At a not-too draggy 215 minutes (give or take three), the 92nd Academy Awards once again sped down the same host-free track as last year, but allowed slightly more room for filler. After an intricate, audacious opening number by Janelle Monae and that Billy Porter guy who tends to wear the loudest outfits at any given awards ceremony, the audience was allowed one (1) segment for stand-up comedy, tag-teamed by former hosts Steve Martin and Chris Rock in a joint achievement in short-term blame-shifting, before the rest of the night barreled onward through the 24 aired categories and an offhand shout-out to the four winners whose lesser Oscars were deemed not fit for telecast. Considering those names included Geena Davis and David Lynch, that was one heck of an inconsiderate yadda-yadda.
At a lean 199 minutes, the 91st Academy Awards was perhaps among the speediest ceremonies in decades, but the memorable moments may have been fewer than usual because there were simply fewer opportunities for much to happen. A few presenters did their parts to liven things up — e.g., Samuel L. Jackson, Danai Gurira, James McAvoy, Barbra Streisand (a huge fan of Spike Lee, fellow Brooklynite), and a few others. The triple-threat comedy team of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph had a few minutes to fill the night’s joke quota up front, and did so with a flair enviable to those of us who didn’t watch Fey/Poehler host the Golden Globes a few years ago and who wish they could’ve been bribed into taking charge here all night long.
That being said, it was a very entertaining evening for any moviegoers who liked some of the biggest winners a lot more than I did.
The 90th Academy Awards kicked off Sunday night on ABC with a mildly amusing spoof of olde-tyme theatrical newsreels before returning host Jimmy Kimmel threw down an unprecedented gauntlet: winners were encouraged to speak on any topic they wanted to, no matter how political or incendiary, for as long as they wanted. This promise was eventually broken, much to the consternation of The Shape of Water producer J. Miles Dale, who got orchestra’d out of his spotlight moment because everyone had assumed director Guillermo Del Toro should have the last word.
Also intermittently livening up the night was Kimmel’s chief running gag, a promise of a free jet ski to whoever had the shortest speech. Thus began a night of push and pull, of comparison and contrast, of #MeToo and #TimesUp and diversity abounding and white guys still winning lots of things but not all the things.
Kimmel’s contributions and interruptions were kept to a barer minimum than last year, setting aside one segment that once again indulged his addiction to practical jokes on ordinary people. Assorted parties dropped a few wisecracks at the expense of high-ranking politicians as well as accused sex offenders, but a surprising amount of the commentary was kept on the positive side — a celebration of artists and advancement instead of roasting the haters and attackers. In that sense, some speeches were more refreshing than others.
The 89th Academy Awards began in style with Justin Timberlake singing or possibly lip-syncing his big Trolls single “Can’t Stop the Feeling”, but ended with all the feelings at cross-purposes when final presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty — reunited fifty years after Bonnie & Clyde lost to In the Heat of the Night — made Oscar telecast history by inadvertently announcing La La Land as the winner when in fact the name printed on their card was Moonlight. La La producer Justin Horowitz broke the news when, after their speech time had already begun, he approached the mic and tried to re-announce the award. At first the audience thought he was just being humble and demurring. Then everyone realized he was serious and extremely classy as he held the card up for the cameras to see. Much confusion and Twitter quips about “fake news” ensued till things were confirmed and the Moonlight team tentatively took the stage and took their turn at thank-yous.
Between those memorable moments, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel hosted in an effort to drum up business for his own show by bringing in his own bits such as “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets”, practical jokes, his Matt Damon feud, and I couldn’t tell you what else because I’ve never watched his show unless tonight’s Oscars telecast counted as an episode of it.
“I counted at least fifteen black people in that montage!”
Thus did emcee Chris Rock kick off the 88th Academy Awards after an animated intro full of lamps with adjectives on them and Oscar statuettes being imbued with all the colors of the rainbow. After the actors and actresses of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences offered up their second consecutive slate of twenty white nominees in a row, the Academy faced an online onslaught of #OscarsSoWhite criticism and went into full damage control mode, enlisting writer/director and former BET CEO Reginald Hudlin as an additional producer and basically giving second-time host Rock a free pass to do whatever came to mind. This served him well for a surprisingly outrageous monologue and a few later comedy bits, until later in the ceremony when he threw away a significant chunk of goodwill on a quick, pointless, unfunny, racist gag that had nothing to do with anything.
It was one surprise in a night full of several, some of them not so tasteless. A few movies I really liked in 2015 came away with bragging rights, so I got that going for me.
“Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest…”
Thus did Neil Patrick Harris kick off the 87th Academy Awards, whose twenty acting nominations failed to impress any onlookers who favor a multicultural viewpoint on everyday life. Much has already been said about this disconcerting coincidence over the past month-plus, but the show’s producers, no doubt in tandem with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, went all-out in assembling a team of celebrity presenters positioned a bit more broadly across the racial spectrum. Big names announcing or handing out awards included Oprah Winfrey, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o (a lock regardless of controversy thanks to last year’s 12 Years a Slave win), Jennifer Lopez, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kerri Washington, Viola Davis, Zoe Saldana, Dwayne Johnson, Terrance Howard, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Hart, Eddie Murphy, and AMPAS President Cheryl Boone Isaacs (another lock by virtue of her position).
Their compensation efforts were noticed. And to be fair, not everyone who took home a statue tonight was white. There are other interesting categories besides acting.
Headlines today informed Portland, Oregon, they were the next unfortunate recipient of a tragic American public shooting incident. You can dive into Twitter, Facebook, or any other corner of the internet where people with human emotions dwell and witness a diverse cross-section of reactions: horror, terror, outrage, lamentation, grief, et al. There are other corners where you can pull quotes from those who bask in inhuman emotions, but there’s no healthy reason for that.
Sadly, stories about shootings are commanding so many front pages and conversations, as much from frequency as from simple impact, that we’re seeing numbness and moral surrender joining the social-media chorus in increasing numbers. I’m a proponent of directed prayer myself because I firmly believe that many things are parsecs beyond my control, but when it comes to talking preventatives or cures or root causes or coping mechanisms with others of differing beliefs, I fear the internet in general may soon run out of eloquence on the subject. How many more ways can we express indignation, extend comfort, and proffer wisdom over the same kind of event over and over again? Could we reach a point of having to reuse the same sentiments every time it comes up? At the rate we’re covering this same ground at length, I won’t be surprised to see Hallmark mining everyone’s retweets and reblogs for material to reuse in a new line of shootings-specific sympathy cards.
So what can we do?