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If you opened the window and listened closely Sunday night, you could hear it: the sound of millions of remote controls changing the channel during the 2021 Oscars.
And after last night’s debacle — the worst Academy Awards of my lifetime — they may never return.
Producer Steven Soderbergh, the man who directed “Traffic” and “Erin Brokovich,” among many other fine films, helmed the broadcast and was determined to make it more intimate and cinematic than usual. Alright, as movie critic, I’ll play ball.
“Steven Soderbergh’s The Oscars” gets 1 star. The night was nearly non-stop drudgery, zero humor and a format that tried even the most resolute of attention spans.
Too bad. The ceremony started out promisingly. Presenter Regina King confidently strutted through Los Angeles’ Union Station, which was reconfigured to host the event, like it was a catwalk during Fashion Week. And she arrived to a neat art deco-looking banquet hall where the trophies would be handed out. Cool, new, fun!
Yeah, for a good 90 seconds. While the retro set suggested a classic Dean Martin roast, we got a kindergarten graduation ceremony instead.
At this event, which ostensibly is meant to celebrate the movies, we rarely saw clips of any of the films. Rather, we were told saccharine trivia about the nominees: So-and-so used to work as a telemarketer; what’s-his-name researched his role really super hard. When the cinematography, editing and acting nominees were called out, viewers didn’t get to see their extraordinary output. We listened to dumb tidbits available online.
The Academy believes in the movies so much, they made Best Picture the third-to-last category of the night (“Nomadland” won”). The producers clearly assumed the late Chadwick Boseman would win Best Actor, the final award presented, and it would be moving and historic. Well, he didn’t. The night ended without a winner’s speech from Anthony Hopkins (“The Father“). Imbeciles.
Meanwhile, our eyes couldn’t take this self-righteous snooze-fest. The camera work was purposefully shaky, the acceptance speeches were shot pretentiously off-center and the cinematic frame-rate robbed this news event of electricity. They could make a buck selling the telecast as a smartphone sleep-improvement app.
At least at your average kindergarten graduation, the cute little kids sing a tune. This year, all the Best Song nominees were relegated to the red carpet pre-show, which even fewer people watch, so there was no variety to spice things up.
None of the broadcast’s many indulgences were the fault of the winners. There were memorable moments in the speeches. The best moment of the night was Yuh-Jung Youn (“Minari”) flirting with Brad Pitt and asking “Where were you when we were filming?” Early on, Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) hilariously thanked his parents for having sex to conceive him. And, touchingly, Thomas Vinterberg honored his daughter who died shortly before he made “Another Round.” Glenn Close danced “Da Butt” for Lil Rel Howery, who should’ve hosted.
The Oscars were also right to honor Tyler Perry with the humanitarian award for the very real help he gave to normal people during the pandemic, unlike his compatriots who applauded themselves while they told us how their films changed the world.
They talked, and talked, and talked, and when we finally reached the In Memoriam, beloved lost Hollywood royalty like Sean Connery, Boseman, Ennio Morricone, Carl Reiner, Christopher Plummer and Cloris Leachman were sped through like an afterthought.
How doesn’t Hollywood understand that audiences expect a night of entertainment from their entertainers? The politics, the slobbering adoration and over-acted introductions are hardly ever tolerable, but even more so when not balanced by fun. And don’t tell me that a good-time award show is tone-deaf right now — the biggest movie in America is “Godzilla vs. Kong,” for God’s sake.
If the Oscars wish to remain an American cultural touchstone — fat chance — they cannot go back to the days of being a tiny industry trade event at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. They need to stop being Oscars So Slight.
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