With most of the top categories long locked in, if there was any real drama in the 92nd Oscars on Sunday it was how well another year of no host would fare.
Not so great turned out to be the answer for Hollywood and ABC after the more than three-hour-long ceremony.
After the novelty of last year’s forced lack of a host after the Kevin Hart fiasco, this year seemed to hope going hostless again would hide the cracks in a show produced by Lynette Howell Taylor and Stephanie Allain that had nothing much new to say on Tinseltown’s biggest night. Hope sometime can’t close the deal, sorry to say.
Yes, with 1917 left out of the party, it was certainly a big and historic night for Parasite and director Bong Joon Ho. Major acting category wins went to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s Brad Pitt, Marriage Story’s Laura Dern, Joker’s earnest Joaquin Phoenix and Judy’s Renée Zellweger. Certainly, no one who loves movies could stay dry-eyed at the lovely standing ovation for “our great Martin Scorsese,” prompted by Bong in his Best Director acceptance speech at the Dolby Theater.
However, with relatively little to shock in the big categories, if your big surprise of the night is bringing an album-peddling Eminem back to belt out his 75th Academy Awards-winning Best Original Song “Lose Yourself” and it was the night’s first standing ovation at past the 90-minute mark, you have a problem – and I love Mr. Marshall Mathers and that 8 Mile tune.
Peddling the same choir book as last year’s Oscars produced by Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss, with as much music to almost rival a half-hearted Grammys, and throwback montages to the songs of past cinema, the 2020 Oscars bellowed out for a ringmaster to harness what soon became a lackluster circus. Bested early on by multiple Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais in his online mocking Sunday, the low point on a night of many dips had to be Randy Newman back on that Toy Story beat with a tune that appears to have taken just over twice as long to write as it took to perform.
Starting off with a high-octane glamapalooza of Harriet star Janelle Monáe with Billy Porter and Best Picture-garbed dancers blasting out the Mister Rogers theme and a slew of Hollywood classics while going right into the crowd at the Dolby, the show looked like a winner.
Strolling out past hosts Steve Martin and Chris Rock out for a second consecutive hostless Oscars seemed like another smart play. Until the first Iowa Caucuses joke and audience shout-outs started with nominee Pitt, two-time winner Mahershala Ali and a string of lame swings at Jeff Bezos’ expense. With those opening minutes fading fast in the creative twilight, it was then back to the future, in the most toothless way.
The fact is the immensely talented Martin and Rock were the hosts for all practical purposes with their pretty standard opening monologue – parts of which the latter supposedly practiced on an L.A. comedy stage Saturday night. In a predictable night of anticipated winners, Martin and Rock’s blunted jabs at the sorrowful lack of women nominated in the Directing category and Harriet’s Cynthia Erivo as the solo person of color nominated in the top acting categories would sadly have stood the test of almost any Oscars the past few years. Yet, the reality is the comics had little new to say for 2020, a year that was screaming out for relevance and opportunity.
To bring out ex-SNL duos like Bridesmaids co-stars Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig or Downhill‘s Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell and have them caught in a leg-hold trap of bad writing and clear network time-killing is a sin on any Sunday, but especially Oscar night. To remind us just how bad Cats was, James Corden’s and Rebel Wilson’s appearance in full furry regalia was the wind blowing through the awards shows graveyard of irrelevance. The fact that no one had the guts to even utter the words Harvey Weinstein, his victims or the fight of the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up with the once powerful and now much accused producer currently on trial for rape in New York City right now only made Gervais’ scathing words nearly lost at the end of the Golden Globes last month more biting.
Which means, at some point soon, if God is just in her Heaven, what constitutes an award show will have to meet the wrecking ball and be rebuilt. That effort of renewal will require much more than having or not having a host because of controversy, incompetence or hope of another ratings bounce. Sure, the way-too-long Oscars of tonight wasn’t as much of a cluster as the Democrats’ efforts to secure delegates in the Hawkeye State on February 3, but America’s storytellers should know better to do so much better by now.
With another winning speech this awards season, Pitt’s Best Supporting Actor win for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood saw a swing at the stunted impeachment of Donald Trump and the brakes Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP put on witnesses such as former National Security Advisor John Bolton. Capping an impressive awards-season streak, a near birthday celebrating Dern brought the competitive crowd even further to her side with shout-outs to her heroes, her parents Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern.
Still, not even an Oscar-winning Elton John coming out in the last half hour to semi-fulfill the classic rock role that a semi-reunited Queen blasted out last year could hit the high notes that tonight needed.
In a show that drew heavily from Broadway’s new talents and Zazie Beetz and hence had way more inclusion onstage than in the actual nominations, ads like past winner Regina King for Cadillac; Alejandro González Iñárritu, James Cameron, Kathryn Bigelow and Scorsese for Rolex; and a preview of the masterful Erivo in Nat Geo’s Genius: Aretha offered a fresher take, and a more direct one, literally and figuratively.
And when the ads are the real stars, you really have a really serious problem Oscar – host or not. Or just give Olivia Colman the job and spare us another year of laments.