If it’s midwinter, we should gear up for our annual visit from Oscar, 91 years old this year. In other words, the 91st annual presentation of the Academy Awards is scheduled to make Hollywood — specifically, the Dolby Theater on Hollywood Boulevard — the center of the known universe on the night of Sunday, Feb. 24. A lot of gold statuettes have been handed out to industry-approved recipients over the course of 90 years. And this month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the AMPAS, to its friends) will hand out a bunch more.
This year’s nominees have been announced, and the usual suspects are represented. They encompass many of the movies, actors, and behind-the-camera folks already recognized in critics’ polls and early annual prizes such as the Screen Actors Guild Awards and even that booze-fueled circus presented by the ever-questionable Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the Golden Globes.
Although I repeatedly bleat my disdain for all the self-congratulatory extravaganzas that pit artist against artist in competition for baubles, the Oscars are as inescapable and inevitable as a traffic jam on the Los Angeles freeways — and usually as mind-numbingly tedious. And for anyone who covers the movie industry in a professional capacity, this particular pageant of glitter, glamour, and gladhanding must be endured, addressed, and discussed. It’s my beat, and like it or not, I will be sitting there in front of a TV screen or laptop, along with millions of other viewers across the globe.
THE SHOW MUST GO ON … AND ON AND ON
I do have certain caveats. I have little interest in and no intention of watching the preshow with vapid mannequins asking more talented mannequins the deathless question, “Who are you wearing?” I’ve always hoped someone would show up with a baby carrier slung over a tux or gown and answer, “My newborn child.” One of these days, we might see a nominee on the red carpet with a ferret draped around his or her shoulders. I’m not counting on it when, in recent years, the countdown to the actual event has become primarily about high-fashion designers using nominees as walking billboards. Celebrity-hungry gossip-consuming types and fashion magazine pundits will tune in and gobble it up. I’ll pass.
The show finally starts with the requisite monologue. That’s when I normally begin to take interest, especially if the M.C. is someone with serious comedy chops — which is not the case this time in any way, shape, or form. Proposed host Kevin Hart bowed out due to some politically incorrect remarks that required the notoriously unfunny actor-comedian to apologize to the movie industry and the public at large. The academy responded by deciding to go the no-host route, instead planning to just have the standard parade of stars emerge onto the stage, per usual, to read the nominations and call the winners — only without any kibitzing by an M.C. Regardless of how it goes, you can still expect the broadcast to run overtime, even without the monologue and generally awful interstitial comedy bits that the master or mistress of ceremonies normally undertakes.
In previous years, I have been asked to handicap the event beforehand or appraise it in the aftermath, or both — and if asked again, I will agree to do either or both, despite any misgivings. To be fair, the Academy Awards do celebrate the art of film in a grander and more high-profile manner than any other single event throughout the year. If you love cinema (and I believe that most if not all movie reviewers do), you’d best pay attention to what happens on Oscar night. For better or worse, the nominations and wins have a major impact on movie industry careers (actors, directors, screenwriters, and others), and box office performance.
The ultimate irony is that all of my protestations invariably amount to nothing as the trophy presentations begin. That’s when the knee-jerk satisfaction kicks in if one of my favorites wins and the contempt bubbles up at the sight of an unworthy victor. I may blanch at the idea of the Oscars as a contest, but if it’s going to happen, I’d prefer to see genuine talent triumph. So I will be rooting for, among others, the glistening memory play Roma; the warm-hearted antisegregation period dramedy Green Book; and the unconventional tale of found family and urban survival in harsh economic times, Shoplifters — however they are nominated. The klieg lights will cut the night sky over Hollywood, and the Academy Awards will be given out. They might as well get it right.