Updated: Mar 28, 2020
It's 2020 and the Oscars are still bad.
One could argue that all award shows are quite bad and, sure, I could see that, but the Oscars have always had this aura of being a step above everything else by balancing a certain idea of prestigiousness associated with cinema as an art form with frivolous televized entertainment where golden statuettes are handed out to very charming millionaires.
This paradox always puts the Oscars in a constant risk of tipping over. If it gets too silly, the wins won't be taken seriously, if it gets too serious, it'll make for a boring show.
There have been times when speeches making more political statements were booed, see Michael Moore winning for Bowling For Columbine, there have been times when these were celebrated. And, whether you like these speeches or not, the fact that this has been tough for the Oscars to handle is not because of the speeches themselves but because of the aforementioned balancing act that, in fact, makes no sense.
Of course, Hollywood stars want to make serious speeches because they all know that this is not a very good show but, by virtue of it just existing, it presents a useful platform to promote things that actually matter. Not that cinema doesn't matter, all art does, but in this specific fancy dress-wearing, award-giving context it can feel too trivial, even to those involved in the filmmaking process.
Think about it: the Oscars as a show is so bad that actors and actresses would rather talk about something else, anything else, using the show as a soapbox rather than going along with what might feel like a vain self pat on the back. This might not always make for great entertainment but it's a respectable endeavour nonetheless.
But there is also some potential hypocrisy at play here.
Natalie Portman was criticized this year for wearing a cape with the names of women directors who failed to be recognized by the Academy embroidered on it. This might feel hypocritical since Portman's own production company hasn't done much to promote women directors but, then again, the actress has worked with numerous female directors so maybe this isn't so much a case of hypocrisy as it is a general repulsion to the idea of having stuff sewn into your fancy cape, which is a rich people thing to do and, as such, is a little off-putting and undermines Portman's message a bit.
That said, the message itself is actually totally fine and important. Just like Brad Pitt using his speech to promote the valid idea of handing out awards to stunt people.
Portman and Pitt make good points but they are points they wouldn't have had to make, had the Oscars been good.
In addition, had the Oscars been good, participating in said ceremony wouldn't carry with it a disqualifying weight. Is Brad Pitt hypocritical for collecting his award in a show he criticizes? No. Perhaps he likes the idea of the show but thinks, rightly, that the execution could be improved. Is Natalie Portman hypocritical for wearing fancy clothes at a fancy awards show? No. Though, like I said, the glamorous vibe the Oscars promote, with the red carpet interviews and such, can be a turn off for viewers who may not care that an actor is wearing some overpriced suit.
The Oscars are so bad, you see, that the very idea of participating in the show while having your own opinions feels hypocritical, even though it may not be.
Hosts are a big deal for the Oscars as a good host can vastly improve or help destroy the show. The Oscars' record has been hit-and-miss: for every Steve Martin there's been a Jimmy Kimmel, for every Billy Crystal there's been an Ellen DeGeneres.
It's another balancing act the comedian or actor has to manage perfectly whereby they have to be hilarious, roast the stars to a certain extent but also be respectful and professional. Chris Rock was brought in one year to take on the "Oscars So White" fiasco and he did an excellent job, even if said fiasco could have been bypassed altogether had the Oscars not been bad in the first place.
"Bad" here meaning racist, but also bad.
The shambolic lead-up to the 2019 Oscars saw the Academy pick a new host, Kevin Hart, before thinking twice about that choice following the resurfacing of the comedian's old homophobic tweets so, to avoid further controversy, 2019 had no host and no host was selected for 2020 either. This, of course, didn't help give the show more personality or make it look more inclusive, especially since the number of African American nominees this year was negligible. I would argue that the lack of a host is revealing of the Oscars' reluctance to get criticized or roasted too much because, god forbid, one might remind the Academy that black people and women exist and make movies too.
Then there's the In Memoriam segment.
Talk about a reliable train wreck. This is something the Oscars have failed to do right for many years and, incidentally, it's quite possibly the simplest segment to get right in the entire show. Here is nothing more than a montage showing pictures of people in the industry who passed away the previous year, with music played over it. It should be a breeze but, somehow, every single year the Academy leaves people out but this, amazingly, is no accident. Indeed, there are actually people out there deciding which dead people deserve to be mentioned on the show and which ones don't. When criticized for it this year, the Academy directed people to Oscars dot com where a full list could be found, like that means anything.
Why have any show, then?
Glaring omissions in previous years included the likes of Harold Ramis, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Stephen Furst, Miguel Ferrer, Tobe Hooper, Oscar-winner Dorothy Malone and Adam West. You know, THE BATMAN. This year, Luke Perry, who starred in Oscar-winning movie Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, was forgotten along with cult icon Sid Haig and many others.
There is no excuse for this.
These are people who worked their whole lives in the film industry and passed, possibly with the thought that maybe, just maybe, they'd at least get a mention at the Oscars someday. This is a segment the Academy actively gets wrong every year, it goes out of its way to do so, and it's frankly baffling. Just have the full list on the show, paying appropriate tribute to everyone or don't do the segment at all, it's as simple as that.
Much was said about South Korean film Parasite winning Best Picture but, while this was certainly a good pick, one wonders why international films only get a major nod once in a blue moon.
This is a huge inconsistency with the Oscars as some years appear to be very inclusive in that regard but most years, international films are completely ignored and pigeon holed into the Best Foreign Language Film award. This has prompted a debate on whether the latter category is redundant at this point or whether foreign language films should be honored outside of that category at all. An obnoxious debate that wouldn't need to take place if the Academy made any sense at all.
Again, there is no logic here and the only conclusion has to be that the Oscars are bad and the Academy works hard to pretend they aren't once every few years, just so everyone doesn't give up on the show entirely.
Here's my point, to conclude this rant:
If the Academy has to try so very hard to pretend to put on a good, inclusive and useful show every once in a while, why not try so very hard instead to actually put on a good show, for real? And wouldn't it be nice if it also picked a tone? Or honored people who have passed properly? Or instead of statues gave out money to young filmmakers or charities of the winners' choosing? Films resonate with people because they capture real human emotions, wouldn't it be good to see a show where the usually glamorous actors and actresses are finally allowed to let their hair down?
I would say keep watching the Oscars on the off chance that they improve at some point but, then again, all the Oscar winners are listed on Google dot com the next day so why bother?