Tuesday, February 26, 2013
First off, it’s great to hear from you even if you disagree with me (as long as you leave a name. There were a few anonymous comments that were just so stupid I assume the authors didn’t know their names.) Some were angry that I didn’t share their point-of-view. To them I say, it’s a friggin’ award show review. An admittedly bitchy, snarky award show recap. As the great Larry Gelbart once said:
If what you're writing isn't likely to offend or annoy anyone at all, go back and start again.
So it comes with the territory. Seth MacFarlane would make that argument as well, but more on that later. If I dislike fifteen things that’s fifteen chances to think I’m an idiot. Of course, I find people take issue with me even if I like something. I got hammered by several of you for liking Barbra Streisand. When I wrote a glowing review of ZERO DARK THIRTY some readers accused me of condoning torture.
I have two objectives when I write these reviews. 1) To entertain. Whether you agreed with my review or not, were you amused? My favorite movie critic is Anthony Lane in THE NEW YORKER. There are many times I wonder if he and I saw the same movie but damn I enjoy his writing. And 2) To be fair. I’m just as happy or happier to say I liked something. The reviews are harder to make funny, but I’ll take that any day to thoroughly enjoy a program. I don't condone torture, by the way.
On to specifics:
The best line about the Oscarcast from anybody came from Carl Reiner.
This is what he tweeted last night:
I was so excited to discover I was not in the in memoriam!
One comment I saw on another site made a great point. Was it really necessary to have the First Lady announce the Best Picture? How weird would it have been had Michelle Obama had to announce ZERO DARK THIRTY or DJANGO UNCHAINED? Future Oscarcasts might want to avoid this potentially awkward situation.
Seth MacFarlane. You were sharply divided on this topic. Right off the bat I will concede this: He was not worse than James Franco. It’s quite possible no one could be.
And if you liked him, great. I’m glad you were entertained.
Some claimed I was already prejudiced against him. That’s partly true. But what I liked about the idea of him hosting was that he was a wild card and there was the possibility that the show could be crazy unpredictable epic fun. So I was rooting for him. By the end of the monologue those hopes were dashed.
Many who disagreed with me accused me of being old fashioned, unwilling to accept change, etc. That’s the common charge whenever I don’t like anything. “This chicken is dry.” “Oh sure. Just because it’s not the way Colonel Sanders made chicken in 1964 you don’t like it.”
Go back and read my review from last year. You’ll see how much I enjoyed Billy Crystal’s trip down Cobweb Lane. My problem with Seth wasn’t that he was edgy or topical. It was his judgment. Although a few things scored, most of his material did not. In fairness, I put some of the blame on the producers. These are the Oscars. They are supposed to celebrate Hollywood’s highest achievements. It is supposed to be an elegant glamorous sophisticated affair. That’s why everyone needs two days and three stylists to dress up. “We Saw Your Boobs” is not the right production number for an event that strives to be classy. MTV Movie Awards? Sure. But not the Oscars.
Make no mistake -- the motion picture royalty sitting in that auditorium take themselves VERY VERY VERY seriously. You can needle them a little as long as it’s in good fun and the person doing the needling is an accepted member of their exclusive club, but if you start really taking potshots you will bomb. Ask Chris Rock. His monologue was hilarious and scathing. You could hear crickets in the hall. So Jews-running-Hollywood jokes were destined to fail horribly, which they did. Seth couldn’t predict that? The producers couldn’t? Poor judgment.
Review my review. I don’t hate all hosts.
Part of my issue was that Seth was inexperienced. I give him credit for having the balls to go out there, although low self esteem has never seemed to be one of his big problems. But this is the biggest show in front of the largest audience in the world. Over a billion people. Would you take a good college athlete and let him make his professional debut by being the starting pitcher for game seven of the World Series or by being the starting quarterback in the Super Bowl? That’s what this is. So Seth was given a near-impossible task – although he knew that going in.
It’s not only a difficult job; it’s a thankless one. If a billion people are watching, half of them are making fun of the show. They’re sitting in their living rooms goofing on the dresses and the speeches and especially the host. And now with Facebook and Twitter the entire world is one living room. Tell me you don’t do that yourself. Oscar hosts have to have thick skin. Even personalities who are beloved get skewered. Ask Jon Stewart, David Letterman, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, Hugh Jackman. So why do it? Two reasons: the exposure obviously. A billion more people know who Seth MacFarlane is today than did on Saturday. And secondly, if you do manage to somehow pull it off you are an overnight smash. Billy Crystal’s career skyrocketed after he successfully hosted the Oscars. It’s a high risk but very high reward proposition. And here’s the thing: You’re expected to hit a home run. If you get mixed reviews (like most hosts including Seth) that’s considered a strike out. There are no singles or doubles. It's brutal.
The thing I’ve noticed that great hosts manage to do is react spontaneously to the events of the night. When Oscar winner Jack Palance did push-ups on the stage Crystal used that as a running gag all night. The message it sends is: this guy is truly funny and comfortable enough in this role that he can stray from the teleprompter. Again, Tina & Amy were able to do this. Seth did not. It’s understandable. This was his first time.
And finally, people accused me of criticizing him for taking shots at people when I was doing the same thing. Uh, writing a blog piece and hosting the Oscars are two very different venues, don’t you think?
So who should host the Oscars? As I said, he should be someone already embraced by the community. And it wouldn’t hurt if viewers in the country know and like him too. Having a genuine love for movies would also be nice. A few of you had some good ideas. Jerry Seinfeld for one. I liked Hugh Jackman but I sense the pressure of the assignment was not fun and he’s turned down all further requests. But how about George Clooney? Handsome, personable, funny. I’m sure he’s been approached. And here’s my first choice: After seeing him host the JIMMY KIMMELL SHOW, Matt Damon is the man! So much charm and ease and command. I thought to myself, “there’s a reason this dude is a movie star.”
Nothing would please me more than next year to say in my review that Matt Damon was the best Oscar host ever, Anne Hathaway looked much healthier, Seth MacFarlane was hilarious as a presenter, Steven Spielberg deserved those two Oscars, and the tribute to VOLUNTEERS was incredibly touching.
People are pointing to the improved ratings of the Oscars as vindication for Seth. That's probably partially true. BUT... as opposed to past years, six of the nine Best Picture nominees have grossed over $100 million. So as opposed to past years when no one saw the movies in contention, folks had a rooting interest in the candidates this go-round. And for the most part, the actors nominated were names moviegoers knew. Add to that the whole Ben Affleck directing snub and you had a little intrigue going on. So it's hard to pinpoint just why more people were watching this year.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM