Well, another Oscar telecast down the tubes. Normally, I’m not a television watcher, but I always make a date with my TV set for that evening. Which means I saw plenty of gorgeous gowns, fast-paced film montages, lame jokes, heartfelt thank-yous, and weird mispronunciations. (Adele Dazeem, anybody? I don’t love Idina Menzel’s rendition of the yowling power-ballad from Frozen, but didn’t she deserve to have her name announced correctly? I’m speaking to you, John Travolta.) I also saw a disheartening display of old Hollywood royalty who looked embalmed, if not pickled: Kim Novak, Goldie Hawn, Liza Minnelli. I believe in honoring the past, but trying to resurrect and freeze in place the face you had at thirty is downright scary.
An Oscar broadcast, of course, rests on the shoulders of its host. I’m old enough to remember the Bob Hope era: he was professional and funny until suddenly, as the changing realities of American life caught up with him, he was neither. Billy Crystal was reliably impish; Seth (“I Saw Your Boobs”) MacFarlane was snarky and obnoxious; the pairing of James Franco and Anne Hathaway (an obvious bid to pull in young audiences) was just a head-scratcher.
This year, of course, the Academy went back to steering an amiable course with Ellen DeGeneres. Though Ellen’s good-natured humor didn’t always land, some of her out-in-the-audience stunts were memorable for capturing the odd sense of glamorous Oscar nominees as just plain folks. As the world knows by now, she placed an order for pizza, and had world-famous celebrities in designer togs scrambling to grab a triangle of pie. (And then scrambling again to cough up the dough to pay for it. “Where’s Harvey Weinstein?” asked Ellen, knowingly.) And of course she initiated the now-famous selfie in which Hollywood royalty like Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Meryl Streep appear to be as joyously silly as the rest of us when we pose for quickie cellphone shots with our pals.
But I’ve got to admit that the awards-giving was dull. Not that the winners didn’t deserve their prizes, but anyone who’d been paying attention during awards-season could guess (as I did) who would capture the major categories. Which made me realize how much more I enjoyed the Sochi Olympics, where the winners were in doubt until the heat of the moment, when someone posted the best score or crossed the finish line. Unlike a movie awards show, the Olympics occur in real-time (or tape delay, for most viewers), so the gold medal is won by an athlete fresh from the performance -- not an actor who has cleaned up, regained the lost weight, and donned fancy dress.
All this made me wish we could add suspense by rejiggering the Oscars into a you-are-there Olympic-style competition, maybe on skates. Instead of Meryl Davis and Charlie White, how about Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts as an ice dancing duo, vying against Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto? I’d love to see Bruce Dern tossing June Squibb around in the pairs free skate. Team short-track could be represented by the 12 Years a Slave contingent, trying to muscle out the Wolf of Wall Street guys and the wily foursome from American Hustle. (Jennifer Lawrence would doubtless take yet another tumble.)
More ideas: the skinny and scary-looking Barkhad Abdi of Captain Phillips hydroplaning in the ski jump, or mixing cross-country with rifle-shooting in the biathlon. Or a hockey shootout between a determined Judi Dench on one side, an emotional Cate Blanchett on the other. And, yes, Sandra Bullock at center ice, doing spins and loop-de-loops in her underwear.