If you’ve glanced at previous columns of mine around Oscar time, I usually mention a few of my hopes and dreams (concerning prospective Oscar winners), and then a post-mortem.
This time around, it seems like a certain event has dominated people’s interest, and while I do have some strong opinions concerning the matter, this incident was (I hope) a one-off, something that will/should never happen again, on any kind of Awards show. (It’s too much for me to hope that assault and battery will never happen again anywhere, but at least, please, let it not happen at the Oscars ever again…And for God’s sake, don’t give the person who committed the assault the opportunity to stay in his seat, receive a standing ovation and have unlimited time at the microphone afterwards.)
And now on to my big concern, which is, why does the show keep getting longer in spite of all manner of awards (honorary and technical) being relegated to the sidelines? (I clocked this one, it came in at 3 hours and 42 minutes.) The basis for my discontent is that I would like to see certain portions returned to the show proper: This means the technical awards given their rightful place, as well as the honorary awards for those who have made cinema their lives. I would have loved to have seen Samuel Jackson’s acceptance speech, or Liv Ullman’s eternal grace, or Elaine May’s wit unblemished by the passage of time. These lifetime awards have long been the highlights of the shows (for many) and allow us to be convinced of the humanity behind the artifice. The show was diminished by their absence.
Well, let’s see…what could go. I know one thing the Oscars didn’t need: A lengthy production number for a song that wasn’t even nominated (sorry Bruno and Lin-Manuel Miranda). What else, what else…as much as I love James Bond, the tribute was really unnecessary (and not all that well done, at that). I can understand a tribute to The Godfather but White Men Can’t Jump? There were some comic bits that worked (at least I think there were) and those that both didn’t work and took a helluva lot of time (the defective Covid tests and the pat-down). And it seems that in recent years, just as the Oscars are gaining momentum toward the announcement of Best Picture, they have felt the need to stop the show in its tracks for some lengthy, meaningless shenanigans—in this case, the section on the seatfillers. At this point, the home audience wants that Best Picture announced. No need for digressions (And this year, there was one too many.)
However, as with most of the Awards shows, there were moments that made you believe: in the magic of the movies, in the slowly evolving nature of the “business,” in simple human dignity and the power of the unexpected, compassionate gestures I know there are some who believe CODA to be overrated, a conventional Hallmark tale with a bigger budget; but it is also a heartwarming tale with heartfelt performances and a finish that packs an emotional wallop. And to see the actors and company accept their Oscars, along with their messages of hope and inclusivity—these were worthwhile moments. Summer of Soul won Best Documentary (a moment muffled by what came before it), and for my money, it could have been Best Picture also. (It’s that good, and it’s on Hulu.) Jane Campion won the Oscar as Best Director, and I’m torn here because while it is time for another woman to receive the coveted statue, the only Oscars the none-too-subtle Power of the Dog should have been receiving are for Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Actress. I do give Sean Combs some kudos for acting as peacemaker and getting the show moving again. The two moments that really mattered (independent of certain winners) concerned Kevin Costner and Lady Gaga. Costner’s speech prior to handing out the Best Director Oscar, in which he commended the vision and the passion of those who step behind the camera was a beautifully delivered tribute, not only to the nominees, but for past masters. And when Lady Gaga escorted and supported a wheelchair-bound Liza Minelli, and tenderly said to her “I got you” (in response to Minelli’s audible concern, off camera but on a “hot mike”), it was perhaps the most moving moment of the program. It was a reminder that grace and compassion have not yet disappeared, and that the Oscars are still where you can see some of the worst—and some of the very best in Hollywood.