It rained in LA. Cablevision and Disney settled. Clooney scowled. Meryl glowed. Cameron lost. It’s the morning after the Oscars, that Hollywood rite-of-congratulation where worthy films often lose, when sentiment and box office determines winners, and where evening gowns posit enough importance to rival the Iraq War. I’ve been a fan of all its permutations since the first year I saw it back in 1967, and the show has yet to change in any radical way. Despite some hapless attempts to streamline—no on-air presentation of honorary Oscars to Lauren Bacall and Roger Corman, no Best Song nominee performances—the damn thing still runs at the pace of glue, making it a good night to sew on buttons, darn socks or take a call from your mother without fear that you’ll miss anything.
Note to Academy: there’s a reason the 10-nominee Best Picture gambit went defunct in 1944. The whole nonsense about recognizing more films didn’t serve the show or the award’s prestige. The also rans were as obvious as the front-runners, a fact made glaringly apparent as star after star presented yet another video montage, causing me to think, Another one? I thought we were done. And I can’t imagine that the bloat contributed by the extra five helped Oscar’s ratings numbers, or future viewership, but history will tell. Frankly, this year’s best Picture winner The Hurt Locker debunked the whole populist reasoning. Political, gritty, depressing, it was a quality film made outside the studio, with no box-office cachet to speak of—the anti-Avatar won six awards, and to reach that conclusion we had to climb over a clutch of lesser films that, though pleasant enough, hardly warranted nominations for the big prize.
Perhaps the evening’s most amusing aspect was the time crunch. Multiple winners, especially in the docs/short subject categories really felt the pinch, and we saw one compatriot’s subtle “wrap it up” hand signals as a speaker hemmed and hawed, gobbling valuable seconds from someone who wanted to say hi to his kids. You didn’t need to know documentary short winner Music for Prudence’s back story (suits, settlements, oh my!) to sense the tension when one of the producers cut in on the other’s acceptance speech. I predict we’ll see a lot of severed relationships due to the ticking clock—fisticuffs will be the norm as time hogs finally get what’s coming.
I’ll savor the sight of Steve Martin and Alex Baldwin gamely trying to put over patter about Meryl Streep’s Nazi memorabilia, and starlets navigating impossible staircases in ten-foot tall pumps (Barbra Streisand, gesturing for assistance, was priceless). The technical kinks injected a touch of spontaneity—one second, the camera catches Penelope Cruz prepping for her entrance behind a screen; another, a guy on headset crouches behind a moving set. None of it was enough to justify staying up past midnight, but when it comes to the Oscars, who’s rational?