The Oscar telecast has been in terrible trouble — as a TV show — for quite a while now, basically because all of those other movie awards shows have stolen its thunder.
30 or 40 years ago, Oscar night was unique — it was the one time each year when television celebrated movies.
The film stars who showed up — Jack Nicholson, Julie Christie, etc. — were not people you would see on TV much (if at all) so it was fun to watch them in action outside their movie appearances.
Now TV serves up two months of awards shows (before the Oscars) in which we see front runners — like Colin Firth and Natalie Portman — give speech after speech until any suspense or excitement has been drained away.
As the ratings for the Oscars have declined, and long-running hosts such as Billy Crystal have gone elsewhere, the producers have resorted to a series of desperation moves that hit a new low with last night’s gruesome pairing of Anne Hathaway and James Franco.
Two bright young stars were made to look like the rankest amateurs through a combination of terrible writing, what appeared to be next-to-no direction, and perhaps their own hubris.
The bubbly and naturally ingratiating Hathaway tried to charm her way out of the situation, but Franco gave her little to play off — his fixed, yokel grin and monotonous delivery looked like some sort of private joke that nobody else was in on.
The producers made matters worse by bringing Billy Crystal out — halfway through — to show Franco and Hathaway how this sort of industry emcee job is supposed to be done (it was not surprising that the comic received one of the few standing ovations of the evening).
The show got off to a terrible start with the decision to have Kirk Douglas present the best supporting actress award.
Traditionally last year’s acting winners present this year’s prizes but Christoph Waltz is in the middle of making a movie in Europe and M’onique simply refused to be involved.
Douglas is one of the most amazing survivors in Hollywood history — walking away from a terrible helicopter accident two decades ago and then a series of life-threatening health issues.
But, the star turned his segment into a squirm-inducing nightmare in which he endlessly delayed announcing the winner — in effect, torturing the five women who could be seen on camera waiting and waiting for their possible victory.
Douglas’ patter and delaying tactics were probably responsible for Melissa Leo’s nervous, profane and semi-incoherent acceptance speech.
Rather than step away from the spotlight and let the winner bask in her moment of glory, Douglas hovered close, not allowing Leo to fully own her bit of Hollywood history.
The rest of the show was a series of similar disasters — especially, Franco’s brief and hideously unfunny appearance in Marilyn Monroe drag — climaxing in the most insulting presentation of the best picture nominee clips imaginable. Yes, “The King’s Speech” was the assumed winner, but that was no excuse for editing all of the other nine movies into visual mush, with Colin Firth’s voice covering everything. I would imagine that today there are nine producers who are screaming at the Motion Picture Academy and ABC for wrecking their biggest promotional moment of the night.