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David Poland

By David Poland

51 Weeks To Oscar


It’s been 3.5 days since the Oscar show ended and… poof… it’s almost like it never happened.

The show was mediocre. It wasn’t offensive, like “I Saw Your Boobs.” It wasn’t trivializing of the movies like “The Selfie Show.” But it was not special. The only memories that I suspect more than the immediately-connected will have with this show are the three big speeches (Arquette/Moore/Common-Legend) and maybe the production number for “Glory,” which was great on TV but apparently even greater in the theater.

Neil Patrick Harris is a tremendous hosting talent… but he is theater, a bit TV, and not “a movie guy.” What that means is that even though he has been in movies and been in this town for a long time, he doesn’t have the gravitas in the film world to hold the show together. Billy Crystal, for all his schmaltzy limitations, had the tone of a bachelor uncle, knowing, but a little sad. Perfect, in that way. David Letterman is still beaten up for “Oprah, Uma,” but the real problem he had with the show was that he always looked like a cat on a hot tin roof. He wasn’t at home. The reason that Carson and Hope were the best at it and may forever be so is that they were just so comfortable in the driver’s seat. Of the late night hosts who will be in the 1130pm chair over the next year, the only one who has a real shot at being good at this job is Colbert. But not next year. Need to see what happens in the chair as he warms to it. Maybe 2017.

But the problem with The Oscars right now is not the host, but that we are still talking about the host. As long as The Academy allows this to be a show about The Host, it will continue to flail. They need a host that can do the job for 5 years or more. They need him or her to become the really comfortable, really smart furniture. And they need to make The Oscars – which has a captured audience, for now – about the movies again.

Michael Keaton lost the Oscar… Michael Keaton won the Oscar… I don’t care all that much. But Michael Keaton not getting a second of airtime? FAIL.

30-second clip reels for Best Picture nominees? FAIL.

8 musical numbers, none honoring the year’s movie scores? FAIL.

You know what number worked? Gaga, followed by Julie Andrews. I laughed my ass off when it started. What the hell were they up to? But it worked because Gaga surprised by being so good, she absolutely respected the original music (as opposed to making it an auto-tuned rap version), and Julie Andrews brought the tradition.

The LEGO thing tried too hard. Just did. And if Channing Tatum was in the possum, nothing could be more of an epic fail than not taking off the head at the end and introducing the next nominees. Yes… as pop culture references go, they could even have had the left shark join him (with female movie star x in there… or double-nominee Jonah Hill)… just as long as they didn’t milk the gag to the point where it became masturbatory.

The three songs that were not staged with more than the singer were okay… but not memorable.

And Selma‘s “Glory” worked, but mostly because it was such a straight play and references the movie so directly.

Oscar thinking is, these days, all tactical. But the strategy, which has been “panic” for quite a few years now, is missing.

Leaders – and The Academy remains the leader in awards shows – move forward. They don’t try to emulate the success of those who are not as successful as they are. Or the leaders become the followers.

There was one year in which The Grammys was right there with Oscar. But it has fallen off substantially since. And Oscar is The Boss. Act like it!

I’d love to be in the meeting for the discussion about what The Oscars should be, without regard to the idea of ratings or the current nature of the content universe. I don’t think it would look a lot like what we saw last Sunday. It would still turn out flawed. There would still be complaints. But America and The World would know a lot more about the movies that were nominated for Best Picture than they do today. Careers other than Meryl Streep’s would be given perspective – as they are on the field in the Super Bowl – more than they were on Sunday. The question of why the world loves movies – and they still do – would have been answered.

But what came out of the show? Gaffes, great speeches, and gaffes being made out of great speeches.

And you know what else? The Oscar show should absolutely embrace and promote the most popular films of the year as well. There is a way of doing that with class and respect – which should always be the #1 angle on the Academy brand – without creating an award for popularity or acting the fool. I wouldn’t mind seeing a 10-minute segment, dead center of the 3 hours-plus, about the heights that commercial cinema can reach… about the intersection of art and commerce… Lucy and Under The SkinFoxcatcher and The Hulk or 22 Jump Street… Groot and Chewbacca… Jennifer Lawrence with a bow and Jennifer Lawrence with her mouth… Interstellar and 2001: A Space Odyssey… it’s all connected.

The SNL 40 bit when actors who loved characters from the show got to embody them briefly on Update… great. What movie performance this year did Emma Stone love, Bradley Cooper, Michael Keaton, Meryl Streep, etc? It’s got to be about the movie love.

But The Academy is acting like a supermodel who is deeply worried that her boyfriend is going to leave because she has a zit. And the answer is, men do leave supermodels. And that insecurity haunts the most beautiful and the most plain. But when you are going out there for the show, if people start noticing you are insecure, your career is over. When you are in public, you need to be all in, turned on, rocking the world because you “know” you have what everyone else wants.

Or as John Patrick Shanley, by way of Cher, said, “(SLAP!) Get over it!!!”

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15 Responses to “51 Weeks To Oscar”

  1. Bulldog68 says:

    An Oscar show that promotes the movies and showcases the talent that were nominated? Why Sir, that’s just crazy talk.

  2. Waterbucket says:

    What a great article. Most of your points are right on the dot. I actually missed this past ceremony, haven’t watched any clip, and don’t miss it much at all. And I love movies and follow the awards race like a hawk. But there’s just no joy in the ceremony anymore.

  3. brack says:

    I think the problem is that the films nominated feel like Oscar-bait, and people know it. It wasn’t always the case that your movie had to be released at the tail end of the year to be remembered during awards season. The Silence of the Lambs was released in February. Can you even imagine a studio releasing a movie in February and think it has a shot at a nomination? I know that’s more the exception than the rule, but still, the awards season seems more manufactured than ever. And they need to go back to five nominees for Best Picture. This up to 10 nominated films stuff just isn’t working. Even with 5 nominated films, everyone knows only about 2 movies have a chance at winning anyway. Yeah, I understand the intent is to recognize more films, but if the awards show doesn’t care enough about the movies, then why should the viewing audience care?

    As far as hosting goes, get Kevin Spacey up there. He would be a great draw considering he seems to be everywhere, from House of Cards to Call of Duty. He’s great with impressions and can sing. And most importantly, he’s more than willing to do it, saying so last year on Kimmel.

  4. Bulldog68 says:

    Or Tom Hanks. Has comedic chops, loved by the Academy and movie goers. Real insider with everyman’s appeal. A true movie star with respect for the process and craft. And being a top SNL host couldn’t hurt. Hehehe.

  5. Hallick says:

    “The Silence of the Lambs was released in February. Can you even imagine a studio releasing a movie in February and think it has a shot at a nomination?”

    “Silence of the Lambs” was a complete fluke and nobody at the studio probably had the slightest twinge of an idea that it would go on to get nominated and win as much as it did. Still, that being said, it did prove you could release a movie in February and be remembered by the end of the year.

    And good point about the 10 Best Picture nominations. The show rushes through them so fast at this point, so yeah, why even bother with it anymore?

  6. Stella's Boy says:

    I’m still pissed that Donnie Brasco was released in February and got only a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. So I guess it wasn’t completely overlooked, but I like to believe that had it been released late in the year, it would have received more nominations. Such an underrated classic. Rant over.

  7. Gus says:

    …Guys, the Grand Budapest Hotel was released in the first week of March. It did fine.

  8. brack says:

    Gus – and only won for film score, and the rest a bunch of design stuff that no one cares about. It didn’t win the grand prize, and had no chance with all the nominated films to go up against it.

    The Silence of the Lambs was a fluke? It starred Jodi mfing Foster. She generally was picking to be in pretty good movies back then (and at least decent ones still). And oh yeah, she had an Oscar already.

  9. YancySkancy says:

    I’m assuming Silence of the Lambs was made with no real thought of Oscar chances, but that the studio decided to make an awards push after the film became a critical and popular hit. Also, no other film that year looked like a lock to win (the other nominees were Beauty and the Beast, Bugsy, JFK and The Prince of Tides), so it probably seemed worth a shot to push Lambs.

  10. Lynch VanSant says:

    Keaton did get airtime, he spoke when Bidrman won for Best Film. I thought Neil Patrick Harris was wrong for being the host as soon as he was announced, and sadly I was right. You need someone who can tell “jokes”…some came off mean or nonsensical and those two excursions in the aisles were painful. Why involve Octavia Spencer in that horrible running gag about keeping his predictions safe? She looked uncomfortable and if he had picked a comedian instead there could be some back and forth jokes. The award presenters were sorely lacking comedians…Kevin Hart, Eddie Murphy (who has stopped being funny as evidenced by his SNL 40 appearance and this), Jason Bateman (to make a joke about being short), and Channing Tatum are slim pickings… why not Seth Rogen/James Franco (that would have been huge) or Steve Carrell since he was nominated (of course for a dramatic role since comedy isn’t a talent according to the academy). Entertain us instead of trotting out all those black/hispanic (13 out of 35 awards) presenters to make up for not nominating anyone! It’s sad that Kerry Washington and Viola Davis had to get tv roles because Hollywood has so few parts for black women. After the opening number, showing the American Sniper clip then trotting out 50 Shades actress to introduce Adam Levine singing reeked of sycophantic kissing up to dumb tv viewers.

    I say leave the sound editing/mixing and live action/animated short awards out in the pre-televised ceremony to cut the show’s running time. The use of title cards instead of clips from the nominated movies didn’t show the excellence of a particular category for which a movie was nominated…it was an insult to the talent involved (as was the in memoriam part with drawn faces without any clips of the stars) and didn’t make the show any shorter. Why not get Damon and Affleck to say a few words about Robin Williams (considering his movies made $5.5 billion for studio coffers) before the in memoriam section?

    Lastly, start the show at 8pm like before….people who want a half-hour of red-carpet coverage can tune in at 7:30. Having the best picture winner announced past midnight leaves out kids who like movies to be able to watch…and craving a youth audience, that’s just stupid.

  11. cadavra says:

    You think he just randomly picked Spencer out of the audience? That bit was planned in advance and she certainly could have declined, so her agreeing to do it clearly signaled that she wasn’t bothered by the non-existent racial implications.

    As for starting the show at 8:00–I asked about this myself a couple of years ago and was told that the ratings for the pre-show are so high that there’d be hell to pay if they started the ceremony earlier. (Which is why local coverage starts around 2:00 PT). I can’t believe that that many people care about the stupid fucking dresses, but there it is.

  12. YancySkancy says:

    It’s an awards show, so if they’re going to start making nickel-and-dime cuts to keep the run-time down, it shouldn’t be at the expense of nominees, no matter how unsexy the category. I don’t even think they should’ve relegated the Hersholt and other honorary awards to a separate ceremony. If they insist on trimming stuff, lose some of the host’s shtick and any musical number that doesn’t involve Best Song or Best Score. No one in their right mind tunes in to a three-and-a-half hour awards show for four minutes of Jennifer Hudson singing a sad song (especially one that was sung after, not during, the In Memoriam), or labored bits like Harris’s magic trick.

    They’ve been airing the Oscars for over 60 years now, and no one has ever really figured out how to make the show work AS A SHOW. The problem, such as it is, is built in to the very purpose of the ceremony. But it always gets big ratings anyway. Not saying it ain’t broke, but it’s hard to see the incentive for “fixing” it.

  13. Adam A says:

    It also doesn’t help that a lot of Oscar films were already on DVD/Blu Ray in the past two weeks. If you want to see Birdman, Theory of Everything, Nightcrawler just get the digital or DVD/Blu-Ray.

    I’m surprised that companies don’t plan to release their films for home entertainment until the weeks right after the Oscar…

  14. Hcat says:

    Hasn’t it been the case where the front runners hit stores the Tuesday before the ceremony? The studios probably figure they can pull more revenue from the retail and VOD side of an Oscar bump than theatrical. Bird man dropped the week before the ceremony and I think Argo did as well, at this point in its release its more likely to be seen as an impulse buy on blu ray than a trip to the theater.

  15. “Snap out of it!”

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon