Years ago when I was a wee lad, I looked forward to the Oscars; my parents would allow me to stay up way past my bedtime and watch what was then a program running a mere 2 ½ hours. I would enjoy the appearances of the “old-time stars” and the opening monologues whether they were delivered by Bob Hope or Johnny Carson; later I would have the same fondness for Billy Crystal’s appearances (and truth be told, I enjoyed David Letterman’s gig).
Even now I look forward to the Oscars even though the Hollywood glamour that I grew up with is mostly gone—and to my mind sorely missed. Now I’m aware that hosting any extended event is difficult (and the Oscar telecast is even more difficult, since it has ballooned to a nearly four-hour endurance test) but the host doesn’t go it alone; he or she is accompanied along the way by a phalanx of writers creating situations and gags to allow the host to guide the proceedings and occasionally insert himself in some humorous fashion.
Having said all that, I’ll admit Neil Patrick Harris can be pretty talented and while I liked the opening number, the parts I enjoyed best were the parts having to do with Anna Kendrick and a very funny Jack Black (a vocalizing voice of dissent). Harris also had some moments poking fun at the lack of color within the nominations, singling out Selma non-nominee David Oyelowo a few times (pointing out “now you like him,” after the positive audience response ) and had one very funny line concerning the name Benedict Cumberbatch as John Travolta would pronounce it. And that’s about it for the bits that worked—his “Birdman” jaunt through the hallways had one funny moment involving Whiplash’s Myles Teller, then we were still left with Mr. Harris in his briefs, and a running gag involving Harris and Octavia Spencer, and a briefcase had a truly lame payoff (at around the point you wanted the show to be finally over.
Which brings me to another thought that I’m sure many of you have: why does the show have to be so long? It’s as if the producers have given up trying to contain the length (short of bringing the music up on non-marquee worthy winners) while finding new ways to pad it out—especially given that the lifetime honorees and assorted tech awards now have a separate ceremony and are granted a total of a mere seven minutes of telecast time. The “In Memoriam” segment was followed by a song which, regardless of Jennifer Hudson’s talent (which was occasionally obscured by a booming off-stage chorus), was entirely superfluous. I love The Sound of Music and Julie Andrews, and Lady Gaga sounded pretty darn good, but at the 2:45 mark, one was hankering to get to the major awards –which were still twenty minutes away. Can’t we cut the self-congratulatory speech from the Academy President—we know the movies are “great” and are watched everywhere by everybody—do we need to hear it every year? Taken singularly, these ‘additions’ may not seem much, but put them all together—along with some lengthy commercial breaks during which you can take a shower as well as “call your parents” as winner J.K. Simmons recommended—and you’ve got yourself one helluva long show.
So why do we still watch? We might watch to see if our Oscar picks coincide with those made by the Academy (or cry foul when our choice wasn’t picked—or worse, if our real favorite was one not even nominated in the first place). Sometimes we can be reminded how good a particular film or actor was from the stingy clips they allow (and occasionally reminded why we weren’t crazy about a particular film in the first place). I watch it (in addition to the other reasons) for the hope that somewhere along the way I’ll be entertained, that there’ll be those little special moments—usually unscripted—that probably won’t make watching the whole show worthwhile but at least won’t make me feel like I’ve wasted close to four hours of my life in doing so. Usually it comes from the impassioned acceptance speeches (wherein one can note the sincerity of the speaker or wonder about the possibly self-serving nature of the speech). Patricia Arquette took the time to demand equal pay for women—was this altruism at work or inspired by the dreaded Sony leaks—who knows but Meryl (Streep) was cheering. Julianne Moore and screenwriter Graham Moore took the time to raise awareness of those who suffer, from Alzheimer’s or just being different. John Travolta and Idina Menzel shared a nice moment during their “reconciliation” (although as I said last year, his “mispronouncing” her name it was one of the best things that happened to her career). Michael Keaton didn’t win Best Actor, but as he said onstage after Birdman took home Best Picture, “Who am I kidding? It’s great to be here.” The Monday morning quarterbacking continues as I write this (and will probably continue tomorrow) and as for Sean Penn’s remark before announcing the Best Picture winner—given his close relationship with Alejandro Inarritu–all I can say is, if we all are forced to apologize for everything we say in jest, the time will come when we can’t, or won’t joke at all—and I fear that time may be coming sooner than we think.