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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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The Oscar telecast: Worse than ever?


Call me an eternal optimist. At this time of year, I always find myself hoping against hope for two things: that (1) somehow this will be the year that the Cubs win the World Series and (2) maybe this will be the year the producers of the Academy Awards successfully reinvent the world's oldest awards show.

We'll have to wait till October to see if I'm right about the Cubs, but as far as the Oscars go, it was another huge disappointment, a colossal missed opportunity. Right from the start, the producers seemed unable to re-imagine the show as something other than a glitzy, painfully earnest version of the same cobwebby variety show we've been watching for years. I mean, there's far more inventiveness going on in ABC's "Modern Family" than there was on the Oscar stage last night.

Where to start? Oh, yeah, the hosts. I love Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, but watching them trying to coax laughs out of the wheezy one-liners they were given was painful. It was a buddy comedy gone wrong, a lot like watching Tracy Morgan and  Bruce Willis flail around in "Cop Out," hoping to make a scene work without any good material to draw on. Oscar hosts don't do improv. They need a good script and Bruce Vilanch (and whomever else was crafting material this year) let them down. 

The direction of the show was especially awful. It felt like whenever there was a potentially dramatic moment happening on stage, Hamish Hamilton, the show's director, managed to miss it, starting with seeing Jim Cameron's reaction to Kathryn Bigelow winning best director. Hamilton did an especially inept job of shooting the John Hughes tribute, which felt surprisingly flat and unemotional, in large part because it was staged so awkwardly, with Hughes' old actors (now actually starting to get old) lined up on stage like beauty contestants. And when Mo'Nique finished her full-throated supporting actress acceptance speech, Hamilton cuts away to -- ouch! -- Samuel L. Jackson, who had nothing to do with the movie and presumably was picked for a cutaway after someone in the booth yelled, "Find me a black person for a reaction shot!" 

As soon as Jackson was on camera, he started derisively rolling his eyes, as if to say that he thought Mo'Nique's speech was totally over the top, forcing another awkward cutaway, since having a big-time actor being underwhelmed by an acceptance speech would clearly spoil the moment.

And when it came to spoiling the moment, nothing was worse than having Barbra Streisand present best director to Bigelow. First off, Streisand was clearly picked after the producers knew Bigelow had won as some sort of symbolic passing of the torch moment although, once again, the producers couldn't manage to find any drama in the moment. Even worse, it was demeaning to women directors everywhere, since Streisand was clearly chosen for her star power, not her directing chops -- I mean, this is the woman whose last two films were "The Mirror Has Two Faces" and "Prince of Tides," which would put Streisand about No. 47 on the best women director's list.

I won't even touch the Neil Patrick Harris opening number, since others have weighed in with far better assessments, the best being from Emmy-winning TV writer-producer Ken Levine, who wrote in his blog post: "The Oscars were very elegant this year all the way up to the opening number. Then Neil Patrick Harris sang about sodomy, masturbation and prison and Hollywood's classiest night was underway." 

And how about that horror-movie tribute montage? First off, why horror movies? I mean, in a year when we had, for the first time ever, two sci-fi movies among the best picture candidates, why not do a sci-fi montage sequence, which would've far more timely? And why have two young pups introduce the horror segment (and yes, I get the "Twilight" young demo tie-in) when you could have had two great scream queens do it, like Jamie Lee Curtis and Kathy Bates, who could have offered a couple of funny anecdotes about the glories of low-budget horror filmmaking?

I could go on and on. The show had a few nice moments -- Ben Stiller made me laugh, the hosts had a couple of good zingers and it was especially apt to have James Taylor play such a lovely version of John Lennon's "In My Life" over the In Memoriam segment. And yes, Sandra Bullock's acceptance speech was a pip, more than making up for Jeff Bridges' interminable, Dude-like ramblings. 

I hear the early reports say the show's ratings went up as much as 15%, but considering the presence of "Avatar," the world's biggest-grossing movie, that still has to be cause for some concern, since it was just a month ago that the Grammy show was up 35% over the previous year. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- what the Oscar telecast needs is real TV producers, since they actually know how to put on a TV show.

My first choice remains Tommy Schlamme and Aaron Sorkin, since they bring built-in writing and directing talent with them, but there is plenty of other savvy TV talent to choose from. It's time the academy realized that a few patches here and some fresh paint there won't do the trick. This is a show that needs a complete makeover.

Photo of Neil Patrick Harris (fourth from left) and Oscar dancers by Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (47)

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Can't understand why the Oscar producers think that song and dance is appropriate for an awards show about FILMS??? The opening was, wait, was that really for the Tony Awards and they just forgot it was the Oscars? The dance number was, wait, was that for the Tony Awards and they forgot it was the Oscars? Also, why do they feel the need to EXPLAIN all 10 film nominees. Either you saw the films or you didn't. Don't drag some sorry actor's butt up there to give a quick synopsis, just show the dang film clip; that would eliminate 1 hour of boring chatter. Thought the opening with Alec & Steve was a hoot. Just cut the song and dance numbers, the movie intros and I think I've shaved off 1.5 hours of show. THAT would be miraculous. Love listening to award winners give their acceptance speeches. That's what it's really about. That is inspiring. Hated having the nominees line up like mannequins. What was up with that? So embarrassing. If they can trim 1.5 hours it'll fly.

The way they had the actors line up on stage, each one paying tribute to a nominee, while the others stood motionless like statues......oh it was just painful, I can't imagine they enjoyed that.

The Oscars were good. I just watch the first and last 20 minutes.

i agree completely with your thoughts patrick. the one liners, and "inside" jokes performed by steve martin and alec baldwin, did not work at all, i was left saying huh? did they just say that? the audience seems to respond with forced laughter, or unsure if they were supposed to laugh or not. and there seemed to be some inside humor directed at clooney, which he did not seem happy about. yet they still kept the camera on him. i liked last years opening better. ben stiller was about the only funny thing, and thank god they cut sacha baron cohen from the show, with all the strange and inappropriate jokes from alec and steve (i hope they didnt write those) cohen would have sealed the shows fate as a complete disaster.

Awful. Ben Stiller was NOT funny, he was awkward. It was like Stiller hadn't watched Avatar, I still don't understand why he was acting so creepy. Barbara Streisand giving away best director to Bigelow, it reminded me how Nazi(femi-Nazi in this case) the telecast had become. I only watched the first forty five minutes then I had to turn it off because it was revolting. I still don't understand how(in regards to best picture) a 20 million dollar maker, I had not even herd of, could beat a 2.5 billion maker( Lord of rings won, so don't play the genre card.) the academy loves the big American blockbuster (ie gladiator)
This years academy awards were STRANGE INDEED.

Patrick, next year, don't watch. Rent Casablanca, explode some Jiffy Pop and go to bed early. Perhaps it’s an era thing,,, Try not getting up until 2020.

Every year after the Oscars, I look forward to reading critical analysis from respected TV/media critic, and every year I get annoyed when the majority of critics almost automatic, knee-jerk reaction is to trash the show I had just enjoyed. This year is different. This year, I've been shocked to read several critics go out of there way to find something positive to say about last night's dreadful, boring disaster. Thank you, Patrick, for getting the analysis exactly right. For weeks we've been promised that this show would be different and special. Perhaps if the show's producers had spent a little more time actually producing and a little less time promoting, they might have given us something worthy of watching. Simply put, last night's Oscars was the most discombobulated, boring, class-less show in years. Shame, shame, shame.

Boy, who whizzed in this bunches Wheaties? I thought the Oscar show was pretty good-aside from the obnoxious Stiller bit-the too long horror tribute and the overlong actor/actress salute. NPH was a great opening act, 95 percent of the jokes from Martin/Baldwin were funny and only a small minded man would forget Streisand's direction of "Tides" and "Yentl" won kudos from everyone else! Yes, the Oscars need work, but not the mean-spirited mud-slinging from a no-talent hack!

Peter John, Peter John -- you don't have to shout.

Actually the part that twisted my knickers....was the later "dance" sequence.....with about 20 or 30 of some of the most gymnastic people I had ever seen. I kept watching it because some of the moves were Olympian! But it didn't seem to have anything in common with the music.........

I DO largely agree with the article, tho the article is more harsh than I would have written.
The Streisand point was well taken. What were they thinking?
And I thought the omission of Farrah Fawcett from the memorial, was just flat assed tacky. Surely she had more cred in movies than Michael Jackson......!
Oh, I forgot! We have a black President!

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