Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Oscar Goes Walkabout

Don’t blame Seth MacFarlane. Not entirely. Someone had the idea to hire him. Everyone at AMPAS and at the network had to know what they might be getting. They had to. Given our host’s body of work (primarily animation) and the nature and temperament of work he has produced (you saw Ted, right? Family Guy, etc.?), there is no excuse for them, or us, to expect anything other than what we saw on Sunday night.

MacFarlane can be charming and has a pleasant singing voice. He is handsome and proved he is at least as light on his feet as most other hosts from days gone by. The problem lies in his ability to hold all the pieces of a disjointed live show together by sheer force of personality and wit. That’s always been one of the main problems of the show. If you have a show with no real spine, there is simply too much emphasis on the host to make the show work.

Once a year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences puts on this big awards show. “The Oscars” is a live theatrical event that is broadcast on television and it’s all about honoring excellence in film. Three different, yet perversely related mediums, that rarely can exist in the same space and time. That is a daunting task in and of itself and one that, unfortunately, is destined to be pillaged the next day in the press regardless of the ratings. Which is a shame really. In our haste to lambaste the host and criticize the acceptance speeches and complain about the musical numbers and moan about who’s wearing what, we forget what the evening is about. In fact, I would argue that even AMPAS has forgotten what the evening is supposed to be.

[Wayne putting on his “director’s hat” - and yes, I have one of those.]

Of course, everyone has weighed in on this in the past and I won’t be alone this week in arrogantly assuming I know how to fix a multi-million dollar broadcast. But here goes. Here’s how AMPAS fixes The Oscars:

  1. Make the show about the movies. That’s the theme of the night. Own that. It’s okay. Make it a proud night to be in the movie business. Make the viewers at home feel like they have invested their movie choices and popcorn money wisely. Put the glamour and class back into it and actually honor the people who are there. It is hard to make a movie these days. Really hard. The fact that ANY film ever gets made at all these days is a wonder to me. So, respect the accomplishments of those in attendance and respect the fact that thousands of Academy members went to the trouble to watch the films, think about things and vote. This should be the film industry’s biggest night. Start with that idea.
  2. Stop with the snark. (My theme of late.) Leave the snide “inside baseball” comments for the ridiculous critics and erstwhile entertainment bloggers the next day. No one needs another Mel Gibson joke during the introductory monologue. The Jodie Foster and Clint Eastwood riffs have worn out their welcome weeks ago. The “entertainment reporters” are going to bring all the warts and flubs up the next morning anyway, so don’t give them anymore ammunition. Nothing is easier for Sam Rubin or Perez Hilton to feed on than a joke that tanks.
  3. The show shouldn’t be about the host. I don’t think I’m alone when I say the host is probably the least important element of the night. Think of the Super Bowl. We are gonna watch the game no matter what big star plays at halftime. Beyonce, Prince, Springsteen just keep us from changing the channel at halftime. Same with the host. Good host keeps me on the channel between awards. Bad host makes me try to catch up on the Sharktopus plot between Best Editing and Visual Effects acceptance speeches. Sure the host should be attractive and witty and smart and funny. Guess what? This is Hollywood. You can find plenty of that if you really look. I watch the Oscars every year because I want to see how the movies I watched that year did. I watch to see beautiful movie stars in fancy dress. I watch to see actors and actresses I admire get rewarded for the work they do that has moved me to tears or to laughter. I DO NOT watch specifically to see if the host is going to sing a song about boobs or do a overly long skit with Captain Kirk. If those were the reasons for my tuning in to the Oscars, I’d just DVR Saturday Night Live (and then poke my eyes out with a red hot heroin needle while smashing my foot with an iron anvil).
  4. More Hollywood. Movie stars and famous people are the only reasons the world watches The Oscar. Pay some attention to the acceptance speeches. No really. What’s the big deal about letting people who have just won a fricking Academy Award thank a bunch of people and get a little emotional? I’ll tell you what -- it IS a big deal! Who cares if Anne Hathaway gets sentimental? So what if Jennifer Lawrence trips on her dress? Let them talk. Enjoy that spontaneity and that emotion. That the stuff that makes us go to the movies in the first place. Be less concerned about how long the actual winners talk and more concerned about how long the host’s terrible opening bit is.
  5. More movie stuff. I actually want to see longer scenes from the movies. Remind us WHY these films nominated. Help us know why these actors nominated What’s the difference between all the editing awards? What goes into a costume design? In an age when the arts are being slashed from schools across the country, would it kill the Academy to remind people about the artistry that goes into the making of a movie? From FX to DP, why not take this opportunity to do a little film industry evangelism. Why does the Academy exist? This is a great time to extend the mission of AMPAS a little. The people watching love the movies. Let’s fill them up with information in an entertaining way. Isn’t that what we do?

In a record setting year at the box office, it seems odd that we’d hide all that success, all those movies, all those actors and directors and editors and FX artists behind the guy that makes cartoons for Fox. Oscar come home.

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