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Billy Crystal covers Oscar's eyes so the statue can't see who the Academy dug up to host the awards gala again. (ABC)
Billy Crystal covers Oscar's eyes so the statue can't see who the Academy dug up to host the awards gala again. (ABC)

Liam Lacey: Behind the Screens

Surrender, Oscars - it's time to grow up Add to ...

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had its third annual Governors Awards ceremony on Saturday, easing quickly back into self-congratulatory mode after the debacle of last week that saw both the producer and host of the 2012 show replaced, with Billy Crystal taking over as host from Eddie Murphy.

Previous columns by Liam Lacey

Guests praised the Academy for decisive action (“Let’s fix it. Done. Moving on,” said governor Marvin Levy). Several people expressed sympathy for Brett Ratner, who resigned as producer after making an anti-gay slur at a screening and crude comments during Howard Stern’s radio show.

But who’s kidding whom? Last week’s events really represented an overdue declaration of surrender, an end to a campaign of dismal “innovations” by the Academy to appeal to a young popular-movie audience that doesn’t care about the Academy’s idea of artistic excellence.

Ratner – an egocentric director known for the broad Rush Hour action comedies and the worst X-Men film – is the antithesis of the kind of quality the Oscars are supposed to be about. While Eddie Murphy, Ratner’s pick for the hosting gig, has an Oscar nomination (for 2006’s Dreamgirls), younger fans are only likely to know him in disguise in a Norbit fat suit or as the voice of Donkey in the Shrek movies.

Then came Ratner’s anti-gay slur, which, given the Oscar’s fan base, was not just offensive but notably stupid. Still, the Academy was willing to keep him on. As Patrick Goldstein reported in The Los Angeles Times, it was only when Ratner started bragging about his sex life on the radio that he crossed the line – by making himself, not the Oscars, the story.

His replacement, producer Brian Grazer, had his own problems with the gay community earlier this year when he kept a homosexual joke in The Dilemma, a film he produced.

Since the last time Billy Crystal was host of the Academy Awards in 2004, the Oscars have been chasing after youth like a old roué with a suitcase full of soon-to-expire Viagra. Expand the Best Picture category to 10 to include blockbusters! Have Zac Efron and Taylor Lautner as presenters! Get those honorary Oscars out of the broadcast and show off new technology with a ghastly hologram of Bob Hope! There has been a flurry of “hip” hosts, constrained by the prime-time restrictions and announcer duties: Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres, Jon Stewart and Wolverine star Hugh Jackman. In 2010, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin reprised Saturday Night Live monologues.

Finally came the stupefying 2011 show – the hippest, youngest Oscars yet – with tweets from moms, Justin Timberlake’s best-animated film “app,” the singing kids from a YouTube viral video and, at the centre of it, the zonked-out James Franco, gushy Anne Hathaway and Melissa Leo’s f-bomb. There was a drop in viewership of almost 10 per cent from the previous year, the fifth-worst rated show since 1974.

Yes, the Academy Awards audience is generally declining, as is movie attendance and TV viewing. But the Oscars, which have been around longer than most people on the planet, can’t sustain themselves by chasing the over-served youth market. If you want crass, the Teen Choice Awards and Golden Globes will satisfy your fix. If you want class, the Oscars show has no competition.

Nor does the show need to dumb down to make money. The Washington Post announced this week that ABC has already sold out its commercial inventory for the March 23 Oscar telecast, with an average cost of $1.3-million to $1.4-million for a 30-second spot. On its 2009 tax return, the Academy listed revenues of $81-million, $74-million of which came from the annual awards show which cost only $22-million to produce. The world’s biggest stars work for free, the sponsors line up and all the Academy has to do is create an aura of glamour with a personable master of ceremonies and a well-paced show.

Billy Crystal may be more of a safe choice than a saviour, but most fed-up Oscar watchers will readily agree with the headline of a recent Entertainment Weekly column: “Billy Crystal is hosting, which proves that the Oscars are officially out of new ideas. Thank goodness.”

OPENING WEDNESDAY

Arthur Christmas Aardman Animation ( Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run) are behind this Christmas story in which Arthur Christmas (voiced by James McAvoy) needs to deliver one forgotten gift, eschewing the new-fangled, high-tech Santa operation and doing it the old way: by sleigh.

Hugo James Cameron has already declared that Martin Scorsese’s new 3-D children’s film, based on Brian Selznick’s novel, a masterpiece. Early word from the New York Film Festival, where the film was shown as a work-in-progress, concurs. Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is a 12-year-old orphan who lives in the walls of a Paris metro station in the 1930s and becomes involved in an adventure involving a broken automaton, a girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) and a mysterious toy-shop owner, the former pioneering filmmaker Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley).

The Muppets The first Muppets feature in a dozen years stars co-writer Jason Segel and Amy Adams as Muppet fans, who reunite with Kermit and the rest of the Muppet team for a telethon to save their old theatre, which may be torn down by an oil magnate (Chris Cooper).

OPENING FRIDAY

My Week with Marilyn Michelle Williams plays Marilyn Monroe in this British drama that focuses on the shooting of the 1957 film The Prince and the Showgirl, when a young production assistant (Eddie Redmayne) escorted the star around England. Kenneth Branagh plays Monroe’s co-star, Laurence Olivier.

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