Let’s be honest: this year’s Oscars were boring. Sure, not every year will deliver on the shock and awe of the Best Picture debacle of 2017, but there are plenty of changes the Academy could make to deliver a better show.
Whatever energy the stars of Hollywood might have brought with them into the Dolby Theater on Sunday night didn’t quite make it to my TV screen. As the broadcast played out over a whopping three hours and 53 minutes, I was shocked at just how little energy the ceremony was able to muster. On a night that is usually filled with at least one or two surprises, the evening seemed intent on avoiding anything that wasn’t planned.
Who could blame them, though? As a direct consequence to last year’s fiasco, there was a clear sense of control brought to this year’s broadcast – pre-taped segments and edited montages claimed the night with host Jimmy Kimmel slipping in just a couple bits, one about a jet ski and another where he and a select group of actors stormed in on a screening of A Wrinkle in Time.
The evening was not without bright spots. Jordan Peele’s historic win for Original Screenplay marked an incredibly moving and momentous moment – Peele is only the fourth black writer to ever be nominated for Original Screenplay and the first to win. That he won for a film like Get Out, one that resonates so deeply with the current state of racial politics in America, is even more significant.
Meanwhile in Adapted Screenplay, James Ivory took home an Oscar for Call Me by Your Name. At 89-years-old, Ivory is now the oldest Oscar winner ever. His win felt particularly poignant, given Ivory’s long history in the film industry. His work had previously earned him a Best Director nomination three times. In his speech, he thanked his own long term professional and romantic partner Ismail Merchant, who produced Ivory’s biggest films including A Room with a View and Maurice.
Guillermo del Toro’s win for Best Director, A Fantastic Woman’s victory in Foreign Language, and Roger Deakin’s win the cinematography in Blade Runner 2049 were other stand out moments that brought an added energy to the Oscars stage.
Frances McDormand’s win for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was by no means a surprise – after she won the Golden Globe, SAG Award, and BAFTA Award, it seemed that there was no chance she wouldn’t win the Oscar.
However, she delivered her speech with such heartfelt and genuine feeling that she managed to turn an expected win into a rather welcome one. McDormand asked all the women nominated to stand up and also encouraging actors to advocate for inclusion riders. Inclusion riders are a stipulation that actors can ask to have inserted into their contracts that would require a certain level of diversity among the film’s cast and crew.
At a time when change, both the advocacy for and the commitment to, is an essential element of the new Hollywood order, McDormand’s suggestion read as a piece of tangible advice that actors could follow through on immediately.
Outside of these moments, the night was rather stagnant. With the Winter Olympics, the Oscars were pushed back to March this year and the extra couple weeks added an additional layer of tumultuousness to the awards season and by the time the curtain came up on Sunday night, it seemed everyone already had one foot out the door.
With all of that said, here are three changes the Academy should make before next year’s Oscar ceremony.
A better host or perhaps…no host at all
Why is the Academy so set on hiring a talk show host for the Oscars? What about a talk show equips someone to host an awards show? What exactly is so appealing about comedians anyway? I love a good joke as much as the next guy, but most jokes – especially delivered in a setting that feels like a massive stand up special – aren’t funny enough to excuse forcing audiences to endure them.
The most successful presenters at the Oscars this year were Maya Rudolph and Tiffany Haddish. The pair excelled with a natural charisma and casual charm that made you wish they could’ve stayed on the stage a bit longer. These more natural and casual introductions are far more enjoyable and entertaining for audiences. They don’t carry the weight of an official hosting gig, yet still get the job done.
The Academy should consider doing away with the host entirely and replacing it with a series of well-paired presenters. The variety will keep audiences tuned in and doing away with a host – especially if it’s going to be another male comedian – might do the trick to give the Oscars the facelift it needs.
No gimmicks, especially those that involve the normal people
I’m sure there is a case to be made for why involving regular people in little skits and bits at the Oscars is actually fun, but I’ve yet to see a good reason for it. Listen, I tune into the Oscars to watch celebrities do their thing and see movies I like (or hate) get fancy gold statues. I don’t tune in so I can see people like me end up as the butt of a joke. There’s nothing particularly funny to me to watch celebrities gawk at normal people as a form of entertainment.
This year’s gimmick – a pack of celebrities dropping in on a movie screening of A Wrinkle in Time – certainly wasn’t as bad as last year when Kimmel literally paraded a group of tourists in front of the Dolby Theater. However, both bits ached with discomfort, ultimately feeling forced, unnecessary, and tedious.
The most successful gimmick in recent memory was Ellen’s celebrity selfie (and her pizza delivery). Both felt far more organic and fun; there’s no harm in it. The Oscars provided a unique opportunity to bring together a group of people that aren’t usually in the same place – all the entertainment the show needs is right there in the theater. Give the rest of us a break from the secondhand embarrassment, please.
In general, these bits often slow down or even kill the momentum of the ceremony, disrupting the part of the show people care about – the awards. When the show is clocking in at close to four hours, maybe it’s time to reevaluate the machinations that have dictated how you’ve conducted business in the past.
Talk more about the movies!
For a night intended to celebrate the last year in movies, it’s a bit confusing time and time again the Academy looks to start the night with a comedy routine meant to make fun of the very movies they are celebrating. On one hand, sure, it’s good not to take oneself too seriously. On the other, the Academy is losing out on an opportunity to give these creators an even bigger spotlight for their work.
One of the best moments of the night was when Eva Marie Saint, the star of several Hollywood gems including On the Waterfront and North by Northwest, came on stage to present the award for Best Costume Design. Before presenting the award, she shared a few anecdotes and stories of her own. It was captivating!
Listening to artists and creators talk about their work is far more exciting than listening to a comedian ridicule it. Why not give that time to each of the five Best Director nominees to share an anecdote about their film? Why not allow cast members or producers share the funniest moment during production?
At a time when vulnerability and openness are virtuous characteristics that the public wants from their celebrities and artists, the Academy should make it a priority to give time back to those who made the very movies we spent all year watching.