What's Wrong With the Oscars?

I recognize these musings about this year's Oscar ceremony may be coming in a little late, but I like to take a few days to absorb all the coverage, let the breathless hubbub die down and reach a few conclusions in the quiet, cold light of day.

This year I went so far as to poll my Facebook fans for their reactions to the ceremony itself. Result: comments were sharply divided, but over half were negative -- not a figure that would make me happy as an organizer, even if my ratings for the night were up 11 percent.

The Oscars are a ship without a sail. Year after year, they keep trying new hosts, new approaches, but it's been a long time since they hit it out of the park. In fact I can't remember when... the '90s?

Unfortunately, Seth MacFarlane's deliberate desire to offend as well as amuse only made this year's show seem that much more desperate to please, to somehow break through.

Too often the tone was mean-spirited, and left a sour taste. It seemed to reinforce the view that Tinseltown is all about money and surface beauty -- an industry that discards you when you no longer offer either.

When a ceremony offers only fitful rewards for its viewers, it also exposes the "Hollywood Bubble" effect -- the sense we are watching a show where all these rich, beautiful people are congratulating themselves for their amazing cultural contributions.

Just perhaps they think those contributions are more significant than they really are. And the whole thing is for and about them, more than about the movies and the movie public that pays for it all.

Displays of grace and humility seem all too rare these days.

Now back to our host, Mr. MacFarlane. Is it really the character of our times that you have to say something sexist, tasteless or downright cruel to get a laugh? The "I Saw Your Boobs" sequence, along with negative references to Chris Brown and Rihanna, Jean Dujardin, Jennifer Aniston and George Clooney, all come to mind.

Maybe it's generational. Jennifer Lawrence was quoted as being a fan of the "Boobs" number, but Jane Fonda -- God bless her -- spoke out against it. I'm with you, Jane. It's not that I'm a prude, believe me, but kids watch this show all over the world. Add to this important consideration something more basic: the remarks weren't funny.

The Oscars used to be a fairly classy, prestigious event. Certainly an Oscar still spells big money for any film or player that lands one. But in recent years the awards night itself hasn't lived up to the power and prestige of the prize itself. There's still lots of glitz, but to my eyes, precious little glamour.

As to the results themselves, no one picture took a clear lead in Oscar trophies, which tends to boost momentum and excitement. This year different films were represented across Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Supporting Actor/Actress wins, which gave the evening a somewhat patchwork feeling.

Of course, we knew Argo was the odds-on favorite for Best Picture. People went nuts over this film, and I thought it was very good -- but Best Picture? I applaud Ben Affleck's comeback, and freely admit his talent as a director. The problem is he's not a very interesting actor, and he starred in this film. "Actor, direct thyself!"

Prediction: in ten years, we'll look back at the Argo win and shake our collective heads in wonderment, just as many of us do when we ponder 2005's Crash today. Both Lincoln and Amour will stand the test of time better, I think.

I also enjoyed Silver Linings Playbook and thought Jennifer Lawrence was great in it. She's a major talent, but if we really mean "Best Actress," then my view is Emmanuelle Riva was robbed.

I think money and politics showed their hand in the Lawrence win. This is Hollywood officially anointing the next big star. Take-away: we will be seeing lots of Jennifer Lawrence for the foreseeable future. She will be positively unavoidable.

Many have said Amour was too depressing, but what do they expect given the subject matter? It's a sad, tragic, but fairly universal story, beautifully captured on film. (At least it took top honors among foreign films.)

To close on a happier note, I was thrilled Searching For Sugarman won Best Documentary. We did a screening of it several days later, and I was amazed at how many people hadn't seen it. It's so much harder for documentaries to break through -- a shame, since there are so many good ones out there.

In all, I'd rate it an average year for the movies, considerably worse than average for the ceremony itself. I'm sure the producers will be high-fiving each other about their 40 million viewers, and that's fine.

But when all the backslapping is done, I hope they focus on how to do a better show next year, a program that's actually worthy of the Oscar tradition.

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