The Bloom Is Off the Gilded Lily

I wasn’t going to write about The 85th Annual Academy Awards.

'The 85th Annual Academy Awards' graphic card with statuette

Really. Not outside of some comments on other blogs, anyway. And it ain’t because producers attempted to chuck the formality and rebrand this year’s show purely as “the Oscars”. I’m not above a linguistic gotcha; however, this is not such a gotcha. I honestly expected to be too fatigued and just plain iffy about the telecast that I was happy thinking about not writing about it.

But last night’s Oscarfest, hosted by Seth MacFarlane, was so disappointing that I
kind-of can’t help it.

I don’t have much to say about the content of the show. My anticipated mixture of indifference and irritation was pretty spot-on. It’s that during the telecast I finally came to — hmm... not a realization or epiphany, exactly, more of a rubicon I suppose — a rubicon in terms of my relationship with the annual event. I found myself curiously indifferent about my irritation.

I hold forth on the larger issue(s) this got me musing upon in another post that I’ve spun out of this one, but here's the upshot: At the age of 42, I’m finally on board with criticizing the Oscars.

Please raise your hand if you just did a double-take. (Joke’s on you. I can’t actually see you raising your hand or I’d already have known if you just did a double-take.) I’m well aware that criticizing the Oscars is practically a national pastime among anyone who follows movies or television or simply the intersection of movies and television that is the Oscars. There are probably Internet memes devoted to cats and dogs criticizing the Oscars — “I Can Has Four Hourz of Life Back?”. I’ve done the Monday-morning QB assessment myself on this blog the previous three years [click the Oscars label here or in the footer for all such related posts].

So what’s the deal? The deal is that the Oscars were until last night perhaps the final aspect of the pop-cultural landscape that due to its age, pattern, and tradition I accepted as a sort of received wisdom. If AMPAS chose the producers and the producers chose the host then we got the Oscars we were supposed to get. Even the infamous turn by Anne Hathaway and James Franco a couple of years back did not break the event’s hold on me — somehow, my frustration with that outing remained in the vein of respecting the office of the President while disagreeing vehemently with the officeholder.

I suspect that this persistent veneration of the Oscars has to do with watching it and other awards shows — the Emmys and the Grammys, although not the Golden Globes, which I hold in exactly the esteem it deserves as an open-bar dinner party to celebrate/roast Hollywood thrown by 100 of its closest journalists — in a largely unbroken streak since childhood. They were a family tradition. My sister and I would curl up in our mother’s bed with her on such occasions, allowed to stay up until the last envelope was opened if we were able. I have no doubt that there were bum hosts and bad production choices and baffling wins back then, too, yet the whole affair was at once above and beneath such criticism, beyond reproach. It just was.

Last night’s telecast just was, too, for the most part, but far less ineffable than “What the eff?!?” The very fact that I didn’t outright hate the show may be what broke its spell on me. For the opposite of love is famously not hate but indifference.

Seth MacFarlane’s jokes were not all entirely unfunny. Their delivery, however, like much of the rest of the show, was borderline unprofessional. Whether or not you’re a fan of his kind of humor in general or his cottage industry of animated sitcoms in particular — and I’ve seen too little to say I’m pro or con, although it doesn’t seem quite up my alley — I think it’s fair to assess his duties as emcee last night on their own terms. He was not ready for prime time, to me, certainly not live. There were barbs that made me laugh, but I still felt that they were too barbed for the venue and he was too obviously prepared with canned replies to the groans as well. The Oscars aren’t the Golden Globes, and MacFarlane isn’t Ricky Gervais or even Jimmy Kimmel. For all that the Academy Awards are self-congratulatory, I think that you need the respect of the room to host the show; MacFarlane didn’t even have its pulse.

Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron were apparently more interested in touting their own work than the grand legacy of movie musicals. Old-fashioned dance numbers would have been better served by a nice montage, maybe interwoven with or as a backdrop for live performances on the Oscar stage, rather than further muddling the tone of MacFarlane’s too-long opening routine. Shatner as Kirk was a fun gimmick, but the show had its cake and ate it too by airing would-be “scrapped” bits in their entirety — and, predictably from all that cake, got bloated. (How did we avoid a J.J. Abrams swipe from old Bill, by the way? MacFarlane: “I... expected you to look more like Chris Pine, Captain.” Shatner: “That’s the movies, son. This is the real future.”) As for the montages we did get, well, James Bond’s 50 years on film deserved better, although it’s perhaps inevitable to be let down when whispers of a joint appearance by all six official 007s were in the ether.

I don’t know if the gods of cinema history and/or television production were angry or what, but the entire telecast felt like an unpromising dress rehearsal. The banter from the Avengers crew got crickets, albeit not unexpectedly; Robert Downey Jr. is typically too cool for the room and to my ears Samuel L. Jackson hasn’t spoken dialogue convincingly onscreen in well over a decade. When Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy can’t get a bit to work, however, that’s when you know something’s wrong. I couldn’t believe how terrible the audio was on what should’ve been Adele’s triumphant rendition of the theme from Skyfall. Just about the only sparkling moments in the show were the genuine, spontaneous ones, like the acceptance speeches given by Adele, Jennifer Lawrence, and Daniel Day-Lewis.

Argo should not have won Best Picture. Not over Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty, nor even, although I’d hardly have expected such a choice from the Academy, Beasts of the Southern Wild. I almost didn’t care by the time Michelle Obama opened the envelope, following an exchange with a life-size stuffed doll of Jack Nicholson, in a surprise appearance that I will concede to my conservative friends was entirely inappropriate — partly because of the ammunition it needlessly provides haters whose knees jerk at every perceived cultural incursion by an Obama. Yet what I didn’t tune out of Ben Affleck’s speech really chafed; I’ve been impressed by the films he’s directed, including Argo, but a Best Picture Oscar was not the right way for his admirers to make up for a perceived snub among the Best Director nominations and it sure as heck wasn’t the right setting for Affleck to give the speech he would’ve given for Best Director.

Perhaps my favorite commentary on the evening came, unintentionally, during the recap package that aired right after the big show on the local 11 o’clock 12 o’clock news, which gave Seth MacFarlane and the telecast’s general ineptitude their proper reverence in the lower-third chyron: “McFarland Hosts”.

Related: Oscars Beat Hide and Sneak Exit from Eden


  1. You can read my more specific thoughts on the broadcast on my blog (in general I thought MacFarlane did fine, allowing that I'm both a fan of his in general and that I never get too bent out of shape over the hosts because there's only so much they can do to make or break the show, and that I thought the whole thing in general was poorly produced), but I too shared your initial desire to just not write about the show, born of both indifference and a nagging cold that had me thinking I could do better things with that energy.

    But I ultimately came around, largely to keep my streak alive, and ended up tossing out something that probably isn't as thorough as I'd like but is, at least, something...


  2. I do plan to head over and comment on your blog. Right now I'm trying to figure out what the hell is going on here. I've been trying to get a pair of posts up properly for the past couple of days. My Internet has been slow and/or cutting out again, which at first is what I blamed for the posts not getting published. Now it seems to be weird Blogger crap again, though, just when I thought I was behind that kind of thing (for, granted, the nth time). I not only can't get the full version of this post to go up — there's more past the jump-break, and a different title, but it keeps reverting to my earliest draft — I can't get my pre-Oscars post back up, I can't get the next post after this up, and I can't get this post down. Every time I hit "revert to draft" it seems fine except that the post is still up and the changes don't save. I'm going to try to hit the library to see if it really is just a glitch due to things being slow at the house, because the only alternatives are putting the rest of this post in yet another one and/or republishing this post as it should be as a wholly new duplicate post (neither of which will necessarily work, either, and the latter of which won't preserve comments).



  3. Okay... The pre-Oscars post and post-post-Oscars-post post are back up properly. Let's see if I can get this one fixed...

  4. I think I arrived at the Oscars just being a thing that happens earlier than you did, but I appreciate what you're saying (and how you said it). Shabbat shalom!

  5. Hmm...I'm trying to parse out exactly how you and I differ (or differed, rather) in our approach to the Oscars up to this year. Because the Oscars (and to a lesser extent, the Emmys, the Globes and the Tonys) were always a tradition growing up in my house as well (and continue to be one), with the family gathered to watch and, as I got older, make predictions alongside my dad and brother.

    Yet at the same time, despite that tradition, I've never felt the Oscars were above criticism. I certainly share your "If AMPAS chose the producers and the producers chose the host then we got the Oscars we were supposed to get" mentality in other areas (this is one of the reasons, as a Star Wars fan if not as a film buff, the prequels have never rankled me as much as they do so many others), but when it comes to the Oscars, I've always felt perfectly comfortable criticizing the decisions of the Academy, whether their choice of winner (when I was younger and didn't see many of the movies that would be nominated, I would be incensed when something I actually had seen lost. I have since gained a great appreciation for Unforgiven, but my 12-year-old self is still outraged it beat A Few Good Men), or choice of host or that there weren't enough montages or that the whole "bring out all the past winners" thing the year Titanic won was interminably long and boring.

    Certainly, I've always tended to focus on the good more than the bad (which continues to be a problem in most of my criticism of anything), and no matter how bad the host (James Franco) I can always walk away with something positive to say, and a general feeling of having enjoyed the evening (I will always enjoy an evening spent celebrating movies AND trivia). It's just matter of degree: some years I enjoy it less, some years more, and for whatever reason, that's always been the case for me.

  6. I think that you need the respect of the room to host the show; MacFarlane didn't even have its pulse.

    I agree, and here is where I think MacFarlane was doomed to fail. As I said in my post, there was no way he could be "edgy/disrespectful" enough to appeal to the Family Guy audience I'm sure ABC was hoping to turn in, while just by dint of being Seth MacFarlane, a crass TV comedian, there's no way he could be welcomed enough by the audience at the theater, no matter how self-deprecating or old-fashionededly crooner like he was.

    The banter from the Avengers crew just laid there

    It was also poorly shot - if you're going to have Downey Jr. and Jackson bantering with each other, make sure they can fit inside the same frame while doing so.

    Argo should not have won Best Picture. Not over Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty, nor even, although I'd hardly have expected such a choice from the Academy, Beasts of the Southern Wild.

    I didn't mind Argo winning. It wasn't my favorite of the nominees I saw (all but Amour and Life of Pi), but I understand why it won (independent of any perceived Affleck snub, it's the kind of movie the Academy loves to reward: a period piece that also manages to celebrate Hollywood/make Hollywood look good).

    Of the nominees, my favorite was probably Zero Dark Thirty, though Lincoln is the one I'm most likely to rewatch on DVD and, someday, when flipping channels and its on TNT or something, but the Oscars have a long history of awarding Best Picture to either a movie I can appreciate without favoring (like The Artist last year, which I enjoyed and intellectually appreciate, but will probably never watch again) or a movie I simply don't think is the best of any given year (The King's Speech was a lot of fun, but I thought Social Network was a superior film, and I've rewatched it, Inception and Toy Story 3 from that year several times).

    So I guess for me, mildly disagreeing (always mildly - I've never found it to be worth all that much energy to get too worked up over) with some of the winners is as much an Oscar tradition as anything else. a surprise appearance that I will concede to my conservative friends was entirely inappropriate

    I'm genuinely curious what makes you say that (aside from your mention of how it gives the Obama haters even more ammunition). She's certainly not the first First Lady to be involved with the Oscar telecast, nor the first time some element of the White House has done so. Her husband no longer has to run for office, so there's very little room for any ulterior motive, the claim that "she should have better things to do" is patently ridiculous, and the closest she came to espousing an agenda in her appearance was one urging kids to follow their dreams, which, to paaphrase one TV critic, if you hate the Obamas enough to tell your kids not to follow their dreams because that's a liberal plot, well, that's your prerogative.

    So needless to say, the fervor over her appearance left me very confused (except, of course, from the fervor coming from, as you suggest, those segments of the population who will automatically hate anything the Obamas or any Democrat does, ever).


  7. @Teebore: I'm trying to parse out exactly how you and I differ (or differed, rather) in our approach to the Oscars up to this year.

    Let me know if you hit on anything... 8^)

    I worked through my issues with MacFarlane at length yet again in a comment your Oscars post. And like I said, I think that the producers are most at fault — for the choice of host as well as for the production overall. The larger point, though, I just can't explain other than that it is what it is.

    Maybe part of it is that my mother, as cool as she is, has always been a bit of a pollyanna, simply prone to enjoy stuff rather than be critical of it (not in the sense of examining details but in the sense of deeming it unworthy). Also maybe of relevance is that the Oscars felt very grown-up, watching from an early age, so if I didn't get something I wrote it off as beyond me and in general it was all simply the way public fancy Hollywood stuff was done, a feeling that was ingrained by the time I aged to a point at which I should "know better". Or something?

    I want to comment on a couple other comments of yours, but this is the first time I've had Internet all day, it's late, and I'd like to fit some other stuff in — including comments on your blog.