MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

364 Days To Oscar: Wrapping Up

Too much overcompensation on the black issue… reasonably interesting awards giving… not too much cheesy stuff… a few production errors… but an absolutely solid piece of TV award show producing that bodes well for the future.

That’s the short form. Now, a bit more detail.

Great opening montage. Really beautiful piece of cutting. Again, a bit heavy on the black actors (and Star Wars specifically) for no real reason aside to make the point. Sometimes, less is more… almost always, actually. The issue is equality, not stick it in your face.

Chris Rock’s opening monologue was, except for a closing joke, only about the race issue. Too much. It didn’t serve the issue well as it crossed the line between clever jokes and laying on the single note. Rock is a pro and he delivered good material. But he could easily have cut the material in half and done some material about the movies that were nominated and the broader issues of the industry.

My problem is that The Academy leadership lives so deeply in the bubble of its own fear and embarrassment that it forgets that there is a purpose of the Oscars other than as a mea culpa.

In the first hour, it was as though The Academy gave a directive that required something to show how sorry The Academy is for voting the way they voted this year every single segment. Later in the show, too. And some of the packages were quite good. Others not. But there was also the very real misstep that the showrunners were so focused on The Black Issue that it mostly forgot women and other people of color, perfectly happy to make Asians and Jews, for instance, the butt of jokes. Not cool.

That said, this was not a disqualifier. Not at all.

This was a well-produced TV show. And that is the most important thing. Take away a few mistakes and the repetition of “we’re not worthy” and you have a show that was well-paced, good looking, and absolutely repeatable for years to come.

Though some of the efforts were less than completely effective, the attempt to explain the production backstory behind each category was smart. It can get better. But it was a very good start.

I was glad to see the producers bring back the use of nominees as award givers. I thought getting nominees together in the side box, close to the stage, before their categories, was smart.

Suge Knight joke, no. Black History Month gag, no. Girl Scout Cookies gag, no. Minions, no. (You can do the Star Wars characters OR Woody & Buzz OR The Minions… not all three… certainly not all three back-to-back-to-back.)

If the Oscars is going to give the major studios presenter slots for upcoming movies, for gosh sakes, tell us what the coming movies are… I’d even say throw up 10-second clips so, for instance, when Charlize and Emily walk out, we’ve seen them in their action guises and the audience can enjoy the thought. I wouldn’t have minded seeing Black Panther and Captain America interact for a few seconds. It’s weird to have the pairings and those silly titles under each person without explaining why they are really there.

Uh… the scroll doesn’t work. Distracting. And the titles tagging each presenter’s history… no good either. Great if you are watching a second or third time… but almost no one ever will.

But the show moved along pretty well. The musical numbers were fine, though there was no reason for three instead of five and they didn’t have to do the entire songs. (Sam Smith’s production was lame, at best. But fixable.)

I have long said that The Oscars need to be treated like a TV show first in order to build an audience that tunes in consistently. I feel like this was, aside from the race thing, 85% of the way to being the kind of show that builds the loyal audience and can then build on that audience. Big congratulations to Reggie Hudlin and David Hill. They did it right… or at least are on the right track.

As for the winners and losers… great… whatever.

Whether I am one of the few to have a handle on the major upsets, as I was this year, or not, the guessing game is not The Thing. It is about the movies. It is about honoring film. It is about loving film. There were winners about whom I was thrilled, a few a little disappointed, mostly just fine. But who cares what I feel? It’s really beside the point.

It was a big deal for both Open Road and A24 to win their first Oscars. They are true indies that focus on the kinds of movies that are not being made as much by the major studios.

It was a good Oscar year. Very good movies. No easy frontrunner, for the right reasons or the wrong. So nothing to complain about. Nothing about the season to celebrate.

And now it is time for The Academy to put on its big gender-neutral panties and do what it needs to do. Dump the Exclusionary Rule, which is not a strong basis for increasing inclusion, except statistically. Rebuilt the relationship between leadership and the many, many really pissed off members who feel shat upon by leadership. (They feel that way because the membership was not appropriately considered while Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Dawn Hudson did magazine interviews and spouted slogans to make themselves look like they were serious about taking action.)

This should be the launch of a better future for The Academy. Inclusion is important. Take the step. But the effort should be transparent, so there will never be a shocking conversation on nomination day afternoon again. The Academy should put out all the stats that are relevant, not wait for media to guess and hype the numbers (which are not completely accurate).

And more than anything, take control back of the machinery around the Oscar show. Emphasize community within the Academy. Build mentoring opportunities. All this would be good. There is a high road that is also a road that truly includes everyone who has earned serious consideration for membership in this organization…. white/black/brown/asian, male/female, young (not too young, as a rule)/old.

May next year be the best in Academy history.

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9 Responses to “364 Days To Oscar: Wrapping Up”

  1. Hallick says:

    “Too much overcompensation on the black issue…”

    Too much walking into the backfiring trap of making it a black-only issue instead of a true diversity issue, leaving Hispanics, Asians and every other non-white race on the sidelines. I put this way on The Hot Blog and I’ll say it again: #diversitysoblack is the hashtag this effort deserved last night.

  2. The Pope says:

    I liked the show and thought it clipped along at a good pace. Rock carried it all really nicely. Neither alienated nor pandered. But the choice of music as links between segments and/or entrances for presenters was really, really poor. Beyond poor. It was intrusive and … inappropriate. Who on god’s green earth thought it a good idea to play Richard Effing Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyrie?

  3. Hallick says:

    I’m going to go off on my annual whining about the In Memoriam portion of the show because it keeps getting screwed up.

    Firstly, shut up about Dave Grohl or whoever else you hire to take the stage to put on an unnecessary performance during the segment. There’s absolutely no reason the show can’t use the orchestra anyway. If they’re do this crap to pull in more viewers, does anybody see the great big draw of Dave Grohl in 2016? Get Adele or zip it. And even if you get Adele, KEEP zipping it, because this moment is still not about the living.

    Second, please GOD, show me what the people who died should be remembered for! Give me clips, give me images, movie posters, an IMDb screenshot, ANYTHING! Scrap the lame Girl Scout Cookie skit and just dedicate one entire segment, ad break to ad break, to the people we lost. I can’t believe that the producers have a treasure trove of riches to choose from here and they just keep running with photos, names and job titles.

  4. Hallick says:

    “Who on god’s green earth thought it a good idea to play Richard Effing Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyrie?”

    If they are going to use that piece of music, then they should go all in and have the “Apocalypse Now” helicopters come and drop a load of napalm on the people who won’t leave the stage.

  5. Bob Burns says:

    Rock was doing a high wire act and it was thrilling to watch. For me that was the meta without regard to which parts worked and which not.

    Melissa Rivers, on Fashion Police, just awarded Rock’s balls, btw. She compared him to her mother.

    to paraphrase Helen Mirren’s headline at the end of Birdman…. theater broke out at the Kodak.

    Thank you for a great year David. Congratulations on sticking with Spotlight…. although I can’t help but think it won because a bunch of Academy members liked the name.

  6. pat says:

    “Who on god’s green earth thought it a good idea to play Richard Effing Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyrie?”

    Chuck Jones?

    And they’ve been using the nominee “side-box” for several years now. It saves a lot of time used up by winners taking long walks to the stage. And it’s a bit more respectful than having them accept from their seats like they did the last time Chris Rock hosted.

  7. YancySkancy says:

    The overcompensation reached parody level by the end, when the closing music was Kool and the Gang’s “Hollywood Swingin'” followed by Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.”

    Rock was fine at first, but the show really did become awards presentations interspersed with race jokes. For the Academy, reveling in self-glory while gorging on humble pie must cause cognitive dissonance.

    The Compton movie theater piece was so pandering and condescending. If you’re a cinephile, no matter what color you are you’ve heard of Spotlight and Bridge of Spies and Brooklyn. If you’re a “regular” moviegoer, you forgo an interest in such awards bait films and stick with the stuff that’s targeted to your demo. Is the Academy supposed to be embarrassed for nominating Room instead of, say, The Wedding Ringer? The piece had some amusing bits, but its point seemed to boil down to “Why can’t the Oscars be more like the People’s Choice Awards?” Yawn.

    I wish everyone could have had as great a time as sound editor David White, who may or may not have been half in the bag, but was wholly delighted with winning. Plus he was rocking what looked like a velour tux and puka shells. He provided the sole glimpse of unadulterated joy for the whole night.

  8. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Spot on comments, Yancy.

  9. Ben Kabak says:

    The black overcompensating was a real turn off but anyone who had a mild interest knew it was going to be like that. Hence the huge drop in ratings. Casual fans don’t want to be lectured. It is hilarious that people think the Academy is racist in any which way. They vote the best. Those members take that responsibility very seriously and to say people didn’t vote for Michael Jordan for Best Actor because he’s black is insulting.

    The overcompensating will hit the extreme next year when kevin hart is up for Best Actor for Ride Along 2.

Quote Unquotesee all »

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