Bearing the Scars of Oscars
At this year’s post-Oscars Governor’s Ball, Sid Ganis should have been reviled and even exiled. Instead, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which produces the ABC telecast, was the man of the hour, congratulated profusely by the assembled moguls and talent. It’s no wonder, then, that this loopy show fails year after year, because smug Hollywood just keeps self-medicating. These machers are more willing to stuff the party’s organic Kobe beef cheeseburgers into their mouths than put their money where their show is. I’ll remember this stinko 79th Academy Awards more than previous years because it seriously stinted on the one thing the world has come to expect from Hollywood: glorious, unabashed excess. Tell me: Did the Academy’s accountants abscond in advance with the telecast cash? (For chrissake, the producers didn’t even spring for a translator for Lifetime Achievement award winner Ennio Morricone, leaving hapless Clint Eastwood to make sense of that bubbling barrage of Italian-speak.) The show was lacking in razzle-dazzle. It had no trash and flash. Why, the Lucky Seven Lounge in Reno does a better act even on a weeknight.
Halfway through this snore fest, I was certain that ABC was about to voluntarily pay the FCC $500,000 just to make Beyoncé’s boob pop out. Instead, the audience got to see Gwyneth Paltrow’s nipple and, as luck would have it, she’s only a double-A cup.
The show was tantamount to an amateur hour shot back in the 1950s. Obviously, AMPAS is unaware that the world now has color television. James Taylor performed Randy Newman’s song “Our Town” from Cars on a bare black stage with just a piano and a guitar. Ellen DeGeneres and the Pilobolus dance troupe made shadow puppets behind a white screen to simulate a lame joke about Snakes on a Plane. (Looked more like Lobsters on a Plane to me.) Jack Black, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly performed on a stripped-down set decorated with just a piano and their tuxedos. I wasn’t sure that this was the Academy Awards and not Friday night at the Friars Club. Even Ellen’s monologue and running commentary were no-frills; they ignored topical jokes like Bald Britney and that dead blond bimbo. As a friend e-mailed me, “This was like a Reagan-era show.” The presenter list was even missing Sacha Baron Cohen, who could have at least injected some postmillennial humor. But he said he would do the show only if he could be in character as Borat, and the powers that be said, “No way.” Morons.
It was the night that the Academy finally killed off what used to be its showstopper of a movie-award ceremony. I and the rest of America are the ones who bore the scars of the Oscars Sunday night, while Hollywood giddily skipped out the next morning to the doctor’s office for an emergency round of Botox. (Will someone please send me the name of Sherry Lansing’s plastic surgeon? He did a fab job. Or maybe people just look great when Viacom’s Sumner Redstone is no longer browbeating them.)
Well, I say enough is enough. Who isn’t sick of getting stuck sitting through an ass-numbing show that runs on and on beyond reason with nothing entertaining to speak of? Or waiting a full 15 minutes for even the first film clip to be shown? As a comedian friend told me, “If this goes on any longer, they’re going to be reporting next weekend’s Friday-night box office, the obituary package is going to be out of date, and the ballots will be going out for next year’s awards.” This same frustration was echoed in this e-mail to my live blog on DeadlineHollywoodDaily.com: “If they show another montage, I think it should be of people killing themselves while watching the Oscars.”
Only the red-carpet arrivals didn’t disappoint. At first, Joan Rivers was trying to sound sane and not piss off the stars as they made their way down the gauntlet of media microphones. (After E!, and now the TV Guide channel, where’s left for her and Melissa to go if they blow this gig?) But then Joan’s Evil Twin took control: Interviewing Babel director Alejandro González Iñárritu, she asked, “Who’s the one person here you’d like to work with?” “Catherine Deneuve,” Iñárritu replied. To which Joan responded, “Well, she’s very, very snotty.” Then Melissa dissed Hollywood’s short Jews. On second thought, Joan and Melissa next year won’t even find work on local cable access.
E! Entertainment had its usual boobs coverage: Hosts were plugging the Victoria’s Secret custom bra given to the five Best Actress nominees so as to be able to use the word “cleavage” 800 times. Then E! was gushing about “spanks,” derrière-enhancement undergarments. I’m sure E! has planned a follow-up mockumentary about body image.
Instead of a bang, the Oscars show began with a boring home movie: Errol Morris’ interviews of the nominees who were way too inside the Industry. The TV viewing audience had no idea who most of these people onscreen were. (And the opening wasn’t even original: Morris did the same thing for the Oscar telecast a few years ago. What was this: the sequel?) Thus began what was supposed to be a global show reaching out to 1 billion people. And to think the producers scrapped an opening segment featuring Ellen dancing with the Happy Feet penguins. For this fact alone, producer Laura Ziskin, who also ruined the 74th Oscars, should be permanently banned.
I thought Ellen would make a great host. I was wrong. I kept waiting and waiting for DeGeneres to crack a few jokes, or at least a joke. Instead, she stood on center stage and did her “I’m cute and lovable” impression of a dear but retarded puppy. Trouble is, she was piddling in millions of living rooms. By trying not to be controversial, Ellen delivered a truly forgettable performance. And that’s far worse than being awful.
At least Ellen won’t have to worry about hosting again. Clearly, Jerry Seinfeld was auditioning for the gig — not just to see if the show liked him, but to see if he liked the show. I predict Jerry will be the 80th Oscars host. What would be great about Seinfeld emceeing is that because of the gazillions he’s made in TV, he’s the essence of autonomy: He’d ignore the show producers trying to control him and everyone else. (They always try to terrorize the hosts, to the detriment of creativity and comedy.) The line to draft him forms here.
What does it say about the telecast that Al Gore and the two kids (Will Smith’s son and Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin) had the best lines? But it was hard not to picture the rugrats in campus sweatshirts years from now: “Class of 2015, Drug Rehab University.” Just think, there’s a whole generation out there that can’t remember a good Oscarcast. Remember the streaker in 1974 and presenter David Niven’s witty reaction about the man “showing his shortcomings”? Or the actress posing as American Indian Sacheen Littlefeather and accepting the Best Actor award for Marlon Brando in The Godfather? And who could forget Jack Palance and his pushups? Sunday night, Palance was but a blip in the downer obits.
As for the winners, I saw no great mystery as to why The Departed snagged Best Picture and Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing. It was a terrific film. It made a lot of money. It had classy actors and a crackling script. Marty Scorsese was the sentimental favorite going in. A comedy like Little Miss Sunshine never gets the gold. More Academy members hated Babel than loved it. The Queen was too subtle. Letters From Iwo Jima was too Japanese. Despite what the Oscars pundits tell you, this isn’t rocket science: All a Best Picture needs is for about 1,300-plus voters to feel passionately enough about it to mark their ballot accordingly. This year, the Academy members weren’t interested in message, political or otherwise. More of them simply liked the gangster tale.
Ellen could have joked about the newly svelte Tom Cruise no longer looking as chunky as when he married Katie. (Here, I’ll suggest one: Slim-Fast? Jenny Craig? The I’ve-been-thrown-out-of-Paramount diet? The PR-people-claim-I’m-the-head-of-United-Artists regimen?) Or about John Travolta (I thought he’d perished in a tragic boating accident, but it turns out he was harpooned in his bathtub) and his blurting out, “I love a full-figured woman who can stand in front of a camera and sing her heart out. But that’s enough about me.” Through a reference to his turn as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, everyone thought Travolta had finally outed himself. But did anybody remark on it? No, because everyone was terrified — the presenters, the actors, the writers and, obviously, Ellen — of doing anything to make the Academy angry. Which is why I say, Free the Oscars . . . FREE THE OSCARS! (. . . Attica . . . Attica). And, next time around, free some Benjamin Franklins too.
For more Nikki Finke check out Deadline Hollywood Daily at www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com/
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