The Oscars, as with any other self-congratulating awards ceremony, will always be a tedious affair, no matter the host and no matter the nominated films. Then why do millions tune in? For the thrill and excitement that stem from spontaneity and surprise. Unfortunately, the 84th Annual Academy Awards were a boring, lifeless mess that lacked that crucial element of surprise and failed to conjure many memorable moments.
What will we remember most from this year’s Oscars? Sadly and hilariously, it will most likely be Angelina Jolie’s Right Leg, as mimicked by Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Descendants, Jim Rash (aka Dean Pelton, my favorite character on Community).
Much of the night’s suspense was already voided before the nominees entered the Chapter 11 Theater, thanks to The Artist’s inevitable and pre-determined march to Best Picture victory. Without a tangible narrative in the Best Picture category, or any of the other categories for that matter, spontaneity was especially needed on Oscar night. There was no David (The Hurt Locker) vs. Goliath (Avatar) story to root for; No ambitious, daring, zeitgeist of a film (The Social Network) vs. a safe and emotionally manipulative period piece (The King’s Speech). [Oops! Still bitter about that one…]
With Billy Crystal returning to host for his ninth time, the Academy chose tried and true (read: boring) over risk-taking. The ceremonies yawned its way out of the gates with a been there, done that host-in-various-films montage and never recovered. “Really, Billy Crystal!?! Blackface for a Sammy Davis Jr. impression from the 1980s AND a Men’s Warehouse joke!?! REALLY!?!” harped my inner Seth Meyers. As awful as the man is as a person, one can’t help but imagine what Brett Ratner (and host Eddie Murphy) might have brought to the proceedings.
The one real surprise of the night came from Meryl Streep taking home the Best Actress Oscar over Viola Davis. To be sure, Meryl Streep brought a refreshing and much-needed buoyancy to the proceedings, but let’s just read that sentence one more time: The one surprise of the evening was that the supremely talented Meryl Streep won an award. For acting. SURPRISE!
The theme of Oscar night, “Aren’t movies magical!?!” or whatever, was a misguided and surprise-less effort. We were hit over the head again and again with sweeping notions of nostalgia: “Weren’t movies just the bees knees when you were growing up!?! Let’s all remember movies from years past, when movies resonated with both the Academy and the American public at large!” These heavy-handed reaches for past glory read more as a desperate plea to help sagging box office revenues, urging viewers to watch movies in theaters, than anything else. Montage after tedious montage of past films and actors waxing nostalgic about past films were simply either nonsensical or unnecessary. They took away from the films of the present (isn’t that what they’re supposed to celebrate?), and robbed precious screen time from true memorable moments like Octavia Spencer’s emotional and heartfelt acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress.
The real winners of this year’s Oscars were James Franco and Anne Hathaway. At least Franco and Hathaway gave us oddly fascinating and colorful train wrecks last year, and not inoffensively bland ones from Billy Crystal and Academy Award producer Brian Grazer.
On the bright side, the 2012 ceremonies were the shortest in over 30 years. But of course, the dull night suffered from uneven pacing and could be summed up by the Oscar-winning film editors, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo‘s Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall: the two speechless winners petered out at the end of their acceptance speech, mumbling, “let’s get out of here…” We’re right there with you guys.
Here’s to the cinematic surprises of 2012!