MCN Columnists
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 really “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 11:30p 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 air time? FAIL.

30 second clip reals 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 a 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 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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11 Responses to “51 Weeks To Oscar”

  1. Pete says:

    First, the producers need to be replaced. They have three failures to answer for. The latest failure was only accidentally about movies. Time allocations were awry. Why spend any time regarding the “apprentice” program? Dave is correct about the excessive musical numbers.

    This show was not one by movie lovers for movie lovers. Why not show the costume designs and production designs, as well as the foreign language film nominees, with brief clips? Why were there so many TV-centric presenters who have incidental film careers (Jason Bateman, Kerry Washington, etc.)?

    The script was embarrassingly trite and warmed-over. It seems as if the same things are said about the value of movies every year. Cheryl Boone Isaacs voiced so many cliches, she should fire whoever wrote her remarks.

    The show was labored, much too long and not at all fun.

    Also, it seemed that someone other that Price Waterhouse knew the outcomes. Why was the song from Selma last? Why was Sean Penn chosen to open the PB envelope? Coincidences? Maybe the first, but not the second.

  2. chris says:

    I wish I had not deleted it from my DVR. I would love to go back and add up how much time was devoted, over the course of the evening, to the suitcase joke that was clearly a failure from the get-go. Ten minutes in total, maybe?

  3. Doug Pratt says:

    I was very disappointed by the lack of clips from the animated feature nominees as they were recited. What appeared instead looked very much like a place holder that somebody forgot to switch.

  4. Hallick says:

    As far as the Academy wasting breath during the show talking about the greatness and importance of cinema in all of our lives, hey, just fucking SHOW it. Show the best of what movies did in the last year and keep showing it. I wouldn’t have minded if they showed something like a great quick clip from “Guardians of the Galaxy” to take it to commercial instead of one of those awful NPH “when we come back…” cuts to commercial.

  5. Pete says:

    The producers seemed obsessed with saving time (no clips, putting the tech nominees in the box next to the stage, etc.) while wantonly wasting it.

    The AMPAS Board needs to stage an intervention. The Academy was very poorly represented. This is their event of the year. Did they find it acceptable and a reflection of excellence?

    One would have thought that the rehearsals would have revealed that a bomb of a production was being put together.

  6. Molly's Dad says:

    David – GREAT article. Now can you have it printed up on thousands of flyers and dropped from a helicopter over Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Malibu, Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Beverly Glen, Los Feliz, Pasadena, Burbank, Agoura and Hollywood? Maybe a few over New York, Aspen, San Francisco and London? Just like both sides did before aerial bombings in WWII. Your most important point is to hire people who actually love movies. It called the Academy of MOTION PICTURE Arts and Sciences, not Broadway, the recording industry or TV. Now start dropping those leaflets. It’s far better than all the whining and handwringing.

  7. Patryk says:

    And please…less Lopez, Hudson and Kidman. How many zoom ins do we need of them? None of them had anything significant to offer film fans in 2014. Another wasted chance. This ain’t Amarican Idol or some other tacky reality show.

  8. Patryk says:

    And why were all three of them seated in the first row?

  9. YancySkancy says:

    Definitely agree with Pete about that “apprentice” b.s. It’s a sop to the idea that “anybody” can make it in this insanely difficult business, but the only interest it could possibly hold for a viewing audience would be to see the winning submissions and judge their quality, something that would be an even bigger waste of time for the broadcast. It seems to me that if the Academy MUST single out wanna-bes, why not make it the nominees and/or winners of the Student Film Oscars, whose achievement is likely at a higher level than these one-minute wonders?

    And Hallick is right about the show’s insane insistence on cliched blathering about the greatness and importance of cinema without following the “show, don’t tell” maxim that every first-year screenwriting student learns. I honestly don’t know how Isaacs kept a straight face during her remarks, which used the same Rotary Club template as every other awards group head honcho’s speech. They might have some value if she were trying to convince a room full of dentists to invest in movie production, but it’s just hot air to most of us.

    Let the movies speak for themselves, or as Dave says, at least let those who make the movies express their love for them. Let’s see and hear about who inspired today’s stars and filmmakers. Let’s learn who the older generation thinks is carrying the torch. But with more enthusiasm than reverence, please.

    It should be clear by now that many of the “problems” with the Oscarcast are simply inherent to it. No attempts to streamline the process have ever kept the show from going long, and calling for the elimination of certain categories from the telecast defeats the purpose of the evening. The Academy has always said, in effect, it’s our party but you’re all invited. We’ll give you stars and songs and pretty clothes, but it comes with all this other stuff. We know if you don’t like it, you may not watch, but every year hundreds of millions of you do, so we’re not inclined to change the broad strokes. But there are definitely tonal changes that would make the show more enjoyable, if not shorter.

  10. Bill Morton says:

    Great articles. But, of course, I think I know the absolute best way to make the Oscar show worth watching. One reason we all love the acting awards is because we feel like we know these people. And one reason the thank you speeches for all those “other” awards are annoying (unless they’re particularly cute, emotional, or rebellious) is because we don’t know them. Well combine the need to show what’s actually nominated (yes – I mean film clips) but INTERVIEW EVERY SINGLE NOMINEE and show clips from those interviews as their names are read before the award is given. That’s right – I’m suggesting we actually get to know a little about EVERY SINGLE PERSON NOMINATED FOR AN OSCAR THAT YEAR. I’m sure this would be a logistical nightmare, and probably cost more than all those glitsy costumes and dancers, but I want to care, at least a little bit, about who wins every award. And I do love your idea of celebrating the box office hits in the show too. It IS all about the year in movies and if it is done cleverly and tastefully – maybe even in a “behind the scenes in an interesting way” way it could help get those ratings they want. Yes, it’s true, I’m suggesting 115 minutes spent watching 1 min clips on every nominee. I am quite sure 1 min of truly interesting/appealing/funny/relatable film could be captured for every person. Wouldn’t that be cool/fun/interesting? And wouldn’t it help illuminate what this whole crazy world popular business is about? I can just imagine the sponsors hearing this idea. Watching their reactions would probably be worth a film clip too! lol

  11. Rodd Hibbard says:

    I really liked the year that they got 5 previous winners to present the acting awards, as I think that does give a sense of perspective. Also I think the Academy made a big mistake when they separated off the honorary, Hersholt and Thalberg awards into another event. Those awards again gave the evening a sense of the history of cinema, and often a thrill to true movie lovers. I think the producers need to realise that the core audience are not young trendies, but do actually love film, and the history of film – apart from Lady Gaga’s performance followed by Julie Andrews – that sense of history and perspective is missing

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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