By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com February 27, 2012 at 4:24PM
So the general consensus on last night's Oscars is in, and no one's particularly happy (the full winners are listed here in case you somehow missed it). Well, ABC might be, with ratings slightly up on last year (although still a fraction of years gone by), but few seem to have been wowed by the show, even if it managed not to be the trainwreck of the 2011 ceremony. Like the nominees themselves, there was a familiar warmth to it, but nothing even close to exceptional about it.
We're 365 days or so away from the next ceremony (leap year, don't forget), but it's clear there's plenty of room for improvement, and we've picked out five suggestions to make next year's Oscars a little more palatable for the audience at home. They're unlikely to happen, but it'd be nice.
We don't dislike Billy Crystal. We will physically fight anyone who says a bad word about "When Harry Met Sally." And he's been a good host in the past. But his time for this sort of thing has passed and, while it's strangely appropriate in a year full of so many nostalgic pictures, he was a pretty terrible choice to host, as we've already discussed. Yes, he wasn't the first choice, but that doesn't stop the fact that he, and the material, kind of stunk. So top of the memo? Delete him from the Academy rolodex. You don't have to keep going back to the same well for hosts (which isn't to say that we wouldn't welcome Hugh Jackman or Chris Rock, or even Jon Stewart, coming back). Why has Tom Hanks, who kills every time he does SNL, never done it? What about Ben Stiller or Will Ferrell or Tina Fey or Steve Carell, who've always been fun when they present awards? Why not Will Smith? Hell, Albert Brooks has had a career revival of late, and is pretty much the funniest man in the world again. These aren't edgy choices -- all are pretty much paid-up members of the establishment these days. But they've got a broader appeal without dumbing it down.
While Crystal gets the lion's share of the blame this year, there's been a recurring problem over the last few years: the jokes have just not been that funny. Veering on the side of respectable (except for the sort-of-staggering blackface and race gags this year, which, like Crystal, seemed to come straight out of a 1961 ceremony), and rarely hitting the spot, responsibility must come at the feet of veteran comic Bruce Vilanch, who's been head writer on the show for a decade. James Franco publicly feuded with Vilanch after the show last year, and while Franco was far from blameless, we saw his point: like Crystal, Vilanch, who is 63, has seen better days, and the show needs some new blood. And that's something they seem to be aware of -- Hugh Jackman's gig in 2009, was penned by, among others, Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab ("Community") and Ben Schwartz ("Parks and Recreation," "House of Lies"). They've all been busy on TV shows, for sure, but given that writers rooms on many shows wrap in early February, it wouldn't be impossible to get them back. And if not them, there's plenty of others who could make it work. Of course, there's another related problem here, which leads us to...
We get that the Oscars are a night of self-celebration, but, Jesus Christ, you don't have to take them so seriously. The fuss in some quarters about Sacha Baron Cohen on the red carpet was only the most pertinent example of something that became a real problem this year -- a relentlessly self-important tone. We're not saying you have to get Ricky Gervais in (he was pretty bad at the Golden Globes this year), but you can have fun without being mean-spirited, and that's really what it should be. If it looks like everyone in the audience, and on stage, are having a blast, the audience will have fun too -- that's what Jackman & co got right a few years back. If the ceremony comes across as a three hout anti-movie piracy PSA, then the audience are going to tune out. You can still honor good work sincerely without making movies out to be the most important thing in the world.
Speaking of honoring work, playing off winners' speeches, neglecting lifetime achivement winners and skipping things like a Muppets musical number plays especially sour if a disproportionate amount of the running time is made up of things that are totally irrelevant. We're not clear why no one has worked out that interpretative dance numbers at the Academy Awards ARE ALWAYS TERRIBLE. Every single time, and yet every year they come back. Does the dancers' union have a surprisingly powerful lobby or something? Similarly, montages unrelated to anything that's happened in the previous year tend to be nothing but dead air, and when you're playing off someone who's actually achieved something in order to get to five second clips of "Titanic" and "Lord of the Rings." Some rethinking of priorities are in order.
Going up to 10 was done essentially because "The Dark Knight" was snubbed in 2008 and there was major outrage, but has this reparative move bettered things? Ideally 10 nominations make way for deserving tentpoles and smaller indies -- but aside from nominations for "Winter's Bone," "Up" and "District 9" -- those additional nominations have done little. In fact, this year, neither indie nor deserving mainstream film (many felt like the final "Harry Potter" or "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes" were deserving not to mention indie fare like "Beginners") were nominated, perhaps thanks to the new voting system and flexible number of nominees. Instead, the additional nominations simply went to more Oscar bait films and mediocre ones at that ("War Horse," "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"). So what's the solution here exactly? Is this move truly benefitting anyone that the expansion was meant for? Nothing gets much of a box office boost, and picking out ten (or nine, or eight) takes the sheen off the honor. The experiment hasn't worked: go back to five.
-- Oliver Lyttelton & RP