Post-Oscar Thoughts

February 28, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

I can sum up my reaction to last night's Oscar telecast with one short phrase: a good start. With a running time that barely topped three hours, producers are on their way to trimming down the most obese of all awards shows. I'm not sure that I agree with the ghetto-izing of many of the so-called "techincal" awards. Presenting Oscars to people in their seats is a little undignified, although I like the idea of holding remarks to 30 seconds. With a few exceptions, there were no speeches. Nowadays, it's just a list of thank-yous.

The "controversial" Chris Rock came across as relatively tame. Turns out, it was Robin Williams who ran afoul of the Oscar censors. One doubts he'll be asked to fill the host's position. (My gut tells me that Billy Crystal will be back next year.) Rock was okay - about on par with Steve Martin. Not as reliable as Crystal, not as bad as Whoopi or Letterman. But one thought stayed with me through the night: is a host necessary? Cut out the opening monlogue, and it becomes an extraneous position. Plus, such an adjustment would save 10 minutes.

I eagerly await the day when we aren't subjected to renditions of the five nominated Oscar songs. This year was a new low: unremarkable tunes performed in unmemorable ways. Bathroom or food breaks, all of them. A friend had a good idea: perform the winning number during the end credits. That would save another 15 minutes. Realistically, it is possible to get the Oscar telecast down to 2 1/2 hours without sacrificing content.

In terms of the winners, predictability ruled the night. I'm not going to spend a lot of time on self-congratulations (for the record, I was 17/21, 81%) because it didn't take a genius to predict the victors. Poor Martin Scorsese. But he seemed resigned, not disappointed. Then again, after so many losses, perhaps he has just gotten good at hiding it. Now he's shoulder-to-shoulder with the late Alfred Hitchcock. And, as with Hitch, the Academy will use their honorary award to correct the oversight.

The best acceptance speeches were given by Morgan Freeman (short and dignified) and the best song composer. I'm not sure what he was singing, but there wasn't a "thank you" to be found. The worst speeches were presented by the Best Lead Actor/Actress winners. Jamie Foxx's was long and rambling, but Hilary Swank offered something worse. There wasn't an ounce of meat to be found in her interminable monologue. She just thanked one person after another, then was offended when Bill Conti's orchestra started playing "The Magnificent Seven."

The Oscars have become so tame that it's almost not worth writing a column offering a post-mortem. Nearly everyone was well-behaved, and the exceptions were less than shocking. There were some solid laughs (most as a result of comments by Rock or Robin Williams). The tributes were tasteful (especially Conti's decision to use the scores of recently departed composers as the going-to-commercial music).

Low points included the aforementioned Swank and Foxx speeches, a comedy sketch that had Chris Rock standing in for Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Prince's inept presentation of the Best Song Oscar. The singer proceeded to mangle 2/3 of the names, indicating that he had never bothered to practice before staring into the teleprompter. Dustin Hoffman appeared comatose as he read his lines in a monotone; was that supposed to be in character? If so, what character?

Did I enjoy the 2005 Oscars? No, but I didn't dislike them, either. As I watched them, I reflected upon their diminishing impact. How much do they really mean? Will Million Dollar Baby experience an upsurge in interest? Five years from now, will anyone remember what won Best Picture? Will anyone care? Once upon a time, it was impossible to imagine the Miss America pageant becoming irrelevant. Watching last night's unremarkable 190 minutes unfold, I couldn't help but wonder if a similar fate might be awaiting Hollywood's biggest evening in the not-too-distant future.

Excuses, Excuses

Let me take a brief moment to offer an explanation for why so many reviews this year have appeared on or after the day of their opening. Contrary to what one e-mailer asserted (that I have "clearly" lost my passion for reviewing movies), three factors that I have no control over have played a major part. Illness has been a culprit. The flu took me down for about two weeks in late January, resulting in several missed screenings. Bad weather hasn't helped. Those who live just around the corner from the primary screening location can show up in a foot of snow. My situation is a little different, since I have a 60 mile trip. There weren't any screenings tonight, but, with snow coming down at a rate of 1" per hour, I would have stayed home even if Revenge of the Sith. was showing. Finally, a large number of films have not been screened for critics. It's impossible to get a review up early if there's no opportunity to see it before opening day. This past weekend, two films fell into that category: Cursed and Man of the House. I dutifully saw one Friday and the other Saturday, and had the reviews up within a few hours of returning from the theaters. With the advent of Spring and the arrival of better movies, the situation should stabilize.