The late Johnny Carson once opened an Oscar telecast by promising “two hours of first-class entertainment stretched over a four-hour show.” Chris Rock began with the line “Yo! Yo! Sit yo’ asses down!”
The Closing of the American Mind in one easy example.
Goodness, but Chris Rock sucked. He had three-and-a-half funny lines and, if the Academy brought him in to lend “relevance” and an “edge” to the show, it was the embarrassing attempt of a middle-aged relative to “get with it.” The Oscars aren’t designed for institutional irreverence, and this year was proof if proof were needed.
It wasn’t entirely Rock’s fault that this was the dullest Oscar telecast I can remember, but when Robin Williams was funnier in three minutes than Rock was over the entire night, you know you’ve got problems.
Truly, almost everything was bad. The songs plunged new depths of duffness, not only because Beyonce was inexplicably called in to warble three of the nominees, though that didn’t help. Whose idea was it to team her with the American Boys’ Choir? Or with Josh Groban, singing pappy, syrupy, color-by-numbers shlock that you hoped had been left on the American Idol losers’ CD? It’s a good thing the votes had been counted before the ceremony, or the winning song from “The Motorcycle Diaries” would never have recovered from Carlos Santana and Antonio Banderas looking and sounding like the last act in a crummy Toledo winebar.
Greg Edwards ’05 and John Hansen-Brevetti ’07 produced a better song with “Diplomacy and Tact” from their rock musical “Nero” earlier this semester.
It started badly with the preshow, when the stars are preened over by F-list celebs and recite the appropriate cliches (“It’s always great to be recognized by your peers” – Don Cheadle; “I’m just so grateful to be a working actor” – Hilary Swank). There seemed to be a trend for the women to have chosen dresses that made them look like mermaids or a piece of wrapped candy, and Renee Zellweger’s appearance was so startling that I couldn’t restrain myself.
“What’s she done to her hair?” I cried.
“What’s she done to her face?” said my friend.
Another Academy innovation was, for some awards, to line all the nominees on the stage, which disturbingly resembled the finale of a reality TV show. In the case of Costume Design, it looked like a feminist version of “The Usual Suspects.” For other awards they sent the presenters into the aisles, a stunt that left me half-expecting to see Julie Andrews in the background selling ice-cream
Maybe I just didn’t care this year. Of the Best Picture nominees I’ve seen only “Ray,” which was ploddingly entertaining, and “Sideways,” which I sort-of enjoyed, but much preferred the company of the friend I saw it with. There was much debate over the possibility that Martin Scorsese, one of the most egregiously overlooked directors in Academy history, would finally win for frontrunner “The Aviator.” It looked like he had a good shot as the film swept through the technical awards, with the winners spreading the love his way.
“This is as much yours as it is mine, Marty,” enthused Best Editing winner Thelma Schoonmaker, before hastily clarifying “not because you helped me edit the film.” Ah well. Struck out again. That was as good as it got for Scorsese, who may be adored by all who work with him but who clearly has some way to go before he convinces the rest of the Academy.
There were a few highlights scattered among the dross. The eternally elegant Cate Blanchett, Best Supporting Actress for playing the legendary Katharine Hepburn, looked stunning in a pale yellow dress. Responding to an unexpected noise behind him, presenter Jeremy Irons ad-libbed “I hope they missed.” Best Actor Jamie Foxx delivered the best speech of the night, thanking his late grandmother for whupping him and teaching him to be a Southern gentleman. Fantastic Mr. Foxx had class. Chris Rock did not, as Sean Penn noted by upbraiding the host for his charmless kicking of Jude Law. And director Sidney Lumet (‘Twelve Angry Men,” “Network,” “Dog Day Afternoon”), receiving one of the most deserved Honorary Oscars in history, charmingly concluded by simply saying “I’d like to thank the movies.”
But it’s a matter of some national pride to note that the best line came from the British winner of Best Live Action Short (not a sentence you’ll often read), who noted very simply that “in English, we’d say that this is the dog’s bollocks.”
Maybe she could host next year?
Nick Baldock would like to thank his parents, siblings, Sweep the cat, Powder Thompson, Toni Dorfman, Steve Abramowitz, Susan Posluszny, Steve Rodgers, Greg Edwards, Carolyne Davidson, Greg Hamm, Chris Lentz, the mice on the mouse organ, everyone else who contributed to this article, and his late grandmothers.