How to Improve the Oscars in 5 Easy Steps
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For the love of God, don’t get creative with the play-off music...
Pretty much no one likes the Oscars. Film critics don’t like them because they almost never reward the films that critics feel are most deserving of accolades, the general public doesn’t like them because they usually haven’t seen or don’t care about most of the nominees and everyone else dislikes them because the ceremony proper is a boring slog every single year.
This year’s Oscars ceremony, on the other hand, was anything but boring. Reactions are split on whether or not host Chris Rock’s monologues and sketches were successful at addressing criticisms of the Academy put forth by campaigns like #OscarsSoWhite, but in any case, it’s generally agreed upon that the proceedings this year were less painful and provided more food for thought than previous years (particularly the Seth McFarlane debacle). However, there’s still room for improvement, so here’s two things that were improvements, and three things that still sucked at this year's Academy Awards broadcast.
1) The opening monologue was actually about something.
The first ten minutes or so of the Oscars broadcast are almost always the most painful. Either the host spends their time flailing on stage with a monologue of loosely connected half-baked jokes (see: Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin), or they substitute the monologue with an equally eye-rolling musical number that projects an air of desperation (see: Neil Patrick Harris). Chris Rock, on the other hand, addressed the elephant in the room head-on, centering the entire opening speech around the Academy’s (and by extension, Hollywood at large) problems with race. Not every joke hit the mark, sure, but having a strong issue-based thematic through-line that ended up lasting throughout the show (bleeding over into Lady Gaga’s performance in support of survivors of sexual assault) gave it real bite and made it a strong start to the show.
Sorry for the crap quality of this video. Apparently the Academy cares more about protecting copyright than racial justice...
2) Actually giving a crap about the technical awards (especially sound).
The technical awards aren’t typically presented in as painful a fashion as the host segments are, but they’re almost always dry and passionless. Usually, some actor will give some brief lip service (that they clearly don’t believe a word of) to the importance of sound engineers and cinematographers and the like, then hand out the awards as quickly as possible to get to the acting categories. This year, the Academy actually saw fit to put together a series of clips for each Sound Mixing/Editing nominee that showcased just how essential sound is to a film’s impact, as well as had noted motion-capture actor Andy Serkis present the award for Visual Effects. This little choice went a long way towards shining a light on the important work of behind-the-scenes artists and made their wins feel all the more worthwhile. The Academy would do well to continue this tradition, though perhaps it’d be best not to include spoiler scenes in the reel next time (oops).
These improvements were great, but there's still a long way to go...
1) Too much cutesy crap.
The most common complaint about the Oscars is that they’re just too darn long, which is completely accurate. When the Tony Awards has just as many awards to present, and musical performances on top of that, yet routinely manages to clock in at under two and a half hours, the Oscars have no business consistently being three and a half hours (as this most recent broadcast was) or even longer. The Academy obviously doesn’t want to give any categories only a brief spotlight (as the Tonys do by showing the winners in tech categories in pre-commercial sidebars), so where could they cut time? Well, they could start with giving the shaft to unnecessary or annoying bits like having the insufferable Minions from Despicable Me present Best Animated Short Film while getting bonked on the head with the microphone, the various droids from Star Wars making an appearance because, well, The Force Awakens exists and Chris Rock helping his daughter sell Girl Scout cookies, re-treading Ellen DeGeneres’ “let’s order pizza” joke from last year. That’s not to say all comedic bits should be cut: Rock’s man-on-the-street interviews with theatergoers about the nominees was funny, incisive and surprisingly poignant. But when you’ve got 24 categories to present, you really can’t afford to waste time on frivolities that are barely amusing on the page and won’t be of interest to anyone who’s not too young to be up that late.
2) No drunk people.
Oscars acceptance speeches are as formulaic as they come: thank your agent, thank your co-star, thank your family, thank God (in that order, which should tell you a lot about how Hollywood works), maybe pay lip service to some barely-related political or social issue. It’s not bad, necessarily, but people have a tendency to go on, and the running scroll for name-drops and thank-yous that was implemented this year didn’t really help with keeping things brief. So if things really can’t be streamlined in this area, why not try and make it a little more interesting by throwing booze into the mix? The Golden Globes may be even more of a total sham in terms of actual credibility than the Oscars, but their policy of allowing the attendees to drink has led to such delightful recent speeches as Jacqueline Bisset’s bizarre lip-smacking lurching from topic to topic and Quentin Tarantino’s fanboy-ish ramble over Ennio Morricone. Meanwhile, the Oscars hasn’t produced a memorable speech since Halle Berry’s hugely emotional speech for her win for Monster’s Ball. I hate to give credit to the Golden Globes for anything, but maybe the Academy should follow their lead on this one.
Anne Hathway's 2013 master class in ass-kissing and boredom
3) For the love of God, don’t get creative with the play-off music.
There have been sketchy instances of the Oscars playing off people in the past, like the Visual Effects team for Life of Pi getting played off with the main theme from Jaws as soon as they mentioned real issues in the industry, but this most recent ceremony went beyond the realm of the ridiculous by playing off Lazlo Nemes, who won Best Foreign Language Film for the Holocaust drama Son of Saul, with “Ride of the Valkyries.” At first, this just seems like a bizarre mismatch of tone, but when you realize that “Ride” was composed by Wilhelm Richard Wagner, a German composer known for being incredibly anti-Semitic and racist to the point of being a favorite of both Adolf Hitler and the KKK, it becomes a horror show. While someone somewhere may have thought the choice of bombastic music was “funny,” it was a colossal misfire for a ceremony so devoted to dismantling a racist industry and especially for honoring a film about the struggles of Jewish people.
Go to 1:26. You can barely hear it, but it's definitely there.