The saddest moment during the Oscars in my household Sunday night came when the cache of saved footage ran out on the Tivo and we were no longer able to fast-forward through the commercials – and the boring parts. (We tuned in a half-hour late after watching “The Amazing Race.”)
There was an abundance of both commercials AND boring parts. And this in a year when, for the first time in personal memory, I really didn’t care who won. “Slumdog”? OK. “The Reader”? Sure. “Milk”? Why not? Just get on with it and get it over.
One innovation that did work: Having the acting awards presented by a council of elders, as it were, past winners of the same award, each of whom directly addressed a single nominee. When they did it for supporting actress, I had an “uh-oh” moment, thinking, “If they do this for every award, we’re in for a long evening.” Thankfully, they trotted it out for only the acting awards – and it had a nice emotional weight to it.
Otherwise, this reconfigured Oscars telecast failed for a much simpler reason: It was the most ineptly directed Oscar show ever. Over and over again, producers Laurence Mark and Bill Condon made sure the cameras were focused in the wrong place, draining several key moments of their dramatic impact. They repeatedly had the cameras trained on their ever-changing series of stage sets, which dwarfed the video screens showing the footage that the at-home audience really wanted to see.
Here are the five worst moments from the telecast:
5. Weak writing and nobody presenters: I’m sorry – Zac Efron as an Oscar presenter? Sure, the guy is box office – at least in the “High School Musical” series – but what else has he done? By that logic, the show should have been hosted by Tyler Perry (each of whose movies has done more business than “Australia”). With the exception of Steve Martin and Tina Fey (who, I would imagine, wrote their own dialogue), the banter between presenters was incredibly thin; Jack Black and Jennifer Aniston gave me chills of embarrassment. While Hugh Jackman’s opening number was clever and energetic, nothing he said afterward was worth repeating – or remembering.
4. Distracting graphics: When the nominees for each category were announced, they were squeezed into a rectangle even smaller than a letter-box image, in the center of the screen – and then given a split-screen treatment within that tiny rectangle. Even worse, that rectangle was framed by a monochromatic collage of moving images from some of the year’s other films. The one that inevitably drew the eye was a shot from “Kung Fu Panda,” just southeast of main image.
3. Distracting sets: One of the Marks’ and Condon’s “innovations” was to present the awards in an order that would tell the story of how a movie is made. But for several of the most visual of these awards, you couldn’t see anything BUT the set. For the set and costume design awards, for example, presenters Daniel Craig and Sarah Jessica Parker stood in front of a set within which were hung several video screens, which showed the designs the presenters were talking about. But the viewing audience never got the direct feed of those video images – and was forced to try to discern what was on screens that were seen in miniature in the background. Were Condon and Marks afraid that showing the actual images would distract from their genius production design (which, of course, is what we all tune in for, right)?
2. In Memoriam: Same problem as #3 – only worse. When the montage of faces of the departed rolled, again the viewing audience never got a straight feed of the images being presented. Instead, we had to try to read tiny printed names on tiny screens in the background as Queen Latifah sang, “I’ll Be Seeing You.” All hail the Queen – but you’d think that people like Sydney Pollack, Anthony Minghella and Paul Newman, the final three in the montage, deserved a full-screen, rather than being presented as a background image that seemed like an afterthought.
1. Jerry Lewis: Winner of the Jean Hersholt humanitarian award, Lewis’ appearance was much-anticipated and speculated about. Would he do something silly-crazy? Would he unleash bitter invective against an Academy which, for too long, had given him the high hat? Would he make an inappropriate joke? But no – he gave a classy speech, looking pretty good for an 82-year-old man who has overcome significant health problems. And then, once he’d said his final thank you, he started to mug. Which is exactly when the camera left him to show the whole audience – laughing at his antics, which the home audience never saw.
All in all, an Oscar night to forget – if it hasn’t already been forgotten.