Oscar: The Day After: Is it possible to be both elated and deflated about this year’s Academy Awards?
So many worthy people and films found golden recognition on Sunday night. Watching Martin Scorsese, Helen Mirren and Alan Arkin getting long overdue kudos and films like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Lives of Others finding audiences gave movie lovers reason to hope. Yet the ceremony itself was an embarrassment, like seeing your elder relations trying to dance to “Hey Ya!” at a wedding.
The Academy risks insignificance by forgetting that the medium it is celebrating is film, not TV. A pessimist might conclude that 24 frames per second is no longer fast enough for the brief attention spans of today’s plugged-in and turned-on world.
I’ve felt this way for some time about the Academy Awards, but Sunday’s debacle really drove it home. Ellen DeGeneres may work well on daytime television, where her Cheshire cat grin goes over gangbusters, but she looked seriously out of her league on the Oscar stage — which itself was no architectural marvel.
The Oscar host is supposed to seem like the smartest person in the room; someone who knows the movie industry well enough to poke fun at its participants, but who also has the good sense and taste to celebrate Hollywood’s better traits and finer offerings.
DeGeneres revelled in being clueless and crass. Lacking all sense of occasion, she reduced the Academy Awards to a circus, casting herself as the main clown. She engaged in audience participation stunts — like vacuuming the rugs and having Steven Spielberg snap her picture with Clint Eastwood — that looked like her audition to be entertainment director at a holiday camp. In a word, it was undignified.
There was a time, not all that long ago, when such shenanigans were the comic relief to a show dedicated to serious appreciation of the art of film. Now the art seems more like the dramatic relief to the endless comedy of the Oscars. It was superfluous to have Will Ferrell, Jack Black and John C. Reilly doing a musical lament to the Academy’s missing funny bone because the Oscars have become almost non-stop vaudeville. The only things missing were the seltzer bottles and flying cream pies.
DeGeneres and the other clowns aren’t to blame for this. They’re symptomatic of a larger problem: an organization that sees its authority and influence waning and an industry that fears losing its audiences to the tube, the Net and the iPod.
Rather than maintain the high standards that used to make the Oscars seem so important — and where protests, stunts and streakers were the talked-about exceptions rather than the rule — the Academy has chosen to dumb everything down in a vain attempt to be all things to all people.
I winced at the sight of Academy president Sid Ganis attempting to give his annual salute to the movies within 60 seconds in order to collect a $1 bet with DeGeneres. He looked ridiculous, flapping his gums like a character in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and his message was lost.
And what was the point of trying to beat the clock, when so many of the clowns were allowed to just run it out? I can’t recall an Oscar ceremony where the orchestra played so many prizewinners off the stage in order to clear the decks before the next TV commercial. Yet there was plenty of time for Saint Al Gore to tease us about his next presidential bid while also wagging the finger of global warming shame, and for DeGeneres to make finger puppets behind a screen.
Didn’t the Academy learn anything from the 1995 Oscar telecast disaster hosted by David Letterman, when he acted as if the show was just an extension of his Late Night shtick? The difference is that people back then recognized a TV personality trying to hijack a film audience and they objected to it.
The line between TV and film has become so blurred — it seems like every second film now is a TV spin-off — that Sunday night’s sitcom Oscars might have seemed perfectly normal to a lot of viewers.
For me, the best part of the evening was when Canada’s Céline Dion walked out and sang a new song dedicated to special honouree Enrico Morricone, arranged from his theme music to Once Upon a Time in America.
The song was passionate and the performance was flawless. People in the Kodak Theatre sat in rapt attention, quietly savouring the moment. It was the way the Academy Awards used to be, back when they and the films they celebrated were special. No seltzer bottles or cream pies were needed.