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Wednesday, February 29,2012

The screening room

Time for 'Celebrity Rehab: Academy Awards Edition'

by James Sanford

Rise and shine: The Academy Awards are finally over.

Don’t feel the need to apologize if you slumbered through that star-studded circus on Sunday night; it was barely worth staying awake to witness. 

If last year’s Oscar ceremony — hosted by an all-too-eager-to-please Anne Hathaway and a nearly somnambulant James Franco — was a fascinatingly misguided mess, this year’s fiasco was almost as exciting as being served a TV dinner that had languished in the far recesses of the freezer since 1995.

A cat may have nine lives, but an Oscar host does not, as Billy Crystal learned when he returned for his ninth stint as emcee. Joke after joke clunked — apparently to Crystal’s great surprise, since he frequently paused after a punchline to wait for the guffaws that weren’t coming — and even such once-reliable gimmicks as Crystal’s opening spoof of the nominated films and his “what are the stars thinking” segment barely registered. Aside from an eye-catching Cirque du Soleil spot and a couple of entertaining acceptance speeches (supporting actor winner Christopher Plummer got more laughs in his first 30 seconds than Crystal did in his first 90 minutes), the show lumbered from start to finish.

As never-quite-made-it movie star Nancy Reagan used to say, “Stop the madness.”

It’s time for the Academy Awards to come back to the land of the living. Here’s a strategy plan.

Hotter, hipper hosts: No, don’t summon Hathaway and Franco back from exile (heavens, no). Get some sharp, snappy people who can think on their feet, like Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig, Neil Patrick Harris and Ryan Reynolds. (Don’t laugh at that last name: In person, Reynolds is one of the most engaging, quick-witted guys around — how strange that so many of his cinematic comedies don’t take advantage of his natural flair for ad-libbing.)

Or the Academy could go for elegance and class by asking former winners like Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren or George Clooney to host the show. As for Crystal and his stale shtick, let’s chip in for an all-expenses-paid trip to the Catskills. 

You’re saluting movies — show us some of them: This year’s Oscars did a slam-bang job of concealing most of what it was supposedly celebrating. There were about 30 seconds of clips from best picture winner “The Artist,” and they were shown repeatedly. Viewers were treated to maybe 12 seconds of “Man or Muppet,” which won the best original song Oscar. There’s something to be said for brevity, but the Oscars producers have taken it to absurd extremes. Go back to showcasing the nominees instead of squandering so much time on celebrities reminiscing about favorite movie memories or lame sketches like the “Wizard of Oz” focus group (a rare misfire from director Christopher Guest and his ensemble). 

Make some dreams come true: The 2013 ceremony will mark the 85th year of the Academy Awards. Sounds like a perfect time for a massive contest to select 85 film fans that could be part of the show. Imagine getting to walk the red carpet with Amy Adams or helping Tom Hardy present the best editing award. There’s enormous potential for calling attention to the anniversary — and bringing new life to an old establishment — by letting some celebs-for-a-night share the spotlight. 

Loosen up the format: Of course, the best picture award should remain at the end of the night. But can’t the Academy do a better job of spreading out the other major awards throughout the evening, instead of asking viewers to slog through a solid hour of technical honors and tributes before getting around to the supporting actor and actress prizes?

Incorporate some viewer feedback: Put a little strip along the bottom of the screen between awards and share some of the Twitter and Facebook conversations going on about the show. Hey, most of the wisecracks I read Sunday night were much funnier than anything Crystal and his cronies were delivering.

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