Well don’t James Franco and Anne Hathaway look better now? Last year’s Oscar show may have been a headlong collision, but at least a crash has curiosity value. This year’s show was as lively and colorful as cold oatmeal. You know it’s a dull show when even the Best Dead People “In Memoriam” sequence is chilly, unemotional and flat.
Billy Crystal’s opening filmed routine was lame, putting himself in the nominated films just the way he used to, but without a touch of cleverness this time. The whole evening felt designed to be comforting, as if the audience needed to be soothed. Crystal can make all the jokes he wants about the show’s senior demographics (and he did) but that doesn’t change the fact that it was a snoozy, geezer-friendly show. Hello! Putting Justin Bieber in the opening montage to joke about needing a young audience doesn’t bring in a young audience.
At best we can be grateful it was just dull and not actively painful, except for the moment when Cirque du Soleil began its acrobatic homage to the movies. (And whose brilliant idea was that?). Against a screen projecting a clip of North By Northwest, men in gray, Cary Grant suits flew across the audience. Just what we want: Cary Grant, bungee-jumper.
There were very few funny or unscripted moments. Pretending to read people’s minds, Crystal just growled when he came to Nick Nolte. It was weirdly funny, and Crystal said, “Thanks, Nick” as soon as he’d finished. Unlike Ricky Gervais or Chris Rock, he works in a relaltively safe, no-offense zone.
Angelina Jolie came out to present the writing awards and stuck her leg out of her slit skirt, posing as she had on the Red Carpet, like a 1940’s pinup. Then Jim Rash came on stage to accept his award and posed just like her. Mean, but at least spontaneous. I’d guess his apology is on the way. (Rash, Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon – who were more polite – won Best Adapted Screenplay for The Descendants.)
The Awards themselves offered just a few surprises. The biggest: Meryl Streep winning Best Actress over Viola Davis. Streep, who started her speech in her usual, appealing smart-ass way, became quite sincere and emotional by the end, saying she absolutely realized it was the last time she’d be up there. True or not, she was touching, even though it was hard not to feel a little bad for Davis, who was the first to stand and cheer for Streep.
But it was a long way to go for such a little surprise. Overall, the Oscar show told us what we already knew, and not just that The Artist was going to be the night’s big winner and that I’m pretty bad at predicting. (Yes I missed both Actor and Actress, so it’s a good thing I’m not a gambler.) The show reminded us that the Academy still doesn’t get how to move into the 21st century, hasn’t learned how to deal with the fact that the endlessly long awards season doesn’t make the Oscar show the glittering golden prize at the end of the trail. The Oscars are now the last gasp that comes when everyone is worn out (even the stars on the Red Carpet seemed tired rather than excited) and just happy the season is over. If the show is ever going to improve it will have to find what was missing this year: enegy and imagination.