For those who watched the Academy Awards® March 5th, the evening turned into a night of surprises when the movie CRASH edged out BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN for Best Picture. Yet, there were some downsides to the broadcast, and host Jon Stewart was the biggest disappointment for many, including myself, and according to the multiple press reports I read.
Frazier Moore, AP television writer wrote, "[Stewart's] usually impeccable blend of puckishness and self-effacement fell flat in the service of Oscar®." At one point Stewart reminded the audience that he is an outsider to the movie business quipping, "Tonight is the night we celebrate excellence in film with ME, the fourth male lead from 'Death to Smoochy." He also refrained from strong political humor as not to offend the dozen or so Republicans that might have been present.
To me, Stewart was awkward from the beginning. His timing was definitely off, unless it is like that all the time. His zings at obvious targets had no sting. His biggest laugh was a reference to the swan dress that singer Bjork wore in 2001. That was an easy hit. His jokes received mostly polite laughter.
The program got off to a good start with the audience-pleasing Best Supporting Actor award to George Clooney for SYRIANA. Then, it hit a slump.
THE MINUSES -
Following the first award, there was about an hour of salutes to visual effects, animated feature film, live action short film, animated short film, sound editing, costume design and makeup, etc., awards that mean nothing to anyone outside the industry.
AP writer Bob Thomas asked why those awards couldn't be presented at another time like the technical awards. Then, he answered his own question with "no," for three reasons: The Academy makes enough money from the awards to finance its yearly activities, ABC also earns a bundle from commercials on the show, and the Board of Governors consists of representatives of all the creative branches. None would ever permit their categories to be downgraded.
Film montages that were cut so rapidly that the average viewer couldn't follow them was another minus. I mean, you see someone on the scene and ask yourself, "Now, who is that?" Poof, on to the next clip before your mind can answer its own question. Can't those young hot shots slow the pace just a tad in the montages? To me, those were the most annoying segments.
Actually, some were somewhat defacing, especially the "Brokeback Mountain" spoof depicting the likes of John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Alan Ladd, etc., with dialog and non-verbal behavior that suggested they were actually depicting homosexual characters. The clips were obviously doctored.
Another montage made fun of the first names of the best-actress nominees, Judi, Felicity, Keira, Charlize, and Reese. Bad taste as well. Then, there was the black & white salute to film noir that interrupted the flow of the program, and had no relation to the rest of the program whatsoever, at least as far as I could tell.
Finally, Stewart quipped, "I can't wait until we have another montage." The audience showed agreement.
THE PLUSES -
The best song category was cut to three nominees, all the film scores where showcased in one medley, there weren't hardly any attempts by the presenters to make cute remarks, and the majority of the females walked to the podium by themselves, proving they actually could get there without being on the arm of some superfluous male. Biggest kudos in that department go to the 81-year-old Lauren Bacall.
Director/writer/producer Robert Altman, whom I have long admired, received a long standing ovation as the recipient of an honorary Oscar for his extensive career as director of risky movies. I didn't know he had a complete heart transplant a few years back. He is still going strong at 81.
The rousing performance by Dolly Parton, singing the song she wrote and performed for TRANSAMERICA, "Travelin' Through." I saw Dolly perform live when I attended the Academy Awards in the early 1980s. In that particular show, she sang the song she wrote for the movie NINE TO FIVE ("9 to 5"), which was nominated. Although her voice is getting a little thin, she is still a bundle of talent and exuberance that excites audiences wherever she appears. Afterwards, the attendees showed their appreciation of the performance.
The Three 6 Mafia performing "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," from HUSTLE & FLOW. I'm not a fan of hip hop, and can't abide rap, but I liked this song, especially the beautiful vocalist Taraji Henson. She sang the over-laid melody (the hook), and portrayed Shug in the movie.
I saw the movie after the awards, and I think Terrence Howard was robbed for the best actor award. Oh, I know that Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) turned in a terrific imitative performance, but Howard brought his character to life as an original. The same can be said about Felicity Huffman (Transamerica) as compared to Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line) for best actress. I've seen WALK the LINE, and I didn't see the substance in the performance, but I'm tough.
You see, I'm growing weary of actors and actresses getting awards for imitating a formerly famous, now dead person. I have seen every motion picture, and many TV shows starring Katherine Hepburn, and I still do not think that Cate Blanchett deserved the best supporting actress award in 2005 for her portrayal of the strong inimitable Kate.
THE AFTERGLOW -
The TV ratings came in 6 March, and they were down. According to Lynn Elber, an AP entertainment writer, an estimated 39 million people watched the Academy Awards this year, as compared to 42 million last year, which pulled a 30 rating and 43 share. This year's was 27 and 40, each down three points.
According to Nielsen Media Research, the Oscars hadn't dipped below 40 million viewers since 1987, except for the 2003 count of 33 million viewers when CHICAGO took the best-picture award.
However, the Oscars did give ABC a welcome ratings boost over its network rivals, ranking as the night's most popular show by far, and the most watched non-sports broadcast so far this season. Here is the statistic that counts the most, the Oscars remain a coveted program for advertisers, with the average cost of a 30-second commercial spot on the Academy Awards costing about $1.5 million in 2004 and 2005.
Frazier Moore wrote that the biggest winner of the night could be Jon Stewart, because many viewers of the broadcast might tune in to Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" for the first time. Then, again, if they had the same reaction I did, not likely.