February 27, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Until its final 45 minutes, the one thing that could be said about this year’s Oscar telecast was that it was at least brisk.  Merely 2 hours and 15 minutes into the show, there were amazingly only 3 awards and the In Memorium segment still to go.  But for ABC, running under the appointed time would be at least as bad as running over–those commercials all had to get on the air–so at that point the brakes went on, and like the last 2 minutes of a close basketball game, when endless fouls and time-outs stretch the very nature of time, the remainder of the show moved in extreme slow-motion.  Most egregiously tedious:  the fatuous nominee-by-nominee description of each Best Actor and Actress performance that Natalie Portman and Colin Firth were forced to deliver.

The fact that from the network’s point of view, the biggest problem with this year’s show was that it ran too efficiently tells you all you need to know.  Billy Crystal, given the mantle of Host like a retired general brought back to action after some dreadful military defeat (in this case two of them:  last year’s James Franco/Anne Hathaway debacle and the Brett Ratner/Eddie Murphy embarrassment), did what he does.  There was the polished opening bit with Billy inserted among the film clips and movie stars, the “Wonderful Night For Oscar” musical number (not particularly audible, although it was unclear whether that was Crystal’s fault or ABC’s sub-par microphones, a problem all night), the light digs at celebrities that were better timed than they were funny, the now-ancient “What They’re Really Thinking” sketch, which ran horribly flat (Brad Pitt is thinking about parent-teacher conferences!  That’s because he and Angelina have so many kids!  LOL!).  There wasn’t a genuinely imaginative or inspired moment in Crystal’s whole evening, but damn it, the show ran on time. 
The whole tone of the night seemed something like an Old People’s Revenge, as though the Academy, after both its efforts at getting “hip” had ended in disaster, had thrown up its hands and embraced its creakiness.  (It was like the Academy had turned into the aged derelicts getting their revenge on Malcolm McDowell in the second half of A Clockwork Orange.)  Instead, they ridiculed–repeatedly–the whole idea of pandering to youth.  Take that, you young demo you–get off our lawn!
So the entertainment centerpiece of the night was Cirque du Soleil, the members of the troupe throwing each other around like cast members in Broadway’s Spider-Man and resembling the Vegas floorshow they are.  A seemingly endless series of montages featured movie stars photographed like the Witnesses in Warren Beatty’s Reds (including, briefly, Beatty himself), opining very seriously about What The Movies Mean To Us, and sidestepping the fact that few of them have probably paid for a ticket in a real movie theater for the past decade or more.  Christopher Guest’s rep group turned up in a parody of screening focus groups that was so inside baseball, you’d have had to be a marketing executive to find it funny. 
Among the presenters, few of the pre-planned schticks paid off:  Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis with cymbals and Robert Downey Jr’s unbearable Best Doc/reality-show bit (watching it, you felt sorry for Gwyneth Paltrow, a seeming impossibility) both fell flat.  Emma Stone managed to survive her gimmick, partly because it was fun to watch Ben Stiller play straight man, and partly because Emma Stone seems able to survive anything.  Chris Rock had some funny moments.  And Angelina Jolie stuck her leg out.
It came as a surprise to exactly no one this past week when the LA Times reported breathlessly that an analysis of the Academy membership revealed it to be predominantly elderly white guys.  And this show was for them, from the winners (Christopher Plummer, Meryl Streep, Woody Allen, 10 of the awards split between 2 loving tributes to the world of classic cinema) to the telecast itself.  The night felt as though the Academy was desperately hoping that if everyone pretended the world wasn’t changing… maybe it wouldn’t.
Good luck with that.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."