Call me a necrophiliac, but I find the “In Memoriam” tribute one of the most enjoyable sections of the Oscar telecast. There’s always something uplifting in honoring the contribution of the dead, and it also serves — in the midst of the ephemera — as a useful memento mori. I would die happy if I knew that I would appear in the Academy’s roll of honor; admittedly one of the least plausible of my ambitions, but, having written for scene, there’s so little left to accomplish.
Of course, every so often somebody really important dies and then the eulogy machine goes into overdrive, although the Academy is just a little random in this regard. Frank Sinatra, who gave perhaps half a dozen memorable performances, was allotted a full personal tribute, whereas Jimmy Stewart, one of cinema’s greats, was shoved in along with the recently deceased sound editors. I’m eagerly awaiting the decision this year, as by rights there should be personal tributes to the late Gregory Peck (former Academy president and five-time nominee), Bob Hope (Oscar host for over 20 years) and the incomparable Katharine Hepburn (if you have to ask, skip to another article). The show may run for about five hours, but you can’t spend enough time on these people.
It’s also interesting to see what clips they pull out for the actors. More often than not, it’s from a scene that requires the character to smile, wave, turn round or look shocked — and sometimes all at once. If you ever find me in CCL smiling, waving, looking shocked and turning round, I’m just practicing for the scene the Academy will play when I die. And if nobody will write one for me, I’ll just have to write one for myself, a plan that worked for Harvard drop-out Matt Damon. And I may not be as attractive or talented as Matt Damon, but that hasn’t stopped a lot of people from winning Oscars.
Apart from the ave atque vale, I always look forward to the musical numbers, partly because it’s usually a good time to go to the bathroom. The only thing worse than the songs are the interpretive dance numbers for the Scoring nominees. There must be a point to interpretive dance, I guess, in the same sense that there must be a point to woodlice, but I don’t know what it is and I don’t want either in my room. The last 25 years have seen a disturbing Academy trend toward rewarding power ballads, which provides us with the even more disturbing phrase “three-time Oscar nominee Bryan Adams.” Last year the Academy went collectively mad and gave the Oscar to “Lose Yourself”; okay, I think that rap should never win any competitive awards anywhere, but they could have voted for “Burn it Blue” from “Frida,” a genuinely well-written and original work. This was even more annoying because Eminem didn’t perform at the ceremony and apparently suggested nobody to fill his place, which was a shame considering Julie Andrews was in the audience. And if you think that’s unlikely, remember that Ingrid Bergman and Sidney Poitier performed “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” at the 1968 awards.
The Hall of Shame in the past 10 years alone includes “”You’ll Be In My Heart,” “When You Believe,” “My Heart Will Go On,” and “Colors of the Wind.” Worse still, the former won at the expense of “Blame Canada,” which was a far better song. And Robin Williams’ interpretation at the ceremony was the funniest thing he’s done in the last decade. The general principle of the voters is illustrated by their choices for 1991, 1992 and 1994: faced with multiple animated Disney nominations, they chose the dull uplifting ballad over the inventive comedy number. “Beauty and the Beast” over “Be Our Guest” might be permissible, but the dreary “Whole New World” over “Friend Like Me” is not, and the Oscar for “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” is just baffling.
Not that I’m necessarily insisting there was a Golden Age: look at the nominees from 1942 through 1945 (try littlegoldenguy.com) and if you know more than half a dozen I’ll be impressed; obviously decent songs were part of the wartime sacrifice. But the winners from the first 20 years include some of the integral vocabulary of American popular culture: “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Thanks for the Memory,” “Over the Rainbow,” “White Christmas” and “High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darlin’).” If that turns out to be true for the last 20 years, we should all start composing our theses on the decline of American popular culture. Come Sunday night — or more likely, Monday morning — I fully expect Annie Lennox to have picked up an Oscar for “Into the West” from “Return of the King,” although I rather hope “The Triplets of Belleville” wins instead. It has flair, it has verve, it sits beautifully in the film and is distinctly catchy. All of which, if history is anything to go by, suggests that it hasn’t a chance.
Nick Baldock would like to thank his editor, his masseur and the many people who provide his best lines.