Every year, the criticism is the same: The Academy Awards ceremony is dull. The montages are yawn-inducing. The presentations are groaningly awful. Tinseltown really should give up on this charade.
The lion's share of media outlets all hold this view. The blogosphere bemoans a 31⁄2-hour love-in hosted by a washed-up comedian. Traditional media gripe about an utter lack of relevance to today's audiences. Even tbt*'s Oscars coverage year after year points out the ever-worsening telecast, a trend that is supported by popular opinion and, since I write about it for this very newspaper, my own general disinterest in the self-importance of Hollywood.
But what critics don't do is explain why it's so boring, so allow me to break it down into eight simple words:
No one is allowed to have any fun.
In a less media-saturated age — say a decade or so ago — the Oscars ceremony was the one big chance the nation had to see their favorite stars on the small screen. We could all sit around the giant 19-inch Magnavox and see who got older, who looked like they'd perhaps dusted their noses a bit too much in the bathroom or drank too much, who wore the best designer clothes. And every once in a while, you'd see a rare glimpse of an actor or actress not acting, taking off their public faces and showing true joy, or disappointment, or elation, or resentment. Not anymore.
The annual Oscars ceremony is selling a product, and that product is Hollywood. And like the sellers of most products aimed at mass consumption, the Academy is very brand-conscious. They dare not show any of their precious commodities doing something untoward, like making an unscripted comment or revealing some closely guarded secret onstage. Not in an age when any mook with a Twitter account could (gasp!) poke fun at The Industry!
This is perhaps why news from the evening's after-parties, when winners and losers alike are well-lubed with $1,000-per-bottle Champagne, is so much more engaging for movie fans. There's the outside hope that an actor may drink too much and say something that may be construed as impolitic. What fun! In fact, The Juice* contains a couple of such moments right now over on Page 36.
So why are these moments not allowed at the erstwhile Kodak Theatre? Stop and think to yourself about your favorite Oscar moments from the past couple of decades. Roberto Benigni standing on his seat and cheering. Adrien Brody kissing Halle Berry. Sally Field's insistence the Academy really likes her. Even nine-time host Billy Crystal once upon a time coming on stage strapped to a gurney a la Hannibal Lecter. These moments all had passion, wit, verve, a sense of humor — dare I say, they had humanity about them.
I understand nowadays that's considered the Golden Globes' job. The actors are allowed drinks and dinner tables instead of auditorium seats. The entire mood is much more collegial and friendly, not staid and self-congratulatory. But when's the last time you were invited to a Golden Globes party?
What Hollywood in general, and the Academy specifically, has forgotten is that it's not the nameless magic of old Hollywood that engages us, but the idea that the human avatars who stand in for us pretending to have adventures of which we can only dream are, in truth, actual people. There's got to be something to the fact that the current falling trend in box-office receipts is running concurrently with a drop in overall satisfaction with the Oscars ceremony.
Then again, trotting out Billy Crystal as the host yet again may have helped ratings spike slightly this year — Nielsen says Sunday's show enjoyed the second-largest TV audience in five years. In a broadcast designed to pay homage to the past, maybe some of those 39 million or so people were hoping Billy would bring some of the funny back with him, to get Hollywood royalty to loosen up, to make the show watchable again. Sadly, it's hard for one man to bail out a sinking ship.
Instead, the most watchable part of the night was the dry humor of Ellen DeGeneres' JCPenney ads. They were droll, thoughful, and not the least bit self-conscious. They made me want to go to JCPenney.
If only the Oscars could do the same for the movies.