Sunday, February 26, 2012

Why I review the Oscars

Before blogs, social networks, Skype, and instant messages we had to communicate with each other on the internet through an archaic function called email. No live blogging, no live tweeting – it was like living with the Flintstones.

So one year in the mid-90’s I wrote a bitchy Oscarcast review and sent it my contacts via this email feature. In the Levine household it’s a tradition for the whole family to gather together to make fun of pompous celebrities. Some families unite to decorate Christmas trees. We converge to take pot shots at famous people who have it coming.

The first few years these reviews were fairly brief. Then in 1999 I got pissed at Steven Spielberg.

His film SAVING PRIVATE RYAN lost movie of the year to SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. At the time I wrote:

Spielberg was so "upset" he wouldn't talk to reporters afterwards. What a brat! For most people on the planet winning the Best Director Award would be enough to satisfy you for one night.

Spielberg’s Oscar grubbing became the theme for the review and it grew in length considerably. So did the amount of reactions. For the first time it occurred to me – hey, people are actually reading my nonsense.

From there the reviews got longer and I’ve been doing them ever since. And once I started a blog I began filing them there as well. I always write the review immediately after the show and post it early the next morning. If a joke I write is similar to one someone else has written I want it very clear I wasn’t stealing. On the other hand, I hear from friends that certain radio personalities lift my material verbatim without credit. That’s a great way to get yourself removed from my address list.

Over the years I’ve had newspapers in London and Toronto pay me to reprint them. And for several years I allowed the Huffington Post to reprint them. But that was before AOL bought them for $315 million and writers still were not being paid.

At times it’s been difficult to do these reviews. Last year in particular. We had a power failure fifteen minutes into the show. Of all the nights! I had to frantically call around, find a neighbor who not only had power, was watching and didn’t mind uninvited company but was recording it (so I could go back and catch the parts I missed). My notes were scribbled on bar napkins.

Twice I was in Hawaii and they tape-delayed them. For five hours. Jesus. They were live I’m in sure in Guam and Fiji but not our 50th state. By the time I started writing my review others reviews were already posted. One of the years was poor planning on our part. We flew home the next morning. So I stayed up all night writing the review then had to go right to the airport. Everyone got off the plane refreshed and rejuvenated and I looked like the dog's breakfast. 

Part of my fascination with the Academy Awards is the red carpet shows. These began locally probably twenty years with former Miss America/news anchor Tawny Little hosting for KABC-TV with news anchor Harold Green. These shows were staggeringly entertaining. Tawny Little asked the dumbest fucking questions imaginable. Paula Abdul would shake her head. So my reviews had to include two or three of those magic moments.

Over time hosts change. Locally on KTLA Sam Rubin has been a mainstay, fawning to the point of groveling over these stars as he asks innocuous questions. And he’s always joined by some inter-changeable bimbo, thus keeping the Tawny Little tradition of stupidity alive. Half the time I don’t even know who these airheads are. But Sam and strumpet are always good for at least two horrifying or inappropriate questions. There’s also network coverage now, which I peruse but it’s usually just vapid. Where’s the delicious fun in that? Yes, there’s Joan and Melissa Rivers but that’s a lesson in how desperation saps all comedy.

My question is why can’t they get someone good to host these things? I mean, you have a good idea of what stars are going to be parading by.  Perhaps you could uh.. PREPARE some questions. Or has that never once occurred to any of these professionals?

Imagine Stephen Colbert hosting it? Or Triumph the Insult Comic Dog? Now you’ve got a show!

Of course I could say the same thing about the Oscarcast itself. Why can’t it be better?

Maybe it’s just the nature of the beast; the bloated format just prevents it. I was invited to write for the show one year but was doing ALMOST PERFECT at the time and was not available. Perhaps it’s an impossible task. Can you think of one Academy Awards show that was truly GREAT? Most are too long, ponderous, and predictable and yet we watch every year anyway. On the other hand, it gives snarky bloggers a lot more to write about.

Good luck to all the nominees. Talk to you in the morning with my thoughts.


Danielle Solzman said...

Looking forward to reading it. Thank G-d Billy is back this year. Viewers will watch if they want to regardless of host.

Jack Eason said...

The whole "Oscar ceremony makes me nauseous Ken. All that thanking everyone, including the poor unfortunate from south of the border who cleans up after the recipient for next to nothing, turns my stomach.

Mind you, a lot of the movies/films that are put up for an Oscar makes me wonder also. :)

Unknown said...

AOL bought HuffPo for 315 million. I think not giving them your reviews offsets that Patty Heaton thing. By the way I feel strange that I don't care that much about the pro life Heaton thing compared to the problems I have with all things Scientology. I guess it's because I think CoS is kind of like the Hollywood free masons brainwashing people.

Sorry for bringing all this up.

On a lighter note: since Hugh Jackman hosted I haven't watched the Oscars at all but just read your review. It was both shorter, funnier and more intelligent and had less seatholders.

normadesmond said...

every year i get excited, look forward to this night. finally, a seismic shift has occurred.
suddenly, i don't care.

cpreynolds said...

Ken, I love your writing but I think you have a typo in the Paula Abdul sentence. Looking forward to your post on the Oscars.

Johnny Walker said...

Anyone got any predictions/hopes?

After DRIVE wasn't nominated for anything, I'm not sure I care too much about the rest.

I enjoyed THE ARTIST and THE DESCENDANTS, but there wasn't really anything that caused me to fall completely in love this year.

According to the bookmakers, Best Original Screenplay is either: MIDNIGHT IN PARIS or THE ARTIST.

Adapted screenplay: THE DESCENDANTS or MONEYBALL.

Best picture: THE ARTIST.

Best director: THE ARTIST (Michel Hazanavicius) or HUGO (Martin Scorcese).

Best actor: Jean Dujardin (THE ARTIST) or George Clooney (THE DESCENDANTS).

Best actress: Viola Davis (THE HELP) or Meryl Streep (THE IRON LADY).

Best supporting actor: Christopher Plummer (BEGINNERS)

Best supporting actress: Octavia Spencer (THE HELP)

A bunch of other categories that no-one really cares about.

Anonymous said...

Spielberg did get hosed on that one.

cadavra said...

Actually, KABC had Roger Ebert on the red carpet for a few years and his questions were generally intelligent...although there was that one embarrassing time when he asked Vivica A. Fox who she was. (Though in fairness, I probably wouldn't have recognized her, either.)

Donavan S. Moye said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pete Grossman said...

Man, don't remember which Oscar broadcast it was but Dudley Moore was up at the podium and announced 'They're telling me to stretch. Well stretch this!" Had to be my favorite show.

The Mutt said...

I've always wanted to see somebody pull out a flask and take a hearty swig.

Anonymous said...

@at The Mutt. You should have been watching the Pebble Beach Golf tournament where George Lopez and Andy Garcia did just that while being interviewed by CBS on the 17th hole.

mike said...

Here's some more fuel for your Spielberg Oscar-grubbing-hating fire...

Naz said...

Every year I wonder why I even watch it.

jbryant said...

I caught a few minutes of E!'s pre-red carpet show, and they were talking to three young ladies from (which I think is Zooey Deschanel's website or something). They were acting as pundits for some reason. One of them said she felt "smarter" just seeing THE ARTIST, as if it's some sort of complex art film, like LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD. Another praised the film for covering lots of different "topics." Hello, giggles, indeed. Sad that it now takes three girls to match the vapidity of one Tawny Little.

Pat Reeder said...

For 20 years, I've co-written a topical prep service for radio, and that requires us to write jokes about the Oscars that go out around 4:30 a.m., just hours after the telecast ends (or in the case of some of the ceremonies, just minutes after it ends). This is actually one of the easier events to avoid inadvertently repeating other people's jokes, since it always airs on Sunday. Our stuff goes out before the Monday morning shows or late night hosts have a crack at it, so when they tell a similar joke, it just makes us look like we beat them to the punchline.

The things I hate are when some big story that's comedy gold breaks in the morning or early afternoon. Not only do the late night comics have enough time to completely exhaust every possible joke, but we have to DVR all of them and watch their monologues, just to make sure we don't repeat something they said. Can't tell you how many times I've had to kill my favorite line on some story because Leno, Letterman, Kimmel, Conan, etc., got to it first and would make it look like we stole it.

fragesteller said...

Actually there is no reason to watch this uberboring event at all.
Since the Academy does everything possible to kill even the last glimpse of entertaiment in it, it's just a waste of time.
They didn't accept the Muppets to host the show. Nothing against Billy Crystal but how funnier it could be with Kermit and Miss Piggy?

benson said...

I still think the Hawks and Ducks at the Pond in Anaheim is the best thing going right now in SoCal. But I will tune over at 8:30ET because I look forward to Billy Crystal's return.

Paul Duca said...

Did someone write it, or did Johnny Carson ad-lib the immortal line "Two hours of sparkling entertainment...spread out over a four hour show".

Personal bonus...I wrote when I came across a "shelter" magazine featuring a piece on the Palm Springs mid-century modern home built for Dinah Shore, but now owned by your fellow FRASIER laborer David Lee.

This 1963 episode of OZZIE & HARRIET has a commercial where Dinah herself touts the gas-powered air conditioning in her home (although I think the spot was actually shot on a soundstage).
The Nelsons were sponsored by the American Gas Association at the time (it's just after the credits):

An irony you'll the mid 1950's a teenage Mary Tyler Moore had her first professional exposure as the elfin "Happy Hotpoint" (complete with bandeau to flatten out her lady lumps) helping Harriet Nelson celebrate the glories of Hotpoint ELECTRIC appliances in commercials during the show.

Ving said...

I've been busy writing next years' best screenplay nominee/winner, who won ?

Anonymous said...

This was such a delicious read. I can't wait for the review! :) Julie

jbryant said...

Ving: You'd better turn that draft in quick if you want your film to get shot and released in time to qualify for the next Oscars.

Anonymous said...

I laugh at theeee!!! I have no need to watch such a preposterous show, I have a very talented writer who does that for me (ken levine) and then I google öscar"and get the winners. :P