Oscar Autopsy

by Hunter Lanier on March 5, 2018 in Film,
Oscar cover via Canva e1520282374536

To set the tone: I love movies; I can’t stand award shows.

The one show I occasionally watch is the Oscars. Maybe it’s out of habit, maybe I’m a sucker for a well-edited montage, or maybe I just like to poke myself in the eye with a rusty fork. Whatever it is, I’ve braved the phony, self-absorbed wilds of the Academy Awards to bring you this breaking news report.

Let’s start with the monologue. Not much to see here, folks. I’m all for getting political, but try to have something funny or subversive to say. When did comedy go from being a sharp knife to a foam mallet? Get Dave Chappelle, bring back Chris Rock, or reanimate the body of George Carlin. This is 2018, maybe we can get one of those smart home appliances to host—I know of some thermostats that are surprisingly versatile. And let’s ditch the elaborate stunts where “little people” are randomly chosen to be graced with the presence of celebrities. What does the viewer at home get out of that experience? If, in the future, it’s possible to shoot hotdogs through the TV screen, then we can talk about reinstating the practice. In the spirit of equal time, I did like the idea of the jet ski going to the person with the shortest speech. My favorite line of the night did not belong to Kimmel, but to Oscar Isaac, of all people. When asked how he was able to understand BB-8, he replied, “I’m fluent in Yiddish.”

“The Shape of Water” has to be one of the most disappointing Best Picture wins in recent years—it’s right up there with “Crash” and “Shakespeare in Love.” Photo courtesy Fox Searchlights

But now to the awards themselves. This was a year lacking in surprises. I wasn’t expecting to see Jordan Peele take home the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay over Martin McDonough’s for-the-ages work on “Three Billboards,” but it was always a possibility. “The Shape of Water” has to be one of the most disappointing Best Picture wins in recent years—it’s right up there with “Crash” and “Shakespeare in Love.” While I’m glad Gary Oldman finally has an Oscar—if that means something to you, of course—he got it for the wrong movie, as tends to happen. McDormand, Janney and Rockwell are all fantastic actors, so I have nothing to complain about there.

While I’m glad Gary Oldman finally has an Oscar—he got it for the wrong movie…
Photo by Jack English © 2017 Focus Features

My favorite award winner of the night was the recipient of the Best Cinematography award, Roger Deakins, whose win has been a long time coming. Unlike most of the people at the show, Deakins is truly a master of his trade. On the subject of cinematography, my favorite part of the awards is seeing people like the cinematographer, the editor, the production designer and the composer accept their award, because they’re so often ignored in the praise of a film. It’s actors people see, so it’s actors people are interested in. And, ironically, it’s often these behind-the-scenes folks who have the most concise speeches, despite this being their one moment in the spotlight. I should also point out the appearance of the immensely talented Eva Marie Saint. Just showing that clip of her before she arrived made me want to shut off the Oscars and watch “On the Waterfront.”

The Best Cinematography award went to Roger Deakins, for his work on Blade Runner 2049. Photo by Stephen Vaughan © 2017 Alcon Entertainment, LLC

These highlights aside, the show was pretty lousy. If I was in charge of the ceremony, I would make it far more insular to film fans. As is stands, the ceremony has become a show for the general audience, in order to rake in those Super Bowl dollars. To begin, I would strike the “Best Song” category, because it’s often a sparse selection, and, therefore, songs are nominated, or even win, when they should have no place anywhere near a little gold man—I’m looking at you, Bond song from “Spectre” that I don’t remember the name of. The only reason the category is there is to allow for live performances by hip celebrities, in order to bring in a younger crowd. Of course, maybe my grumpiness is because I still haven’t forgiven the category for snubbing Bruce Springsteen’s “The Wrestler” in 2008.

I would also get rid of any “comedic” interludes.

If a host is necessary, let he or she give a monologue and scram. Let the bodiless voice who announces the contestants on Jeopardy! give the names of the presenters, and leave it at that. That way, the show is a brisk, persistent rhythm of presenter, winner, presenter, winner.

Now, there are some parts of the show that demand more time. The “In Memoriam” section goes by way too fast. Just throwing Harry Dean Stanton’s face up for one second is hardly sufficient. Let’s see an extended clip of some of cinema’s most important figures. Think about it this way: they sacrificed giving Stanton a proper farewell to have Armie Hammer shoot a hotdog cannon. What is this, a celebration of film or a pep rally? Secondly, bring back the Honorary Award to the main broadcast (since 2009, it’s been demoted to a separate, untelevised ceremony). Again, this was done because most of the general audience will tune out if they see an old person talking about the ‘70s. However, some of the Oscars’ most memorable moments in the past have come from this award, such as when an elderly Charlie Chaplin took the stage in 1971 and was brought his famous bowler hat and cane, with which he attempted one of his hat tricks.

We’ve made it. Another Oscars has passed and we film buffs can go back to enjoying movies, rather than watching the people in them drool over each other. In saying my goodbye, I would like to quote the entirety of the greatest Oscar speech of all time, belonging to Joe Pesci. “It was my privilege. Thank you.”

Hunter Lanier is a Houston-based film reviewer who appears on the Critics Circle podcast from the Houston Film Critics Society