It used to be like Christmas, except it lasted even longer. From Thanksgiving or so all the way into late February, or even March, it was Oscar, Oscar, Oscar. Before there was internet, there were splashy articles in Entertainment Weekly. Interviews with the nominees, predictions of who would win… I was removed from it all. Just a spectator.
But every year I learn a little more about how it all really happens.
Last year was the height of my Oscar coverage — ironically, in one of the weakest races in recent memory. The Artist took Best Picture, but that’s because its competition was The Help, and War Horse, and Moneyball. Even just one year later, these sound like such weak movies in comparison with this year’s contenders — Lincoln. Zero Dark Thirty. Amour.
Oh, and Argo.
I’ve been burned by the Oscars before, and they were burning others like me since long before I was here. No matter the results, someone’s getting burned… it’s a popularity contest. By that measure, Argo is a fitting choice for Best Picture. It’s pretty inoffensive. I mean, it glorifies America and diminishes Canada, relies on twists that seem pulled from a Robert McKee Screenwriting 101 seminar for its invented third act, and arguably casts Iranians in an unfavorable light… but other than that, it goes down pretty smoothly.
Argo. Right up there with Titanic, and Schindler’s List, and The Godfather, and Lawrence Of Arabia. Does that feel right? Of course not, but you can say that about numerous other Best Picture winners. The Oscars are, after all, nothing but a time capsule, a window into what a certain select group of people’s tastes were, way back when. In the 70’s, they favored moody epics and socially relevant dramas, mostly. Now?
Well, it’s been a weak few years, with Best Picture winners The King’s Speech, The Artist, and now Argo. Last year I was more or less on board with The Artist’s win, but only because of a lack of competition. The Artist was well-made, and well-intentioned, and charming… though a bit of a trifle. I was much more irate about The King’s Speech triumphing over The Social Network, because it felt like a real fight — old school versus new school, then versus now. Of course, “then” ended up winning. After a few years of choosing challenging, dark, and/or divisive movies — No Country For Old Men, The Departed, The Hurt Locker — the Academy went back to rewarding “nice” movies.
I could tolerate that for a year or two, but no more.
Argo’s win signals the fact that it’s time for me to divorce myself a little from the Oscars. I’ll still watch them, and read about them, and write about them from time to time. Who knows what next year has in store for awards season? But these past few years, my relationship with Oscar has been an abusive one. I give, and give; I try to be heard; he doesn’t listen. And I just end up being disappointed.
And I’m not just talking about the winners themselves, but the whole show. Because Seth MacFarlane? What a disaster.
I don’t put the blame entirely on him. He was a bad choice for the show right from the beginning. Despite one huge cinematic success this year, Seth MacFarlane is a TV guy. That’s where his strengths are. Does Seth MacFarlane belong in a room with Meryl Streep, and Jack Nicholson, and Daniel Day-Lewis? Not really. Does Seth MacFarlane know much about movies? I doubt it. Seth MacFarlane might’ve been a decent Emmys or Golden Globes host, but this is the Oscars. They’re about movies… or, well, they’re supposed to be.
Instead, this Oscars was all about TV, music, and Broadway — two things that don’t really go together, mind you. Seth MacFarlane could clearly care less about the Broadway aspects, despite his song-and-dance routines. His lengthy opening sketch involved William Shatner (a TV actor); his most memorable joke was about Rihanna and Chris Brown; his closing number was with Kristin Chenoweth, a TV and stage personality. One of the night’s standout personalities was Adele — a musician, not an actress. There was a James Bond montage that felt more like an ode to the 007 marathons your dad watches on AMC than it did to the actual movies. Three stage-to-screen adaptations reprised some big numbers, including Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson, who rose to fame as a TV musician, won an Oscar primarily for her singing over her acting, and has barely been in a movie since. Was this the Tonys? The Emmys? The Grammys? It felt more like some mashup of those three than it felt like the Oscars.
Everyone’s always talking about how to fix the Academy Awards. It’ll probably never happen. There are too many different people’s interests at stake — ABC’s, the producers’, the Academy’s. They all want something different, which is how you end up with a show that celebrates both Bond and Broadway — appealing to “the guys” with a musical number by Shirley Bassey, apparently (how butch!), and to everyone else with a musical montage honoring three movies that have nothing to do with each other. It’s hosted by a man who was primarily meant to appeal to males and young people, the exact crowd that turns the TV off when Barbra Streisand comes out to sing some song they’ve never heard. What a mess. Is too much to exact for some consistency in this thing? Some kind of singular vision?
Just to prove that it isn’t impossible, I’ve decided to rewrite this year’s Oscar telecast. I mean, if I was starting from scratch, I would probably write Seth MacFarlane out of it entirely, and have it co-hosted by Al Pacino and Madonna. But let me try and work within the Academy’s parameters…
The problems begin when William Shatner arrives from the “future” with a headline that MacFarlane is “Worst Oscar host ever.” (How prescient.) He says it’s because Seth’s jokes are tasteless and everyone ends up hating him. “Tell me what it is that I do wrong!” Seth asks, which doesn’t make sense, because if he was about to sing it, he would’ve known the song already.
A better sketch would be if Shatner came back to warn him that he ruined the telecast by playing it too safe. That he didn’t tell any offensive jokes, and everyone was bored and disappointed. So then Seth launches into the “impromptu” “We Saw Your Boobs” song (which, admittedly, I did find mildly amusing). Shatner has to keep encouraging MacFarlane to be more offensive, which gives him a free pass to be himself and be as tasteless as he wants. He could sabotage Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum’s charming little ballroom dance by encouraging Channing to go all Magic Mike; something similar in that Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe soft-shoe.
The show goes on. Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy come out and do something that’s actually funny instead of bombing and starting the show off on a super awkward note. After the Jaws music abruptly plays off Life Of Pi’s VFX team, Seth makes an impromptu joke about how their mangled bodies just washed up on the beach.
Halle Berry comes out to introduce the 007 montage, which has no lame montage but goes right into Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger.” Midway through, Halle and Anne Hathaway and Michelle Pfeiffer and anyone else who has ever played Catwoman (and isn’t dead) comes out and does an ode to the Batman villainness, in costume, in a surprise tribute. Maybe they fight some guys in suits playing James Bond. It doesn’t matter that this makes no sense; no one would ever see it coming.
The next time the Jaws music strikes up, Steven Spielberg sneaks up to the stage with his hands together over his head, making a shark fin. Everyone laughs, and they stop playing the Jaws theme to let the Hollywood peons continue their speech.
When Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Garner are backstage just before presenting Best Foreign Language Film together, Jessica hisses, “Your hubby’s a hack, bitch,” and then steps on Jennifer’s dress as they walk out, causing her to stumble. “Oops!” Jessica says to the audience, helping Jennifer up, and everyone claps for her while Jennifer rushes off to tend to her bleeding nose.
The producers have decided Chicago and Dreamgirls aren’t really relevant this year, and decide to stick with the Les Miserables number. Just when the cast is getting to their big finish, there’s a reprise of the Oscar-winning “Blame Canada” from South Park, which is especially relevant because Argo totally fucked the Canadians over but they’re all too nice to say anything about it. Seth MacFarlane interrupts and says he’s sorry, but this isn’t the Tonys, and he’s required to show something that has to do with movies now.
Instead of a musical tribute, the show decides to honor comedies — particularly raunchy ones, like Bridesmaids and There’s Something About Mary, tracking the history of what was “risque” back in the early days of film and all the way up to movies like Ted. Because hey, that’s actually relevant for Seth MacFarlane!
Adele performs. Barbra doesn’t. When Norah Jones tries to take the stage, security stops her and says, “Excuse me, who are you?” She replies “Norah Jones,” and is promptly escorted off the premises. Instead of those three so-so montages from the Best Picture nominees, there’s just one big supercut featuring clips from every 2012 movie that the producers pulled off of YouTube. And it’s awesome. “The internet has a lot of funnier and more artfully cut videos than the stuff we have on our show!” one Oscar producer says to the other. “I have dishonored my family,” says the other, and pulls out a giant katana blade.
First Lady Michelle Obama makes a surprise appearance from the White House, surrounded by her mysterious white male minions. She makes a speech about how important the nominees are for The Children, not realizing that children should really not see movies like Amour or Django Unchained. She reads the Best Picture winner: “Argo.” Then says, “What? That’s bullshit. It was a competently made thriller, but that’s all!” Michelle uses her power as First Lady to demand a correction. “It should be Lincoln or Zero Dark Thirty, or else why did you even bother announcing this from the White House?” The president of the Academy tries to come out and reason with her, but to no avail. “Barack? You want to back me up here?” Barack Obama to appears that actually, Zero Dark Thirty was the best movie of the year. Chaos breaks out as Academy members fight about whether or not this is fair. Jessica Chastain spits on Jennifer Garner. “They hate me… they really hate me,” Ben Affleck says aloud, softly, to no one. The ominous strains of the Jaws theme strike up and just as it reaches a crescendo, Seth MacFarlane tells Kristin Chenoweth that nobody wanted to hear her sing, anyway, and cuts it all off with a, “Goodnight, everybody!”
I doubt Tina and Amy will host next year, since the Golden Globes will do everything they can to keep them. But how about Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph try and out-comedienne them? I could totally go for that. Can we make this happen? *