No one can say that we weren't warned.
Over the past six months, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has done everything in its power to demonstrate how incapable it was of producing an entertaining, celebratory, and baseline interesting Oscars telecast. We should have paid more attention as the Academy introduced and then back-tracked a half-dozen ideas: a “most popular movie” award, a truncated presentation schedule, a host. Academy president John Bailey and producers Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss were practically begging for everyone to expect the worst – and then keep lowering those expectations until you hit rock-bottom (but not, alas, until you hit The Rock, who would have made a fine master of ceremonies, had the Academy got its act together in time to approach the one-man publicity machine).
And so the 91st Academy Awards opened on Sunday night with a stunt both predictable and pointless. Set against a stage that looked like a cross between Donald Trump’s hairline and the innards of a beached whale, the remaining members of Queen, plus Adam Lambert in Freddie Mercury’s role, opened the evening by singing We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions, which felt like your very drunk, supremely over-confident best friend insisting that everyone is having so much fun now! It was a wan stunt that would have made an inch of sense were Rami Malek on-stage to join the band instead of Lambert – but that would also have meant Malek had sung as Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, too. Which is not the case.
Aside from a few brief moments during which it seemed like the Oscar gods might be merciful – when Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler arrived as the presenters for best supporting actress; when Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry lept on-stage in to-the-hilt outfits to present best costume; and when Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper essentially copulated on-stage during a performance of Shallow – the ceremony felt produced by an algorithm. But not one of those cool Netflix algorithms that point you toward movies you might be interested in.
It was so offensively boring that I longed for the days of Jimmy Kimmel. The 2018 and 2017 Oscars host may have delivered thoroughly meh monologues with all the charm of a buzzed Brett Kavanaugh, but at least he offered an actual presence – a physical focal point around which the rest of the ceremony could pivot. (Hell, I have now decided, is pining for the return of a host who once hosted something called The Man Show. Jimmy Kimmel, come back! All is forgiven!)
From Sunday night’s ho-hum opening movie montage (consisting mostly of universally beloved films such as, um, Deadpool 2) through its painfully bland everything else, the Academy Awards felt like it was auditioning for the Razzies.
Opportunities were whiffed on every front. If you tuned in looking for breezy entertainment, you had to settle for Jason Momoa’s pink suit. If you hoped to glean artistic inspiration and bask in the alchemy of the cinematic medium, then you had to settle for, oh, I dunno, Christian Bale’s perma-confused glare from the front row. And if you thought there might be at least some distant acknowledgement of the current cultural climate – even a brief mention of #MeToo, #TimesUp, or the many other toxic elements plaguing Hollywood that, only a year ago, seemed to be everyone’s top priority, promise – then you had to settle for Ryan Seacrest on the red carpet, no questions asked.
And to what end? Much has been written these past few weeks speculating that the real villain of this year’s Academy Awards is television network ABC, which reportedly took a heavier hand in the producing process, with the ultimate demand being a show that topped out at three hours to boost ratings. But what kind of young and hip Oscars-reticent viewer has been sitting on their hands all these years, eager to return to the show only when it was guaranteed to be 180 minutes? Who will be drawn to a broadcast with no clear mission, or even vague sense of confidence in itself?
Three hours, 3 1/2 hours, ultimately it makes no difference. Audiences tune in for the Oscars to celebrate the best films of the year, to revel in far-away glamour, to feel a brief connection to the rest of Western society. In its bid to be lean, the Oscars starved itself to death.