Leading up to this year's Oscars broadcast, it appeared that the Academy had conspired with ABC-TV to ensure that the show would be a debacle. The build up to the event was an almost comical textbook example of how to form a circular firing squad. First, AMPAS announced that there would a brand new category to honor the most popular movie of the year, a naked attempt to build sagging ratings that risked handing an award to even the dopiest film of the year as long as it had sold enough admissions tickets. Then the producers of the broadcast decided to chop away at the awards themselves, suggesting that certain categories be eliminated from being awarded live. If that wasn't enough, ABC was going to play Solomon and arbitrarily cut down the live performances of the five nominated songs to only two, and you can bet the surviving duo would be based entirely on ratings potential. The backlash from the industry and the public was severe and ultimately AMPAS and ABC backed down. The one dilemma the producers had was that the show lacked a host. Kevin Hart had been announced but when some controversial comments from his past surfaced, he removed himself from consideration. At this point, the producers opted to go with the best host of all: no one. Given how mediocre-to-awful hosts have been in recent years, this proved to be a wise decision. It can also be said that no matter how reluctantly AMPAS and ABC came to backing off some of their controversial initial plans, they ultimately salvaged the broadcast. The show was leaner than usual, clocking in a three hours and seventeen minutes. Most importantly, the lack of a hammy late night comic to host the ceremonies meant that we didn't have to agonize through awful, time-consuming comedy routines and elaborate sketches that took away emphasis on honoring the artists the show is supposed to be about.
Here are some random observations:
The show opened with the trio of Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler greeting the audience and beating to death quips about the show not having an official host. Their appearance was unfunny but thankfully brief enough to not inflict much harm.
The old theory that the Best Picture almost always is in synch with the Best Director seems to be a relic of the past. With increasing frequency, the Best Director does not see their film named as Best Picture, which is a bit bizarre but at least it adds a modicum of suspense to the broadcast. Last evening, Alfonso Curaon picked up the Oscar for direction but the Best Picture went to Green Book despite the fact that the film's director, Peter Farrelly wasn't even nominated. Go figure.
There were no big surprises aside from the fact that no one film dominated the awards. There was a "something for everyone" result from this but it would be hard to argue that any recipient wasn't deserving of the honor even if they weren't your first choice.
The broadcast opened with a couple of rocking numbers by the original members of Queen and lead singer Adam Lambert, who paid tribute to Freddie Mercury. The performances were sensational but seemed out of place on the Oscars because it felt like we were being patched into a standard rock concert. Admittedly, it was better than the usual misguided opening production numbers.
The abundance of people of color on the broadcast made it appear that the Academy was trying to compensate for decades of under-representing minorities by trying to atone for the slights in one event. In that regard, AMPAS probably did successfully deflect any criticism from a sociological point-of-view.
The inclusion of presenters not affiliated with the film industry smacked of gimmickry but I was moved by Congressman John Lewis, one of the last original icons of the Civil Rights Movement, who gave a poignant and tearful introduction to "Green Book".
It was an inspired idea to team "Wayne's World" stars Mike Myers and Dana Carvey to present an award, thus bringing back some fun memories.
The fashions ranged from glamorous to awful. It seemed that many of the actresses neglected to realize they might have to actually walk in some of these complex contraptions and my wife quipped that one pink number looked like a custom-designed Pepto Bismol bottle. But there weren't any over-the-top bizarre numbers on display probably because Cher didn't appear.
As usual, major star power was lacking. Older viewers, who comprise the prime audience, were probably left scratching their heads wondering who many of the presenters were. In days of old, legendary stars and directors routinely attended the ceremony but today most of the big names don't unless they are personally nominated. Fortunately, Barbra Streisand, Julia Roberts and Daniel Craig did add some genuine star power to the broadcast.
The annual "In Memoriam" segment was tastefully done, as usual, and featured Gustavo Dudamel conducting the L.A. Philharmonic. I've grown weary of trying to think of performers who are overlooked in this segment but at least this time the Academy president wisely acknowledged that the list was far from comprehensive.
The sets and production design for the show were truly impressive beginning with displays of giant Oscars comprised of thousands of roses. Additionally, the ability to change backdrops to suit specific themes and performers was handled very well and added some additional luster to the broadcast.
The show's musical highlight was the duet between Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper on "Shallow" from "A Star is Born", which justifiably took home the gold.
The most gracious acceptance speeches came from Best Actor Rami Malek for "Bohemian Rhapsody" and Best Actress Olivia Colman for "The Favourite", the latter almost apologizing to Glenn Close for winning what she believed should have been Close's Oscar. On the other side of the spectrum was Hannah Beachler's win for Production Design for "Black Panther". It's certainly reaffirming to see one of the few African American women in this field honored, but Beachler ate up the time (reading her speech from a mobile phone!) and thereby excluded her co-winner Jay Hart from being able to make his own remarks. It's all the more a pity because Hart, who has been nominated twice before, has waited decades for this moment.
Sentimental favorite Spike Lee was denied the Best Director Oscar many thought he would win but was jubilant to share the Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Predictably, Lee spouted some obscenities the minute he got to the microphone but if it was a ploy to set off a controversy, it fell flat as the censors were well-prepared to use the seven second delay mechanism to bleep him out. It was hard not be moved by Lee's genuine enthusiasm and attempt to invoke historical context to his win, but he, too, spoke so long that his co-winners were denied the opportunity to make their own remarks. Future nominees should take notice: if you are part of a team, make sure you speak first.
All told, AMPAS turned a lemon into lemonade by listening to critics and being rewarded with a smooth running broadcast that managed to emphasize the Academy's core mission: honoring the artists.