Everyone has an opinion about this weekend’s 83rd Annual Oscar Telecast: James Franco looked stoned, Anne Hathaway was trying too hard, and Kirk Douglas should host next year’s show, etc. He did, she was and he should… but those are just symptoms of the Oscar’s biggest ailment. Getting a new host is the rough equivalent of treating brain cancer patient with prescription strength Tylenol. Maybe it’ll get them through the night, but the only way to really solve the problem is through invasive surgery. Not sure what part needs a healthy scalpeling? I’ll give you a hint: It rhymes with ‘Blive Theater.’
Why oh why do the Academy Awards – an awards ceremony dedicated to the art of filmmaking, I remind you – rely on the conventions of live theater? Be it the show’s atrocious history of using interpretive dance to visualize Original Scores (which were already pretty well visualized through, I dunno… the films), the increasingly embarrassing canned banter between the presenters or a bizarre tendency to devolve into musical numbers for no particularly good reason other than there’s not much else you can do on a stage, practically everything that has become synonymous with the Oscars feels dated, forced and irrelevant to the subject at hand. Even the trope of a live emcee quipping his way through a production interspersed with live performances and sketch comedy is a holdover from the variety shows of the 1940’s and 1950’s, when such entertainment was still relevant. And in case you haven’t noticed, the variety show is deader than Smell-O-Vision. Here’s a question for you: Why do we need to focus so much on the stage?
Film is not a live medium. Television often is, certainly, but this isn’t the Emmys. Just because the Oscars are on TV doesn’t mean the Academy needs to bend over backwards to accommodate the needs of a different art form. And film sure as hell isn’t musical theater. It’s a calculated amalgam of many unique talents, each of which are honored by the Academy and many of which are conspicuously absent from the actual awards show. The highlights of the 83rd Annual Academy Awards – besides Kirk Douglas – were the segments filmed ahead of time. The opening Inception homage, the amusing auto-tuning sketch and the surprisingly thrilling montage of the Best Picture nominees at the end (even if using The King’s Speech as a framing device was unfairly biased towards the inevitable winner) all demonstrated the unique possibilities of the filmic medium. James Franco in a dress did not, even if it did make you question your sexuality of choice.
It’s not like there’s a shortage of talented filmmakers in Hollywood: get them to produce original, Oscar-themed material for the program. Can’t pay them much? Something tells me the guarantee of 1,000,000,000 viewers and the potential to go viral is a decent incentive to take a pay cut and produce a scant three or four minutes of new material. Wes Anderson’s short film about screenwriting would be a delight, and Michael Bay’s homage to sound design could finally give the two most undeservedly maligned Academy Awards their due. Are Wes Anderson and Michael Bay busy next February? Give some smaller filmmakers a chance instead, and watch them sign big deals in the weeks that follow after raising their visibility a million fold.
Of course there will still be a stage. There will still be a live audience. And actually, we’ll still need an emcee to keep the proceedings fresh by responding to news and developments too recent to be predicted a month in advance by the filmmakers hired to fix the Oscars. For this reason we actually need a Jon Stewart as opposed to the hot actors of today: professional comedians and commentators are accustomed to performing on the fly and turning unexpected events into comic gold. Who could forget the time Billy Crystal used Jack Palance as a running gag at the 1992 awards, spinning his unexpected one-armed pushups routine into comic gold. “Jack Palance just bungee jumped off the Hollywood sign.” You can’t plan that, but you can plan to have an Oscar host who’s up to the challenge of generating witticisms on the fly instead of relying on forced pre-scripted material. Steve Martin was a pro at this, but surely the likes of Ben Stiller or Jason Segel could hold their own if the producers are desperate to appeal to a hipper crowd. Hell, Robert Downey Jr. charmed the pants off of us at both the Oscars and the Golden Globes this year. (At least, my pants were off…) Give him a chance.
So, Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, I put it to you that there is nothing wrong with the Oscars that the art and science of motion pictures cannot cure. Use film to celebrate film and watch the awards show become relevant again. Put away the band-aids and start amputating. The first thing to go: the damned ragamuffins singing at the end. I don’t care if it was a triumph of the human spirit: it was also a hamfisted ploy to make the Oscars appear like a humanitarian enterprise when it’s really just here to celebrate the kind of entertainment that ironically makes children shut up for a couple of hours. It was the kind of ‘show-stopping’ finale that makes rich people feel better about themselves and makes the rest of us seriously look into getting snipped. And it had nothing to do with movies, even if they did sing “Over the Damned Rainbow.”