Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Few Thoughts on the Academy Awards Ceremony: The Bad

Ellen Degeneres
If there was one issue of this year's Academy Awards, it was its desire to try and be hip. While it resulted in the ceremony's highest ratings in over a decade, it also lost focus of what the Academy Awards is: an awards show. This isn't a moment for spectacle, but to highlight a year of film with the prestigious award. This was most evident in the host, whose lack of spectacle was replaced be a series of happenstance moments literally ate up a lot of time, making her one of the dullest hosts in the show's recent history. Even if she was tame and appealed to the audience with off kilter remarks, Ellen Degeneres essentially lost the plot. While she isn't the only one to blame for this year's ceremony being one of the worst in recent memory, she does at least earn credit for ruining the fun nature.

The Host's Follies

Hope you care for jokes about Jonah Hill's member, because there were two of those. The opening monologue existed almost without fanfare and instead felt relied on spontaneous conversation with the audience. Making fun of the deaf June Squibb and the clumsy Jennifer Lawrence were easy targets, but what exactly is memorable about this simple approach? Seth MacFarlane got accused of making boob jokes while Degeneres makes penis jokes? Billy Crystal got accused of hacky bits involving the audience when she brought the show to a halt doing the same thing? There is nothing necessarily new or exciting about her turn this year, and it was evident since the beginning. By slimming everything down, it resulted in a sense of desperation that was far worse than the infamous James Franco/Anne Hathaway year. At least they kept things going.

Everything was doomed early on when suddenly the host decided to pull out her phone. It is a move that James Franco did during his infamous hosting job to less praise. Somehow Degerneres' goofy ignorance of technology was supposed to make for a good performance bit. However, the problem with awards shows is the brief attention spans and the idea that awarding someone else needs to award you as a viewer. It doesn't. Sit down and accept that the show's prime goal is to give out awards. By messing with phones and posting content on Twitter, it feels like a distraction, like the event is inferior. Most of all, you miss the moment by doing some hipster garbage that you could do somewhere else. This desperation to appeal to a wider audience may have paid off, but it reflected why exactly Degeneres is one of the worst hosts in recent years. She is more obsessed with the online community than the prestigious people in the room.

This about epitomizes the problem with my previous paragraph. The infamous picture of a crowd of celebrities taking a picture during the ceremony. It wasn't an eventful moment. Degeneres was simply roaming around the crowd and thought it would be great to take a picture. Again, she wanted to break records on Twitter, and soon the show wasn't about the awards anymore. It was about her ego and trying to appeal to the audience who doesn't care about the Oscars. It was a desperate move that many people may be talking about, but is essentially proof of how vapid and dumb her hosting job is. She had no content to work off of, so she wasted everyone's time with pointing out that there were a lot of famous people in the room. Nothing was really accomplished.

Remember how we're watching an AWARDS SHOW? Well, Degeneres continued her slide into worst Oscar host with a simple tangent about wanting pizza. Following through on it, a pizza man brought in a few boxes and served several of the audience members. This isn't the banquet that was held weeks ago. This is an actual ceremony where millions are watching Meryl Streep eating the same loser pizza that they are. This isn't a moment of connectivity, it is the moment that Oscars came to a stand still and practically died. We aren't watching an AWARDS SHOW to watch people eat, but instead get awards. It got so bad that they ended up rushing through the final awards. If anything reflects privilge and the vapidness of Hollywood and Degeneres as an awful Oscar host, it was this moment that lasted was too long if it needed to at all.

The Performances

Fun fact: Liza Minelli is Judy Garland's daughter. Judy Garland was the lead actress in The Wizard of Oz, which turned 75 this year. Minelli was also in attendance at the Oscars. So why did they have Pink sing a song from The Wizard of Oz? This isn't so much an accusation against Pink as it is the logic behind not having an offspring more related to the film perform. Also, with 1939 being a year of great films, why didn't they also recognize the juggernaut that remains in the Academy World record books and the public's consciousness: Gone with the Wind (another film by director Victor Fleming)? There was a lot of ill intent that went into the tribute performance with Pink singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." It wasn't bad, but with so many other variables, it didn't make a whole lot of sense.

The Speeches

Alfonso Cuaron
While Alfonso Cuaron would be coming back for his second Oscar, it seemed strange to know that his first acceptance speech was nothing more than "Bye." When he won for Best Editing with Mark Sanger, his co-winner went on a little long, resulting in Cuaron being played off the stage. It was a humorous moment that was thankfully made up for with his Best Director speech, but it still seemed a little odd that after years of winning the Academy's respect, Cuaron's first words were "Bye."

Jared Leto
Starting off the show, Best Supporting Actor winner Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) gave a heartfelt speech. Well, it was until it began dragging on. It set the bar for long winded speeches that reached into political territory and even referenced his band 30 Second to Mars. It seems strange that he wasn't played off as he became more passionate and delved into strange, awkward territory that felt more like a mission statement than a welcome. Many complained about Matthew McConaughey not recognizing the AIDS epidemic in his speech, but consider that Leto did, and he set the bar low for any acceptance speech that was to follow.

Winning for Best Documentary over the timeless, important The Act of Killing, 20 Feet from Stardom attempted to make their speech count. Instead of going for a bland approach, it was filled with someone belting out a really loud tune that even if they were played off, it wasn't likely to sound threatening. With the song portion of the show being a little heavy already, it did seem to be a little annoying.

Left to right: Kristen Anderson Lopez and Robert Lopez
Never mind that John Travolta butchered Indina Menzel's name or the fact that Robert Lopez is now a member of the prestigious Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony winner club known as E.G.O.T., he is not good at speeches. By rhyming his selections, it added a little annoyance to an already insincere and awful song from an equally dull film. Thankfully they were much shorter than the Best Documentary winners, but with a joke about Frozen 2, it is hard to not see this as nothing more than an open call for an unnecessary sequel. On the bright side, it was short.

Spike Jonze
Don't get me wrong, I love that Spike Jonze is officially an Oscar winner. He is an eclectic filmmaker worthy of more recognition. His screenplay for Her was probably one of his most inventive and fun screenplays in years. However, he is just not that good at speeches. With the typical fare about being a writer and following dreams, he did stumble through the speech. Despite acknowledging that he had 45 seconds, he ended up talking about people he saw in the audience, which may have been a sign of nervousness, but also made the speech really strange. As a whole, it was a disjointed one that almost made you wish that one of the most authentically creative directors out there had written a speech ahead of time.

The Presentation
Jim Carrey
Let it be known that I am not here to badmouth Jim Carrey's excellent tribute to Bruce Dern. However, what he did stated a night of strange montages. It was supposed to be the year of the hero, but what a limited bunch they were. Focusing heavily on the famous superhero films of the past five years, the montages were uninspired clip shows of films with protagonists and no serviceable point. Even from an editing standpoint, there wasn't much to offer in ways of clever shots. Unlike the impressive outline of the other aspects of the show, the montages were an unnecessary addition to the show.

BONUS! The Miscellaneous
(Note: Neither Good nor Bad)
Left to right: June Squibb and Leto
Putting up with Degeneres' uninspired wisecracks and claiming to be Leto's lover, the good sport of the Academy Awards. As one of the freshman nominees, she brought a lot of fun and enjoyment with her optimistic humor. While it is a shame that Nebraska walked away empty handed, the fact that I discovered Squibb during the Oscars is a gift unto itself. Even if she sadly never comes back to the Academy Awards as a nominee, we'll always have those delightful moments when she was brilliantly candid.

Anne Hathaway
While I am by no means an expert or fan of dresses, I will admit to liking Anne Hathaway's sparkling design. This is rather ravishing, considering that last year's dress was very boxy and didn't do her body much justice. Nice to see her rebound.

Left to right: Amy Adams and Bill Murray
With 10 nominations, American Hustle walked away with zero wins. While this makes it part of a league with The Color Purple with film with most nominations without a win, I do hope that it bodes well for the cast in the future, specifically Amy Adams as she continues to have an impressive resume. It was just a tough year and I hope she does better net time. Also, kudos on Bill Murray pulling in that Harold Ramis reference during the Best Cinematography presentation. Whether you planned it or not, it was one of the only candid moments on the show that wasn't embarrassing.

Is there any hope that Bruce Dern will return to the Oscars? With everyone hyping Leonardo DiCaprio's fourth consecutive acting loss, nobody recognizes that Dern hasn't been nominated since 1978. With Nebraska, the Academy missed the chance to reward the veteran actor for one of the best performances in the year's best category. Even if all we get is Jim Carrey's funny impersonation, it is nice to know that he was recognized one more time. Of course, this nomination could just be the start and he could get more. Who knows?

With everyone making fun of poor Jennifer Lawrence for falling all the time, I think it is safe to say that future generations will look back on her with the same reverence for her clumsiness as we currently do for the clumsy Gerald Ford.

What were your least favorite moments?

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