats to Cameron Diaz for looking classy and stunning, while Jennifer Lopez looked like she was trying to get someone’s…. ahem… attention, with her revealing outfit. Not quite as classy, JLo.
- Cirque Du Soleil. At first I was hesitant about the inclusion of a circus troupe trying to visually explain what it’s like to go to the movies, but as the segment went on I think I was in awe of the acrobatic skill on display. My initial thought was that I liked it, and it was a brave decision to try something “out of the box”…. Upon reflection, however, I’m going to side with the majority of the world when I ask…. WTF?
- In Memoriam. Finally, the Academy got it right. Respectful, graceful, inclusive (although the addition of a marketing researcher was a bit of a head-scratcher) and delivered with as much reverence as you could ask for, this is one of the better attempts to remind us all of who we lost over the last 12 months. Crystal’s personal tribute to long-time Oscar telecast producer Gil Cates was touching indeed.
- Speed. The Oscars felt like they were moving at warp speed. The ceremony ripped through the early categories like a tornado, barely stopping for breath. And I appreciated the brevity. I remember the good old days of a 4+ hour show, and while this year it still clocked in at 3¼ hours, it didn’t feel like it. Gone were the extravagant musical numbers and copious back-slapping segments of interminable importance, and we were left with a mean, lean Oscar telecast.
- The Results. Look, it was always shaping up as The Artist’s year, and while they may have taken home the major prizes, a fair amount of glory went to Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, which won a whole slew of technical gongs earlier in the evening. I don’t think anyone can argue that there were any real surprises this year, although on a personal level I felt a bit gypped that Transformers: Dark of the Moon didn’t score a gong for sound somewhere along the line. Gary Oldman was criminally overlooked for the Best Actor gong, to my mind a much more deserving winner, but hey, who am I to judge, right? Meryl Streep finally scored another gong, ensuring the elder generation (with both Streep and recent fellow winner Helen Mirren) remain in the public eye.
- The Marlon Brando of 2012. The lack of Woody Allen to receive his award for Best Original Screenplay. And, on that point, the lack of Terrence Malick in the crowd for Tree Of Life. Woody is a renowned avoider of awards shows, but man, this is the Oscars! Suck in the pride, and make an effort to appreciate the warm fuzzy glow of your peers’ appreciation. Outside of being critically injured or dead, I see no valid reason for a nominee not to attend this show. I’m glad he won for Midnight In Paris, though.
- Opening Number. Billy came into the show in the now-traditional montage of the years best films, inserting himself into scenes in a humorous context. While it was pretty amusing (a kiss with George Clooney caught me totally off-guard) it felt somewhat recycled, and they kinda ran out of material when Crystal started flying through rolls of film stock to end up on stage. Crystal’s comedic timing is superb, as it always is, but in a telling sequence, with a “writers meeting” lifted from Moneyball, even he realizes that he’s not as sharp as he used to be. And the Crystal led number – and Oscar cliche – to Oscar himself was done well, but the writing still wasn’t as sharp as it could have been. There was a feeling of haste in the performance, as if it was cobbled together at short notice – and it probably was, considering the Brett Ratner/Eddie Murphy debacle a while back, which led to Crystal coming in again at the last minute. For the first time in a long time, the opening segments felt…. generic.
- Goodbye. Seriously, The Artist wins Best Picture, and after the acceptance speech old Billy comes out, waves and says “seeya later” like you’d say to Granny as she’s going back to the home? That’s it? Three hours of smug folk getting gold statues and it’s a last gasp wave of the hand to farewell the viewers? I know everyone’s concentration is probably elsewhere, but a more professional goodbye is required for the Oscars. Perhaps a last minute comedy monologue? Or a more traditional “thanks for coming, see you next year” thing with a little more thankfulness? No, just turn off the lights, kick out the janitors and get the hell to the after parties.
The 84th Academy Awards brought with it very few surprises, and made very few ripples. If you’re looking for a memorable moment from this years ceremony, about as good as you’ll get is Emma Stone rocking the comedy, the Wizard Of Oz focus group sketch, or Octavia Spencer’s tearful acceptance speech. There wasn’t much else to really take notice of. The expected winners won expectedly, the girls all looked amazing, the guys sat there all chuffed and stuff, and Crystal even managed to spend a bit of time roasting Martin Scorsese, but the overall impact was a lot like Crystal’s response to the introduction of the musical categories – “meh”. While I can’t imagine the Academy ever allowing Ricky Gervais to host their prime event, they need to start looking outside the box for options – my first suggestion is to get Robert Downey Jr to have a shot. He’s white hot right now, he’s funny and he’s charming. And I have a sense that his style of humor would bring a much-needed spark to the Oscars telecast. Please, Academy, won’t you take this suggestion on board?