The Show, The Slap and the Big Shrug
Analyzing the Oscars after a poor night's sleep
by Richard Rushfield
The tragic thing was that until The Moment, I was actually enjoying the Oscars of 2022. I mean, enjoying is not quite the term you use for slogging to the end of three and a half hours of one of these things. But let's say, compared to years past there was a certain carnivale atmosphere that I found a pleasant vibe shift from Oscars of yore.
When the moment came however, and as it sank in, it wasn't just it took you out of the flow of things, it was a jolt, like realizing you'd been laughing a little too hard and wondering what was in this fruit punch you'd been putting away all night; followed by the cold sweats that break out with the thought that many of the amusing antic flutterings of the night may have been a show thrashing in the death throes.
There were some very good things about the night, along with some very very bad. In the end the good things may fall in the category of — too little, too late. While the bad things may be more, signs that this patient isn't coming off the operating table.
Let's go through it all, if we may, getting up to the big moment. So let's start with a quick recap of the problems that brought us here in the first place:
An ancient format.
The collapse of mid-budget grown-up films.
The Academy's preference for films largely unseen by the public.
An aging audience.
Confusion over theatrical vs. streaming vis à vis “what is a film?”
The Academy's ability to put itself and the show at the crosshairs of every social dispute to come along.
An endless, tiresome seven-month campaign season fueled by an awards industrial complex choking every ounce of fun and spontaneity out of the sector.
Suffocating pomposity related to all of the above.
Does that get at the basics?
So let's run through the show and see how it addressed these problems, including...The Slap itself.
From the very first segment, there were definite rays of hope that this was going to be the show that finally broke the stranglehold of the format, and could finally have a little fun with itself.
Opening with a Beyonce video, filmed elsewhere, contrary to all Oscar custom and then cutting back to the Dolby stage where a pumped-up DJ Khaled interrupted the hosting trio to rally the crowd, was a definite sign of the festive, if slightly askew, tone in store.
And frankly, that part I'm all for. At every change, the grumbling section would tweet on cue, “They are turning it into the MTV Awards!” Frankly, they should be so lucky. Being too frivolous and youthful is not a problem Oscar fans should trouble themselves about too much. Whatever zany innovations the show introduces, the danger that this show just becomes pure empty fun is still a long long way off.
In that vein, the hosts were great. Particularly Amy Schumer's monologue which hit the magic balance of nastiness and “in good fun.”
The whole affair had this tone of sort of irreverent hodgepodge, touched with notes of technical incompetence — like the constant use of extreme close ups. A James Bond tribute — but almost without Sean Connery! Skateboarders claiming James Bond was the father of extreme sports! A Godfather tribute — which drowned out the theme music in a rap beat. A White Men Can't Jump anniversary reunion? Sure! Why not? No one asked for it, but okay! Plus, an upbeat, festive In Memorium reel?
Giving not one but two special awards to the extraordinary works of Zak Snyder (as we told you they would have to the day that idea was announced!)
How do you have fun at a time of war and strife, with the world still crawling out of pandemic? Why you just don't mention them of course! (To be fair, Ukrainians got a brief card shown on screen, just before a commercial break. Bet they loved that from their bomb shelters in the subway station.)
It was all a little crazy and more than slightly off-kilter
But it all was a near-total break from the tone of the last few years — the funereal, We're All Such Monsters How Dare We Have Fun ambiance of the past few years.
Look, here's the thing: if you want there to be an Oscar show, (and ahem, an Academy) and you don't want this to be broadcast on CSPAN 2 in the middle of the night, something has to change and right away. If they can't figure out how to make this fun again and win over a few younger folk for starters, then just accept this will be a private luncheon in the years ahead and maybe the Globes will resurrect itself and become the big shindig on the awards trail. If that's not the future you want, Oscar has to try some crazy things here, because it's probably already too late.
If you want the version of this with a full-blown tribute to short films and documentary shorts, with their makers given unlimited time to hold forth on network television, maybe it's time to go ahead and start up another show that just focuses on that, and let's see how that goes.
(Tony Pierce, former Social Media Tsar of the Academy, posted some wild ideas along those lines that merit consideration.)
So all that was if not good, at least, easy enough on the eyes. Which I'm willing to call progress.
But as the show wore on into its second and then third hour, it was increasingly clear that all this commotion wasn't the shape of a new show, but the producer, Will Packer, dancing as fast as he could so you wouldn't notice, that behind the footwork, was the same ancient, lumbering, ponderous beast that had always been there.
So as for the show itself, let's just be very clear: it can be a different show, or it can be a dead show. But it can't be this anymore. They can bite the bullet and reinvent this thing wholesale from the ground up — for real this time — or they can say bye-bye to the whole thing. Them's your choices, AMPAS. There was probably a time when we could've offered you better ones, but you missed those off-ramps 50 miles back.
That was the show, and then there was The Moment.
Let's go through the big takeaways here.
First, whatever you think of the “defending my family” line, the tape clearly shows that Smith laughed at the joke, heartily, while his wife glowered. Seconds later, when the camera was off him, something changed his mind. His guffaws disappeared and the avenging angel emerged.
Second, despite The Academy's assertion that they don't condone violence:
They might not “condone” it, whatever that means to them, but moments after it occurred they handed the perpetrator one of their biggest prizes and gave him a standing ovation for his non-apology apology. So what's the consequences? He's not allowed to use valet parking at Academy screenings anymore?
It's this new thing about Hollywood apologies — they don't actually have to be made to the victims anymore, just a general statement to the world at large about your personal struggles, and what more can we ask?
Just as aside here, it's pretty stunning that this happened to Chris Rock moments after he said the word Macbeth in a theater. If he had called it “The Scottish Play” would all of this have been avoided?
Also what a pro Chris Rock is to barely miss a beat there. If it seemed at first like the whole thing was staged, it was Rock’s unflustered response that seemed too smooth to be true.
Question is: When it comes to stars, does the Academy have any standards at all it would ever enforce?
Which kind of points to the hollowness at the center here. A show that doesn't stand for anything, sending no message in particular about Hollywood to the world — just short-term dealing with whatever problems are at hand in the most short-sighted way.
Has Hollywood/society not evolved at all to the point where Jada Pinkett-Smith, clearly peeved, doesn’t stand up for herself but sends her man to the stage to avenge her slight?
One thinks of the Hollywood founders and how fiercely protective they were not only of their properties but of the image of Hollywood as a whole — how they would swoop down on anyone who tarnished it. We just saw the denouement of that, as a star trampled over our crown jewel, and no one did a thing but give him a standing ovation.
Just to make it clear how little they cared, the Academy raced into action — to issue a rule for the press room that the winners were only to be asked about their own victory, not about say, how they felt about anything else that might have happened that night.
A rule, needless to say, which the press accepted without a peep.
And if The Academy's shrugging acceptance wasn't enough, if you think Smith suffered for what he did, have a look at these scenes from the Vanity Fair afterparty, where he was warmly admitted as a Guest of Honor, led the crowd on the dance floor, and wasn't subjected to any question from either the hosts or the journalistic onlookers tougher than “How are you feeling?”
Fun night for all!
But it was a fitting denouement to the annual travesty this whole thing has become, that it can’t just go down in quiet ignominy, but has to disgrace itself in every possible way before the lights go out.
Then, three and a half hours in (what happened to all that time was supposedly saved by moving those categories out of the main ceremony?) there was the award itself. Congratulations to CODA. A film much enjoyed by those who saw it.
For Netflix after making god knows how many films and spending how much in pursuit of this, to be an also-ran again has to be painful. One imagines it was a little uncomfortable in the trillionaires' lounge when Ted and Jeff — who spent so much and hungered so long, bumped into Tim at the buffet.
A few more thoughts from around the Twitterverse:
New on The Ankler:
The Glossy on the end of fun on the red carpet.
The death spiral of Bob I and Bob II in What about Bobs?
Why did Mark Burnett try to court Putin for a reality show and what does Amazon think?
The question no one wants to ask except ESG: Are Oscar Films Good Business Strategy?
The Decline and Fall of Oscar: A timeline of mishaps, mishegas and the bad choices that have become an annual Academy ritual.
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