Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Bob Lefsetz on the Oscars (from the Lefsetz Letters) | March 9, 2010

Halfway through, I thought the show succeeded in its mission, it made me want to go to the movies, I suddenly had a desire to run out and see all the flicks I’d missed, not on DVD, but in a theatre, savoring the separate location and the darkness.

But by time the final credits ran, and I saw the image of James Taylor singing “In My Life”, I asked myself, didn’t he perform YESTERDAY?

Maybe it’s undoable.  Maybe you can’t make a good Oscar show.  You’re beholden to too many interests.  Pulled in too many directions.  So what you end up with is an endless mishmash, like those records with ten tracks and just as many producers.  It just doesn’t hang together.

Then again, when I finish watching the Grammys I don’t want to go out and buy the winning records.  And recently, neither has the public.  But at least the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences usually gets it right, unlike NARAS.  “The Hurt Locker” was the best picture of the year.  Yes, Taylor Swift’s “Fearless” was the best album, but that doesn’t make up for the abomination of handing mini-gramophones to Herbie Hancock and Steely Dan and all those others who won for their careers as opposed to their latest records.

Then again, Jeff Bridges won for his career.  Then again, he was the best actor in any film I saw this year.  Not that I saw many.  Because somehow, despite the seriousness of the Oscar telecast, films are no longer serious business, or should I say serious art.  They’re made for a market.  Usually teenage.  Oftentimes prepubescent.  Rarely adult.

But adults vote for the Oscars, and that’s why “The Hurt Locker” won.  And “Up” too.  Because somehow, the animated film could be about children and adults, for children and adults at the same time.  Taylor Swift accomplished the same goal, give her music a chance, she’s no NKOTB.  But in music, we expect you to continue the tradition, to get better and better, whereas films are sui generis.  Unless they decide to make a sequel, which hasn’t been better than the original since “Godfather II”.  And that’s a heavy burden for Ms. Swift to carry, especially being unable to sing.

Then we’ve got Kathy Ireland, who’s unable to host.

Come on, you watch the pre-game show.  Was she terrible or what?  Posing like a model, and they don’t speak, in case you’ve been oblivious to the fashion-mania that’s coursing through our nation, Kathy fawned and asked dumb questions, making one wince.

And there was the focus on dresses.  As if the real stars were the designers, not the actors or the films.  Which way do you want it, irreverent and base or highbrow?  Because the Golden Globes do irreverent, informal and frequently base, very well, and end up with a much more watchable show.

Then again, with fewer people involved, the Globes know it’s about the show.  That unless the whole thing hangs together, the elements are meaningless.  Will you remember who won the Best Supporting Oscars next year?  Doubtful.  But you’ll remember who committed a faux pas at the Globes.  We need hooks to hang our memories on.  And in this show, there just weren’t enough.

The honoring of the actors by their coworkers/peers.  Just plain creepy.  Then again, it was so deep into the show ANYTHING would suck.

Not that Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin did.  But somehow, it didn’t seem to be their show.  They lost control of it.  Or never had it.  Unlike Billy Crystal, they never came back with witty comments.  They were just part of the endless tsunami of Hollywood.  A duo doing a vaudeville skit in between the animal exploits.

And if you can eliminate the performances of songs, why do we have to have dancing to the scores?  Well, I guess everybody needs to go to the bathroom.

As for the ten best movie nominations…  That just made the show longer, with each one needing to be introduced.  It didn’t affect the winner whatsoever.  And it didn’t entrance the young ‘uns.  Although it did have us oldsters scratching our heads as to who some of the presenters were.

It’s like the Academy wants to do the MTV Movie Awards but feels it’s restrained by pomp and circumstance.  And like a major label, no one can mess with the underlying construct.  Eliminate so many of the awards and focus on ogling the stars, that’s what we’re truly interested in.  Even with some high quality lead-ins, like Taylor Hackford’s short film segment, ultimately these minor awards bring down the whole show.

If only it were like the old days, when it was a party.  But now the party’s on the other side of the screen.  No one’s having any fun at the Kodak.  Except maybe for George Clooney, mugging away, the new Jack Nicholson of the annual event.

“The Hurt Locker” is serious business.  It’s so great it won.  But how lame is ABC for cutting away from the Best Documentary winner holding up the dolphin text number?  No controversy.  That’s what’s wrong with network television today.  Afraid that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin are going to crack the whip, they’re afraid of taking a stand.  But that’s what we’re looking for.  If someone gets pissed off, just stand your ground.

The John Hughes tribute was heartfelt and touching.

It was a good idea to hold the light up to horror, even if the montage was done poorly.  And even though they were honored at a separate ceremony, the brief moment in the spotlight for Lauren Bacall and Roger Corman helped burnish their images.

What will I remember?  The endless Skechers commercials.  And the ones for Samsung 3-D TV.  BMW’s ads were better than Mercedes-Benz’s, because they realized eras have changed, and now Munich promotes joy, while Stuttgart still hypes exclusivity, elitism.

When done right, movies can change our lives, inspire us, help us to hang on.  But somehow, this awards show no longer inspires the same belief, the same reverence.

But there were choice moments.  The winner saying that creative pursuits were worthwhile, the speech of the “Inglorious Basterds” actor who won the supporting role.

But the show ultimately failed.  Like a wannabe blockbuster with too many stars and not enough plot.

I thought I could miss it.  But on a deep level, I still want to believe.  I think back to prior ceremonies, the victory of both “Godfather” movies, “Annie Hall”‘s triumph.  “The Hurt Locker” wasn’t quite as much of a personal favorite, but the real tragedy is it’ll still go unseen by the masses who would rather be somnambulized by the fabulistic “Avatar” than confront today’s reality, which is just too scary…hell, as Jack Nicholson said so directly, we can’t handle the truth.

The truth is the Academy got it right.  The correct nominees won.  But whereas “The Hurt Locker” triumphed because it was made outside the system, with no test screenings and no extraneous input, this show had too many cooks and too many influences.  So, as a viewing experience, it fell flat.  At least the winners will live on in video.

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