Oscar Mired

So the Oscar producers’ plan was apparently to stem the declining ratings by presenting exactly the same show Billy Crystal did for much of the 1990s.


No kick against reliability and familiarity, but Crystal’s routines this year were distinguished only by their routine nature. “Formulaic” doesn’t begin to describe them—“forced” might.


His usual set-up, that cracking gags about ultra-serious dramas is funny in an ironic way, only works if those dramas are well enough known to be mocked, and most of the Best Picture nominees just weren’t. These films didn’t come with Jerry Maguire or Hannibal Lecter catchphrases or universally recognized scenes. Without a Brokeback Mountain or Crying Game set-up, Crystal had to resort to inserting himself into The Descendants’ death scene for his token “men kissing is funny” bit (during a program whose original producer was pilloried for making a homophobic statement). In Crystal’s film frolic, it was clear from the descent into Spielberg’s Tintin that the movies most ripe for parody had not even been nominated. Find another format to good-naturedly salute the nominees then!


The Crystal shtick made you that much more conscious of the Hollywood royalty template which is really the crux of this ceremony. There is the opening fashion-show pageantry. There are the classy presenters (Cruise, Hanks, et al.) who are allowed to loosen up but not lose composure, and the clowns (Ferrell, Galifanakis, Stiller) who are not allowed to be serious for a moment. (Except that Adam Sandler, amazingly, got the last weighty word in one of those documentary segments where stars were asked to about their inspirations and career desires.)


One of the go-to-commercial teaser comments about upcoming awards mentioned that something like 10 veterans of Saturday Night Live have been nominated for awards (including Kristen Wiig, as co-author of Bridesmaids, this year), but that none had won. Yet Saturday Night Live was the single cultural entity that bound most of the disparate elements of this show together. Most of the “cool” stars had hosted it. Most of the comic relief were former cast members. Considering how merrily SNL roughs up its hosts’ images, and how it’s one of the most assured methods to sell a major movie on television, it should be taken as a model for how the Oscars could court a younger demographic.


As for the winners, Martin Scorsese has gone back to being a channel through which others nab awards, rather than winning himself. Conversely, Woody Allen is again picking up trophies and not deferring them his supporting cast members and cinematographers. I’ve seen so far of this year’s nominees that I’m not fit to judge whether or not they were robbed (or overrated). I like Moneyball but thought it tried too hard to be Oscar material, and I’m glad that transparent toniness didn’t fly with Oscar voters. Meanwhile, having seen neither Hugo nor The Artist yet, I’m hopeful I can still find them in theaters now that they’re prizewinners.

Overall, fun as always to watch, but the Oscar glow faded before the Jimmy Kimmel aftershow even started.