I’ve watched the annual Academy Awards telecast every year since 1974, which–give or take a possible gap or two,–is 49 in a row and counting. But this was the first Oscars I can remember being utterly disinterested. The movies released in the past year didn’t appeal to me. The nominees were mostly B-listers and unknowns. And quite honestly, the Academy Awards have become so dreadful in recent years. they’re practically unwatchable, except for the train wrecks. Speaking of which: Just when we thought the most cringe-worthy low point had been dredged a few years ago when the wrong winner was announced for Best Picture, during last year’s event the recipient for Best Actor assaulted a popular comedian on live television in front of a worldwide audience.
So, it was a pleasant surprise to see the 95th annual Academy Awards return to a genuine celebration of movies, with glamour, class, and relatively few mishaps. My conclusion: This was the best Oscars telecast in 20 years, and that’s really saying something since I had no rooting interest in the movies or nominees. Here’s what I think worked the best at this year’s Oscars:
(1) KIMMEL KILLED IT — Jimmy Kimmel was perfect, and I’m not usually a Kimmel fan (I rarely watch his talk show). The Oscars desperately need a host to hold things together, and Kimmel’s third time as the emcee was indeed a charm. He delivered a straightforward monologue, was reasonably mild in the customary barbs at Hollywood, brought a cordial atmosphere to the ceremony, and (thankfully) didn’t resort to lots of cheap gimmicks and distractions. Best of all, Kimmel let the stars (and the winners) shine. It was their night, not his. He complimented the proceedings instead of upstaging it. Kimmel’s performance was reminiscent of when the late Johnny Carson served as the host for many years. Please make this an annual thing from now on.
(2) THOUGHTS ON THE CATEGORIES “NOBODY CARES ABOUT” — It’s impossible for such a lengthy show not to drag a bit, but I’m still glad all 23 major awards were televised this year. The Academy upset many people in recent years by scrapping some categories in the telecast. Thing is, those moments sometimes deliver the show’s best moments. After all, most of these winners get one shot in the spotlight and historically, they tend to say and do some unexpected things. Admittedly, I’m biased on this since I’m a huge fan of short films, documentaries, and some categories that are not thought of as being as important. Frankly, the small filmmaker is often a much more interesting story and struggle than the movie stars fumbling over themselves thanking their agents during an acceptance speech.
(3) BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR — Ke Huy Quan’s win for Best Supporting Actor was a wonderful start to the evening (yes, I know Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio won for Best Animated Feature as the actual first award). Quan’s personal story is so inspiring, not just for his childhood spent in a refugee camp as a hopeful American immigrant, but later as a struggling actor who (after appearing in his first role — a Spielberg film) almost gave up the business when he couldn’t land any more roles as an adult and he’d completely lost hope. I saw an interview with him before the Oscars and he told about an audition he went to ten years ago for a $350 speaking role with one line in a TV show, and 30 actors were ahead of him in line to read for the part (incredibly, he got it, and was able to pay a few bills) which led to another small role, and another, and another. Then, he won an Oscar. Awesome tears of joy and a great speech.
(4) TONY CURTIS AND JANET LEIGH’S DAUGHTER WINS AN OSCAR — Pretty amazing that neither Hollywood legends Curtis nor Leigh ever won Oscars, though both were nominated, and now in the twilight of a long film career of her own, Jamie Lee Curtis won Best Supporting Actress. I didn’t realize just how many successful movies Curtis appeared in, and never really thought of her in the elite category of actors. But her win seemed well deserved and she gave another good speech.
(5) THE INDIAN SONG WON, BUT THE BIG THREE STOLE THE SHOW — Musically, it was hard to top the big three pop icons on this night — Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Lenny Kravitz. Just wow. I was disappointed by David Byrne’s lame song (the first to be performed). The Bollywood song that was nominated for Best Original Song (the first ever from India) seemed like a token throw-in just to be mentioned, which later made for a shocking win. Lady Gaga ditched her usual glam look and delivered arguably the bravest performance of the entire night — a stunning and scaled-down ballad with no make-up, just raw emotion, and talent. Rihanna, whose Super Bowl halftime performance I both loathed and ripped apart, was absolutely stellar in an uplifting original song from Black Panther; probably the best singing that I’ve seen from her (amazing how much better a real voice sounds, even with imperfections, over lipsynching and Autotune). Then, man-god Lenny Kravitz at the piano doing the “In Memorium” segment was phenomenal (is there any occasion where Kravitz doesn’t exceed expectations in a stage performance?).
(6) WHERE’S TEVYE? — John Travolta’s intro of the “In Memorium” segment was quite emotional and he nearly broke down during his heartfelt remarks. I thought that showed some real class and character on his part, particularly coming from someone who has been through some serious ups and downs. His intro was perfect and really set a nice stage for Kravitz to lay the music over the tribute. As for the montage, what the hell is wrong with these people who make these video reels? Does everything have to be so damned rushed? Can’t they spend more than 2 seconds on James Caan or Angela Lansbury? And, whoever omitted Chaim Topol (Fiddler on the Roof) from the tribute should never be allowed to work in Hollywood again. That was a criminal omission. [Addendum: Oh, and then there’s Paul Sorvino, who only appeared in about 50 movies, at least a dozen of them great, and he wasn’t included either. A travesty!]
(7) PICK BETTER PRESENTERS — I thought most of the presenters were really lame. Boring. Way too many B-Listers. Names I’ve never heard. Faces I’ve never seen. With all the Hollywood greats to pluck from on the biggest night of the year, can’t they pick some more familiar people to give out these awards? One thing I really would love to see is “character actors” given a chance to make some presentations. I don’t really care much about some dude in a purple velvet tux struggling to read a teleprompter who was in some Netflix movie nobody saw. Hell, find more Henry Dean Stanton’s and let them stand on a stage they deserve to occupy (yes, I know he’s dead). And, can’t we get an annual dose of Jim Carey doing a few impressions?
(8) FEWER POLITICS AND LESS RACE WAS A GOOD THING — I’ve supported most of the Leftist causes by Hollywood liberals over the years, but the Oscars had become way too political. Not that I cared that the haters and Right-wingers were turned off and had tuned out years ago, but when the speeches and content of the shows were so much in your face that even *I* was turned off by it, hitting the reset button might be a good idea. Hint: Not every speech has to be about saving the world. It seemed much of the political messaging was toned down this year. Some is certainly okay, but this was a night of celebration of movies and art and I thought that was what it will be remembered for. The same goes for race. This year’s ceremony appeared much more colorblind (with some exceptions for Asians having a big night), and that’s a good thing. I think we’re way past the point of everything being framed in terms of a nominee and winner’s race (or politics.). On the volume meter, what used to be an 11, was about a 4– and that seemed just about perfect.
(9) BEST ACTOR/ACTRESS — I admit to knowing next to nothing about Michelle Yeow before this night, who won Best Performance in a Female Leading Role. But I really liked her acceptance speech remarks about rejecting the notion of being “over the hill.” She’s 60. Forever, Hollywood has been biased against older women, who are often cast as caricatures (old ladies, etc.). While many men still get juicy roles into their 60s, 70s, and 80s, older women have a much tougher time of it, and the worsening obsession with youth and beauty doesn’t help. Meanwhile, Brendon Frasier won for The Whale, which seemed to be more of an award for his make-up and perhaps sentiment for his “comeback.” I don’t think of Frasier as anywhere in the class of the greats, but this award has been won in recent years by some really lame recipients, so it’s hard to get worked up over his win. By the way, his speech was embarrassingly awful — one would think the Oscar favorite might have been better prepared. Admittedly, I have not seen his performance in The Wale and reserve my right to change my mind.
(10) EVERYTHING AT ONCE EVERYWHERE AND WHATEVER — I usually see most of the “Best Picture” nominees each year, and this was the first time I’d not made any effort whatsoever to do so. One reason was — many of the people whose opinions I respect and seem to have tastes like mine *hated* the Best Picture winner (EEAAO). I shouldn’t let this shape my opinion–but it did. I will certainly see EEAAO at some point, but the set-up of some Matrix-like multi-dimensional nightmare (ala Inception) simply turns me off. I know this movie was expected to win, and the people who loved it really, really loved it. I’ll watch, review, and share my thoughts on this later.
That all for now….’til next year and the 96th Oscars.
*correction…even though the live telecast noted an Indian song winning for the first time, it was the second (Slumdog Millionaire won in that category in 2008 and was the first).