Oscar the Grouch

March 01, 2004
A thought by James Berardinelli

Sadly, I was too tired at the end of last night's Oscar ceremony to launch into a full-scale tirade, disappointing a few readers who found my comments to be too kind. "Berardinelli has poured too much sugar on his sour grapes." (A Best Actress win by Diane Keaton would have stoked my fires sufficiently to fuel a blistering attack, but 'twas not to be.) At 12:15, all I wanted to do was wrap up the column and go to bed. The 2004 edition of the Oscars wasn't the worst I have endured, but it wasn't the best, either. The problem, as I see it, is that the word "endured" has to be used at all. The Academy Awards should be a source of enjoyment, not a test of one's ability to stay awake.

The highs included Billy Crystal, Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, Will Farrell, Jack Black, and Adrian Brody. I enjoyed the tributes to Bob Hope, Kate Hepburn, and Gregory Peck, but confess that they could have been better. The lows included the painfully unfunny "stunt" with Blake Edwards (this guy stopped being funny 20 years ago), the lame songs (excepting Mickey and Mitch), and the snooze-worthy acceptance speeches. Whatever happened to the 30-second buzzer? And why in God's name does Charlize Theron insist on thanking her lawyer? (If he's a friend, why identify him by his profession?)

The lack of surprises was a problem, and, even though there was some suspense about who would win Best Actor, the program took so long getting to that point that the air had gone out of the balloon. And, although I'm glad that The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King took home 11 awards, it created a sense of inevitability. The only time things got interesting was when LOTR was not nominated. ("Sound Editing. Wait! No Lord of the Rings! Another movie gets a chance!") Speaking of which, why wasn't The Return of the King nominated for Sound Editing and Cinematography?

I suppose there are some people who enjoy sitting through the disbursement of 24 awards, but I'm not one of them. At about 2 1/2 hours, the Oscars would be the perfect length. Start them at 8:30 EST and end them at 11:00 sharp. How? (Even in the good old days, when the Oscars started at 9 pm on Monday nights, 150 minutes would have been a stretch...) Split the awards into two ceremonies. The first, a smaller affair (possibly televised on a cable station) held earlier in the day, would unveil the awards for: Cinematography, Editing, Sound, Sound Editing, Art Direction, Makeup, Musical Score, Costume Design, Shorts (Documentary, Animated, Live Action), and Visual Effects. These results would be recapped during a 5-minute presentation during the regular Oscars. The prime time telecast would showcase the following awards (in roughly this order): Documentary Feature, Foreign Language Film, Animated Feature, Adapted Screenplay, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Song, Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Director, Picture. At about 5 minutes per award, that makes 60 minutes. Throw in an opening monologue of 15 minutes, 15 minutes for song performances, 10 minutes for tributes, another 10 minutes for a lifetime achievement award, and 5 minutes for random comedy, and you end up with 120 minutes of content. That leaves 30 minutes for commercials. Perfect.

Will something like this ever happen? I argue that it's inevitable. As ratings continue to fall (despite drawing 40+ million viewers, this year's was the second-lowest rated Oscars of all time), the TV moguls will try to figure out how to fix things. Shorter is the way to go. Too many East Coast people are turning off the TV at 11:00. (Other possible solutions, all of which may be short-term, are to move the awards to a Saturday night or to start at 7:30 EST rather than 8:30. Then, even at 3 1/2 hours, the show would be ending in time for the 11:00 news.)

So will Billy Crystal return next year? His recent history says probably not. I think he will host again, but likely not until 2006 or 2007. Steve Martin proved last year that he's a solid replacement, and I wouldn't be opposed to giving him another opportunity. (Please do not bring back Whoopi.) My personal choice would be to give John Cleese a shot. The very thought of what he might bring to the proceedings is enough to make me chuckle.

Congrats to LOTR. It deserves every award it received, and then some. I felt bad for Bill Murray, but Sean Penn was more deserving. Regarding my predictions: 86% is the best I have ever scored, and, without The Return of the King hanging around next year to capture half of the awards, I don't expect to be able to repeat my success. Will I do another live weblog in 2005? Nothing is certain, but it's probable. At 12:15 this morning, I was tired, but not irritated, and that's usually a good sign. Tomorrow, I'll offer a few thoughts on the most successful opening weekend performance of an R-rated movie.