Forgive me for posting this nearly a month before the Oscar telecast, but my hope is that by reading this now, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences can enact at least some of my suggestions by the time the program is set to air. Also, if celebrity snark or movie references aren't your thing, give this one a miss. See you next week!
I have watched the Academy Awards for as long as I can remember. I'm not one of those nostalgic types who thinks past ceremonies were any better, because they've always been self-important, overly long, and a strange combination of pandering and elitist. Consider this awkward, toothless, opening number from 1995. Make 'em laugh, indeed. Who is this for, precisely? Who said, "If Kathy Najimy isn't prominently featured with a toothless girl and Dr. Frankenfurter, I am done with this program!" And how odd that it exists as an intro to David Letterman, a notorious anti-host who, as I remember, brought out a dog who spins when you applaud, but then got mad because the audience kept applauding while he was trying to set up the bit so the dog just kept spinning, and then he showed a montage of a roster of celebrities doing his single line from Cabin Boy ("Would you like to buy a monkey?").
But I watched the show before I even knew anything about the films being honoured, or the actors and actresses up for awards. I will continue to watch this year, even though I've seen none of the nominated movies. I saw This Is 40 recently and quite liked it, though I have no desire to sit through the literal torture of it's bizarre prequel, Zero Dark 30. I'm sure Argo is good, I'm sure men stand around in shirtsleeves smoking. I'll bet Lincoln is grand and sweeping, and Les Mis is bleak but singy. But I just don't want to sit through any of it, you know? I'd like to see How to Survive a Plague because I love a good documentary and seeing activism does my heart good. Oh, and I think I might like The Sessions because it's a feel-good story where Helen Hunt has sex with a paralyzed man which reminds me of The Waterdance, a movie that I loved, where Helen Hunt has sex with a paralyzed man.
My reluctance to see the films notwithstanding, I have low expectations of Oscar night. Some people will win, most people will lose. People will cry that this person was robbed, or this film deserved more attention. People will snark on the outfits, the comedy bits, the speeches. But I'll still watch every minute, and so will you, because we're all kind of hoping for a glimpse of the what's behind the curtain of the Hollywood facade. We'll determine exactly what makes the famous so special and different from us. That doesn't mean the ceremony is necessarily any good though, so here are a few things I'd like to see changed in my lifetime.
Dream: Revamp the Academy Awards.
Goal: Achievable. There used to be five movies up for Best Picture, now they consider up to ten. The show used to take place in New York, now it's in LA. Comedy films used to be considered worthy of accolades, now they are not. Things change, why can't I be the one the change them?
Plan: Shake up what is tried and true to make for a more exciting ceremony. Take another look at:
1) The Nominations for Best and Best Supporting Actor and Actress. Guess what? Gone! No nominations will be announced in any of acting categories. Instead, whomever won the award the previous year gets to pick who wins it this year. So, using the 2012 ceremony as an example, Meryl Streep would pick the Best Actress and Jean Dujuardin would pick the Best Actor. There could be no conflict of interest, though. You couldn't vote for yourself, nor could you select someone from a film that you had anything to do with. Meryl Streep couldn't win one year, for instance, then be in a movie with Kate Winslet the following year, then name Kate Winslet the Best Actress for that movie. There can be no discernible ties, and if any are discovered, the recipient is disqualified. The presenter could still have Bruce Vilanche-style banter before they make the announcement, though. "Picking a winner made me les miserable! I wish I had some kind of playbook to find a silver lining in all of this!" The hands-down best part of this process would be seeing who showed up to the ceremony. Because if no nominations are announced, any actor in any movie could be potentially selected. So whose ego is so big, which performer is so confident, that they show up in their finery to the Kodak Theater? I bet Julia Roberts would show up every year, Alec Baldwin, too, no matter what garbage they made that year. To ensure she got a spot, Anne Hathaway would camp outside the venue for days. That would mean every telecast would be star-studded! And to accommodate all the ego-driven heathens, no spouses or family would be allowed in. Halle Berry next to Jonah Hill next to Naomi Watts next to Burt Reynolds. Wall to wall stars!
2) The Host and the Bits. What goes into selecting an Oscar host? Do the producers just flip through Shitty Personalities Magazine and pick a person at random? James Franco and Anne Hathaway? Billy Crystal (who manages to be blandly inoffensive with his hack jokes, then incredibly out of touch by doing impressions in blackface)? And Seth MacFarlane. I'm sure the guy has merit. Creating several hit animated series is impressive, but his stock and trade seems to be vulgar humour, which he surely won't be allowed to exhibit here. So there will be middle-of-the-road song and dance and cringe-y bits where Quagmire and Stewie insert themselves into the nominated films. I say let the professional hosts do the hosting. How about every year, a personality that already hosts something hosts the Academy Awards? Yes that means we'd probably have to suffer through a Leno year, but that would also give us another Letterman go, a Jimmy Fallon Oscars, a Jimmy Kimmel Oscars, a Conan Oscars, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, the cast of SNL, Chelsea Handler, that awful Scottish guy that follows Dave, Key and Peele, Charlie Rose, Ricki Lake, Garrison Keillor, Nancy Grace. And their sensibilities determined the bits? Terry Gross might ask probing, insightful questions of some of the famous attendees, while Maury might surprise guests with paternity test results. Uneven from year to year maybe, but isn't it already?
3) Retroactive award-taking. This sounds mean, but stick with me. Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture the year that Do the Right Thing and Sex, Lies, and Videotape came out (the latter two weren't even nominated). Alfred Hitchcock never won Best Director for any of his now classic movies. Sandra Bullock, you guys. I have nothing against her, she seems charming and can carry a comedy ("That's not how a beauty pageant contestant is supposed to behave!"). But did anyone actually watch The Blind Side? I know this rant is irrelevant now, years later, but that movie is crazy racist! After she won the Oscar for it, I rented it from the video store where I worked (thank god it was free, couldn't live with myself if I paid for it), and it was really upsetting. Sandra Bullock plays a white woman in a white family who lets a black high school student stay with them and he turns out to be good at football. That's the movie. But they treat this black student like he's an exotic bird or sign-language gorilla. He's always skulking around in a wide shot, hardly ever speaks, everyone is scared of him. He gets paired up with Bullock's eight year old son who treats him like a peer, and not an older person to be respected or anything. And the guy himself, the football star, is devoid of personality. He's not happy, not angry, not sexual, not contemplative, not nothing, just "Yes ma'am, no sir, thank you." If his part was played by a white actor as a white character, you would think this character is mentally retarded. Go back and watch the trailer, and pretend Mike, silently lumbering around, is white. I'm sorry, maybe I'm just being contrary, but I really can't with this nonsense. So anyway, at the end of every ceremony, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has the opportunity to take an Oscar away. They don't have to do it every year, but wouldn't it be something if they could? They could also reject the decision of the actor/actress presenter who decides the actor/actress trophies. So if Daniel Day Lewis picks an obscure French clown to win Best Actor (seems like something he would do), at the end of the broadcast, a spokesman for the Academy could say, "Sorry Le Jolie Pamplemousse, we must take your Oscar away."
4)) Also, In Memorium runs ninety seconds max, so no one is allowed to clap because if there's one thing I can't abide, it's solemn applause for dead people, and 5) let's bring back bad presenter pairings and terrible banter. Worse than it is now. I want Tommy Lee Jones and Tony Danza to present Sound Effects Editing preceded by the following witty exchange:
DANZA: Just so we're clear Tommy, I'm the boss.
TOMMY LEE JONES: No, I'm the boss.
DANZA: I'm the boss!
TOMMY LEE JONES (stone-faced glare for twenty uninterrupted seconds)
Here to present the Best Original Score, please welcome Larry Flynt and Dr. Stephen Hawking!
LARRY: You know, Stephen, we have more in common than our wheelchairs...
HAWKING: (Beeps and mechanized whirring and buzzing)
LARRY: I also have a theory about black holes...
LARRY: I also have a theory about black holes...
HAWKING (Robot voice): Hey now! Let's get to the nominees!
Carol Channing and Lil Wayne, Anthony Hopkins and Flo the Progressive Car Rental Lady, Sidney Poitier, Dame Maggie Smith, and Honey Boo Boo. Let's do it all.
I was talking to my Twitter friend Marrilee, and we figured the best thing to do in for this upcoming broadcast is outsource it to the people at OWN. They could use the ratings, and the personalities from that network could be easily integrated. Oprah could host, Iyanla Vanzant could be the muscle that silences yammering winners. Dr. Phil could do that thing where he walks into the audience and picks up his wife and walks out (because Mrs. Phil is a seat-filler professionally, the Oscars are her biggest night). Dr. Oz could tell you about your bowels.
Again, it's almost impossible to determine exactly what makes the Academy Awards appealing to those of us who find it appealing, and I realize I've lost most of you with this lengthy thesis. Dr. Jon, for instance, is so out of touch with celebrity and pop culture, that when we went to watch the awards at a friend's house a few years ago, he mistook Morgan Freeman for Nelson Mandela and Michael Douglas for Pat Sajack. But this is my Superbowl, Stanley Cup, or... I don't know, dick measuring competition on ESPN 2. And four Sundays from now I'll be parked on my couch with a bowl of salt and a drink of sweet and a keen eye, ready for that glimpse behind the curtain.