The Oscars are Dying

“I came to this island to die. It’s time for the Jedi to end.” – Luke Skywalker

I’ve gone through many a phase with Hollywood’s big night of insanity and self-gratification. I’ve lived long enough to see one hosted by Billy Crystal, to have been watching when James Cameron’s schmaltzy drama Titanic won Best Picture (a win I despised at the time and one I will now defend to the death), and to have gone through my “this nonsense is silly and I’m never going to watch again” phase. The last one came at the cost of witnessing the envelope mixup, which was at one time the most egregious thing to ever happen at a Hollywood event on live television. Last year’s Oscars hit a new low in ratings, a more casual affair that was direct and brief but set during a year where most people weren’t going to tune in because it was a lot of smaller, gentler films.

This year was an absolute shitshow, a mess created by the Oscars hating the Oscars and filmgoers seeing fewer and fewer films that aren’t tentpole Disney flicks. The Will Smith bullshit was the icing on the cake, but the 94th Academy Awards was dead long before that.

It began with a series of misfires from the hosts. This almost always occurs, going back to the Seth McFarlane song about seeing boobs. Amy Schumer calling Kristen Dunst a “seat-filler” while her husband, Jesse Plemmons, awkwardly tried to just make it end was one of the worst moments of the night. That did not excuse the Wanda Sykes nonsense at the museum, which was a joke that fell so flat it made tables look textured. The absolute bottom of the barrel was Regina Hall awkwardly groping Timothee Chalmet, Tyler Perry, Bradley Cooper, and Simu Liu while she told them that she’d be swabbing them with her tongue backstage. The years the ceremony was held without a host looked wonderful in comparison, with moments like these being some of the most uncomfortable in the show’s history.

Then there’s the Disney of it all. ABC, owned by the House of Mouse, demanded that the ceremony be shortened. In an effort to do so they wanted several awards cut so they could be shortened in the broadcast. The show wound up running 39 minutes over anyway, and maybe…JUST MAYBE…some of that has to do with the Disney jerkoff-fest that occurred during the show. We all love the breakout hit from Encanto, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” but it wasn’t nominated and got a live performance anyway. Amy Schumer showing up in a Spider-Man costume? It’s literally just the show trying to appeal to the viewers that only saw Spider-man: No Way Home last year and were baffled by it not being nominated for Best Picture (fuck off Kevin Smith, you can cry during Power of the Dog as well). It’s all one big Disney advertisement, and I didn’t appreciate it when the entire point of the evening was to celebrate all film.

Here’s a list of awards and winners that were cut, pre-taped, and poorly edited back into the show:

  • Best Animated Short Film – The Windshield Wiper
  • Best Documentary Short Film – The Queen of Basketball
  • Best Live Action Short Film – The Long Goodbye
  • Best Film Editing – Dune
  • Best Makeup and Hairstyling – The Eyes of Tammy Faye
  • Best Production Design – Dune
  • Best Sound – Dune
  • Best Original Score – Dune

Notice anything about these? The one with the most wins the entire evening (not just these) was Dune, which was the biggest box-office score of the notable nominees. No one needed to appeal to Spider-man fans, just to the people that saw Dune! There were jokes aplenty to be made, but they were pushed by the wayside for other nonsense instead. The hardest thing to learn was that only one performer, Jessica Chastain, skipped the red carpet to be in the Dolby Theatre so that she could witness her makeup/hair people win their Oscar. Good on her.

The night wasn’t all bad. Ariana DeBose took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, delivering a heartfelt acceptance speech that highlighted Afro-Latinx performers and queer performers at the same time in a beautiful way. Troy Kotsur won for CODA, becoming the first deaf actor to win an award (his costar, Marlee Matlin, had previously won Best Actress for Children of a Lesser God) and spoke on the effect the movies had on not only him but his father. Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson won Best Documentary Feature for his film Summer of Soul (…Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) and brought me to tears with his speech.

There were even moments that were simultaneously incredible and ridiculous, such as the upbeat song and dance routine for the “In Memorium” segment of the evening. I almost lost my mind when Jamie Lee Curtis walked out with a puppy to honor the passing of Betty White (my fiancee, a staunch fan of Ms. White and her animal activism, burst into sincere tears and it was one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen) while Bill Murray, dead in the eyes and clearly unhappy with how the segment was handled, came out to say goodbye to director Ivan Reitman. Then there were the winners of the Twitter polls, created to shut Spider-man fans up, that went off the rails because The Academy wildly underestimated the insanity of Zack Snyder’s fandom. Watching “The Flash Enters the Speed Force” be named the greatest “cheer moment” in film history (really? all of film history?) to an annoyed, silent audience was one of the most hilarious things of the year. The fact that the fan-favorite film was Snyder’s ridiculous Army of the Dead is just…I could have kissed Snyder. His completely crazy fandom came together to make this hilarious, ruining the circlejerk for Marvel fans everywhere, and we love to see it. Johnny Depp stans came together to try to vote his film Minamata (which apparently exists) into the lead instead, but they lost. Oscars!

I have to say it – I adore the Best Picture Winner. It wasn’t my first pick, or even my third (my top three were The Power of the Dog, West Side Story, and Dune), but I think it’s a nice return to form for the Hollywood crew. CODA is a delightful film, one that comes from a wonderful script and contains a range of delightful performers. It’s already getting detractors on Twitter (many of which are being openly offensive to the deaf community and making no bones about it, insisting that they are only upset because they “care about film”), but sometimes a feel-good gentle movie is what’s needed. This year accomplished that, and I’m overjoyed with the win.

I have no opinion on the Will Smith/Chris Rock event other than it cast a shadow over the entire evening, ruining wins that came after and absolutely destroying Smith’s win for Best Actor (which he shouldn’t have gotten anyway).

And with this we come to the real issue – the Oscars hate being the Oscars. They want to be a popular variety show, one that appeals to mainstream audiences and is embarrassed by the films it highlights. Does the general audience want to see Spider-man plastered all over everything? Yes, but doing so isn’t going to make people watch the Oscars. What I miss is a show that was ridiculous, but not ashamed of what it was, and that highlighted every craft. Maybe Luke Skywalker was right in wanting the Jedi to end. Everything has its time, and perhaps the Oscars have had theirs. Maybe it’s time for the Oscars…to end.

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