The Obligatory Post-Mortem

February 26, 2007
A thought by James Berardinelli

In a word: lame.

In two words: lame and long. (What, you expected me to be complimentary?)

It took me 70 minutes (with ample exercising of my right index finger on the FF button) to slog through Sunday night's Oscarcast. I pity those who had to endure all 225 minutes of it in real time. (My wife, a fervent lover of all awards shows and the Oscars in particular, was dejected after it was over. She claims it's the first time she can remember being disappointed by the program.) The production had an "amateur hour" feel, from the selection of an overmatched Ellen Degeneres as host (worst choice since the infamous David Letterman experiment) to the unfunny comedic bits (never again let Will Ferrell or Jack Black near an Oscar telecast unless it's as a nominee) to the sloppy way in which the Best Picture award was announced and bestowed. (Scorsese backstage at the time??? Was anyone thinking?)

I am coming around to the point-of-view that an Oscar host is an unnecessary hindrance to viewers getting the best possible experience. Would last night's telecast have lost anything without Degeneres? (One might convincingly argue that it might have gained.) The elimination of a host might shave 20 minutes off a show that's in desperate need of trimming. (Reasonable cuts could have brought last night's show down to a shade over three hours.) And if the Academy believes a host is necessary, then it's time to try something really different (and by "different," I don't mean a shockingly neutered Chris Rock or a stiff Jon Stewart). How about the surviving Pythons? Or Sacha Baron Cohen in character(s)? (My guess is that next year will see the return of either Billy Crystal or Steve Martin, because the Oscar telecast has become so streamlined that only a safe choice is acceptable.)

Why Celine Dion? Why all those stupid shadow puppets? Why the sound effects chorus? Did the show's producers actually think those were good ideas?

As far as the speeches were concerned, it was more of the same - thanking the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker. There was only one speech worth listening to and it came from that paragon of class and sophistication: Helen Mirren. She was calm, collected, and graceful as she made her comments, and they did not amount to a shopping list of thank-yous. Future winners should take note. Martin Scorsese was disappointing - not that he won, but that he took this long-awaited moment to fall in line with every other winner and thank everyone he could think of. Somehow, I expected more from him.

There were three surprises. The first was Alan Arkin, arguably the only Best Supporting Actor nominee less deserving than Eddie Murphy to carry home a statue. This makes one wonder whether Norbit did indeed hurt Murphy's chances. (I dismissed this possibility in my predictions column but now I'm re-thinking that stance.) Or maybe his cocky, "it's no big deal" attitude annoyed voters. We'll never know how close the margin was, but there probably wasn't much of a gap between Arkin and Murphy, so any little thing could have tipped the balance, stealing defeat from the jaws of victory. This was Murphy's award to lose, and he succeeded gloriously in doing just that.

Meanwhile, Pan's Labyrinth won three awards but failed to take the Best Foreign Language Film. That went instead to The Lives of Others (which, in my opinion, was more deserving). Going into the evening, it was said to be a close race between the two, with Pan's Labyrinth holding a slight edge. But with three technical awards under its belt, a victory for the Mexican film in the Best Foreign Language Film seemed to be a formality. Not quite.

Finally, The Departed. Its victory makes this only the second time in the last ten years that my #1 film has coincided with the Best Picture. (The other: The Return of the King) Considering the unforecasted awards Little Miss Sunshine picked up along the way (Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay), The Departed's win was doubly unexpected. It's obvious that the voters truly wanted to reward Scorsese this year, and just giving him Best Director wasn't enough. Now he can retire the title of Best Living Director Never to Have Won an Oscar and allow someone else to pick it up. The candidates, I'm sure, are lining up.

As for my decision to use the DVR to enhance my viewing experience, it worked nicely (and I planned for the overrun so I didn't miss anything). Next year, I'll have to be more liberal with fast forwarding. I'm determined to reduce my version of the Oscars to under one hour.

Finally, I must eat my piece of humble pie (otherwise referred to as "crow"). With only 12 out of 21 predictions correct, I scored a piss-poor 57%. Unless graded on a curve, that's an F. I was one or two correct guesses shy of my usual mark. Hats off especially to anyone who predicted Alan Arkin. You may have a future in prognostication.