It’s no joke: the Academy Awards show is going host-free

Cairns on Cinema

John Cairns

In this edition of my Cairns on Cinema column, my focus turns to the upcoming Oscar show. Yes, the Academy Awards telecast is happening on Feb. 24, and once again it promises to be another long, pretentious effort.

Yet again, I will probably tune in to at least some of the show, even though I never enjoy watching it. It’s always too long. The musical numbers are always too pointless. I’ll even complain about the usual omissions from the “In Memoriam” segment. And so on.

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Rather than bore you with my long-winded rant on why I think the Oscar telecast is never any good, I will focus this column on specific issues with this year’s show. There have been a few.

Issue number one. The hostless Oscars.

You may have heard that the Oscar show plans to have no host at all this year. Their original plan to have Kevin Hart be the emcee went up in smoke a while ago. The outraged people on Twitter unearthed Hart’s homophobic tweets from years ago that they didn’t find funny at all, and Hart stepped down. Then came the backlash to the backlash, with people calling for Hart to be reinstated, but Hart finally said no and that was that.

The so-called search for a replacement went on until an announcement was finally made that there will be no host. I don’t know what went down behind the scenes; I have no idea how many potential hosts turned down the gig or whether the producers even tried very hard to find a replacement.

Maybe, just maybe, everyone concerned simply decided it was time for a change. Besides, there is no question that hosting the Oscars has become a pointless and painful task.

Traditionally, the gig had gone to a prominent comedian – Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Billy Crystal, Ellen DeGeneres and more recently Jimmy Kimmel are some examples.

The whole idea was to have someone there who would lighten the mood on a nervous night for showbiz people. Yet it never works. Every year, these comedians would go on stage and attempt to extract laughs from the nervous Oscar audience and it is like pulling teeth. 

But that is beside the point. The real problem in 2019 is that all of America has lost all sense of humor.

Things are so politically charged right now with Donald Trump in the White House that no one can take a joke. Everyone is offended. Comedians are now just one wrong step away from having their entire careers destroyed by the angry mob on Twitter.

It really is a minefield. Folks like Jerry Seinfeld have been complaining about how they won’t play at college campuses any more because of how politically correct things are there.

Yet this isn’t some campus we’re talking about. This is 10 times worse: Oscar night, in front of the toughest crowd in entertainment, the entire movie industry. Not to mention millions of people around the world, all set to explode on Twitter. 

If it is true no one wants the host’s job, is it any wonder? The Academy is doing all comedians a favour by doing away with hosts this year. They don’t need this gig, and the headaches associated with it.

Issue number two. The ill-fated decision to cut the craft awards from the show.

A big controversy erupted in the wake of a decision by the Academy to cut back on the number of awards shown on air, in an attempt to improve the flow and cut down on the usual over-length of the Oscar show.  

They ended up cutting the “crafts” awards. Instead of presenting these awards live, the plan was for the Oscars for cinematography, film editing, makeup and hairstyling and the live-action short will all be presented off-air while the commercial breaks are on. The winning speeches will then air later in the broadcast.

This spawned an immediate angry backlash in Hollywood, so much so that the Academy had to issue a statement later to make clear that these branches volunteered to have their segments shown off-air in the interest of time, and to reiterate that these categories would, in fact, still be in the show. On tape. 

That still did not quell the critics. I thought a better idea would have been to cut out the commercials instead. It’s not like Oscar show commercials are ever any good. Super Bowl commercials are far better anyway.

What was most disappointing to me personally is that these are probably my favourite Oscars at the entire show, because they recognize rank-and-file folks in the movie industry, people who don’t get the attention they deserve. For the Academy to want to give these people their awards during commercial breaks, instead of live in front of a worldwide audience, really does seem like a slap in the face.   

In any event, the Academy finally bent to the public and Hollywood pressure, and reversed their decision. They have reinstated all four of these awards in the main show to be shown live. 

This whole episode was embarrassing to the Academy, to be sure, but it’s not the first time they tried to make changes to this year’s show, only to reverse their decision.

Issue number three: Oscar’s ill-fated attempt at a popular-movie category.

Perhaps the dumbest move this Oscar season was the attempt by the Academy to create a brand-new awards category for popular movies.

This was meant to address an ongoing problem. For years, the movies that movie fans really wanted to see – all these blockbusters -– would all get the shaft at nomination time.   

Instead, the nominations and Best Picture wins would always go to these upper-crust movies. The Hurt Locker. The King’s Speech. Birdman. Spotlight. Moonlight. And so on.

You see the problem. The Oscar show would always end up being a celebration of movies that, quite frankly, the younger generation just doesn’t care about. Compounding it is the fact that it is young people, the millennial generation, who are the biggest consumers of Hollywood’s product. They drive the box office, but here is Hollywood always putting out a pretentious awards show that doesn’t capitalize on all that interest. 

The Academy tried expanding the nominations so that up to 10 movies could be nominated for Best Picture, so maybe a superhero movie or something similar might get nominated and boost the viewership among the younger folks.

Since that has not worked, the Academy came up with a brilliant idea this year: the creation of a brand-new Oscar category for “achievement in popular film.”

Well, that idea went over like a lead balloon, and the category was scrapped. The reason for the backlash was that it looked like the Academy was going to consign these movies made for the mass audiences to some second-rate award category.

What’s more, it seemed like this was a move towards turning the Oscars into some sort of popularity contest. That’s not what it’s supposed to be either; this is not the People’s Choice Awards. 

Still, I really don’t like the idea of Oscar nominations always going to movies that mass audiences really don’t care much about. It seems like there are two classes of movies: ones aimed at the Oscar voters “elites,” and ones aimed at mass audiences.

The question I’ve asked for years is: why can’t the Best Picture be one and the same – a hit with Oscar voters and mass audiences alike? That’s the way it used to be, when movies like The Godfather, The Sting, Rocky, Titanic and Forrest Gump would win Best Picture.

I suppose what I want to see is the Best Picture award being more of a “movie of the year” category. Give the Oscar to the movie that made the biggest impact with audiences and critics alike, one that will be remembered for decades to come.

If we were all honest about it, the movie best fitting this description from 2018 is Black Panther. Yes, it was the domestic box office champion, but more importantly it was groundbreaking (a black superhero) and film critics loved it.

It’s up for Best Picture, so we’ll see if Academy voters have the guts to make the clear “movie of the year” of 2018 an Oscar winner.

Personally, I’m not counting on Black Panther or other fan favourites like A Star is Born or Bohemian Rhapsody winning Best Picture at all. (In fact, there is quite a bit of backlash to Bohemian Rhapsody, with a few people saying it shouldn’t have been nominated for Best Picture.) If history is any guide, don’t be surprised if the Oscar goes to Roma or Green Book.   

That’s all I have to say about the upcoming Oscar show. No doubt I will be tuning in, in spite of myself, yet again.  


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