The Oscars Reaction: Success Or Tacky?

by | February 23, 2009 at 12:15 PM | 81st Academy Awards

Deep sigh. The 81st Annual Academy Awards is now history. The sun is up on both coasts and we know this much to be true about the nearly three and a half hour telecast: There were some terrific and possibly classic moments, including Sean Penn thanking “commie homo loving sons of guns,” high wire artist Phillipe Petite balancing his Man On A Wire” Oscar on his nose, “Milk” screenwriter Dustin Lance Black’s moving acceptance speech, ABC slyly cutting to Angelina Jolie for reaction while Jennifer Aniston was at the podium, the genuine can-do spirit of Slumdog Millionaire sweeping the night with eight awards, and of course Hugh Jackman plopping himself in Frank Langella’s lap.

Jackman was fine as the show’s host. Better: he was safe. The New York Times said he “was a shrewd, even thrifty choice for a recession-era Oscar night — the hosting equivalent of a value meal.” As for the show itself, it was revamped this year for a variety of reasons not the least of which was concerted effort to generate excitement and reverse a serious ratings slump. It was more intimate. It was…like a musical tribute, a risk that drew decidedly mixed reaction. The Hollywood Reporter called it “a towering success.” Variety, ignoring the obvious, that the Oscars is first and foremost a television show, chimed, “Others can decide how Sunday’s event looked on TV, but for the 3,000-plus attendees Sunday night, it was terrific.” On the other hand, the industry’s most astute, feared and read journalist Nikki Finke, in her Deadlinehollywooddaily.com, said, “This is the Oscars, people, a celebration of the movie industry, not the touring company of some low-tech Off-Off-Off Broadway musical. Where are the special effects, eye-popping visuals, and other high-tech gizmos?

The best part about last night’s telecast was confirmation of what movie goers already knew. In Slumdog, director Danny Boyle not only brought together Hollywood and Bollywood, he also underscored the point that love is a universal language, transcending race, economics, and national borders. The world is smaller, and movies like Slumdog show how truly close all of us are. Likewise, Milk delivered another powerful lesson in humanity, a movie where the only special effect was the tragedy of a broken heart. It also showcased Sean Penn as the greatest actor of his generation as well as a fearless artist. “I know how difficult I make it to appreciate me,” he said with a devilish smile. Yet as polarizing as his politics may be to some, his performances from his stoned surfer dude in Fast Times At Ridgemont High to this latest role, demand to be watched – and appreciated.

Unless you were rooting for Mickey Rourke – and the best reason to want him to win was to hear his speech – no one was especially disappointed with the awards that were handed out. They were predictable. As Variety seemed to forget, though, the Oscars are really about the TV show. They’re akin to a visiting relative. You’re excited they’re coming, but as soon as they settle in you start to complain about how long they plan to stay – and that’s exactly what reading the reaction is like. Noted Hollywood writer Sharon Waxman’s website, The Wrap said, “It’s one thing for Billy Crystal to come out in a Dr. Lecter mask and joke his way through a parodic melody – it’s quite another to open with a number in which a movie about an assassinated gay politician is represented by a routine that looks like the campiest sort of gay bar theatrical.”

And the LA Times’ Mary McNamara seemed to concur. “Now I’m sorry, but didn’t we decide, like as a nation, that Big Dance numbers were a blight on the Oscars telecast? Weren’t they, in fact, the first thing to go in the ’90s when the show swept past the four-hour mark and everyone decided that things had Gone Too Far? So someone explain to me please why we were forced to watch a chorus line tap-dance in sequins on a staircase when the actual nominated songs were cut down to a medley (prompting nominee Peter Gabriel to refuse to perform)?”

In conclusion…welll, the best remarks about the show’s conclusion came from Finke, who was living blogging, or snarking, as she put it, about the show. “And the 3 hour, 20+ minute Oscars telecast ended, fittingly for tonight, with more Tony’s-style music. On a dark stage devoid of color or interest. Followed by a tacky montage of upcoming movies at the end of the show. And, once again, AMPAS committed public suicide. Concluded one of my commenters, “I am ready to walk over to Hollywood and Highland and start flinging my poo like an angry chimp on Xanax.””

The telecast needs to continue to revise and rethink itself in this age of celebrity overdose. Maybe cut out the red carpet and cut down to an hour. Maybe produce it like the Super Bowl, with interesting, up close and personal side stories and detours into the actual art of movie making. Maybe employ limo cams. Or cut to snarky bloggers and ordinary people around the country for reaction. Hey, we ran comments from Facebook users throughout the broadcast and they were as fascinating as the show itself.

Regardless of opinion, Hollywood showed last night that it’s alive and well and able to make movies that not only entertain but also teach, provoke and inspire people to be better human beings. All in all, that’s not too bad of a night.