Over the last twenty years, the hosting duties have been given to a variety of comedic geniuses—Jon Stewart, Chris Rock, David Letterman, Whoopi Goldberg, Ellen DeGeneres, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin—most of whom have been declared failures. I liked them all (I thought Martin was especially funny). All of them have been found wanting by comparison to Billy Crystal, who hosted the show for the 9th time last night. But when he’s hosted, he too has usually been found wanting by plenty of viewers.
I think that the petulant response that so many contemporary fans have to most Oscar telecasts in recent years has more to do with the show failing to give them the sense of giddy excitement that it did when they were kids. Last night’s show did kind of suck, & it was kind of boring, but my suspicion is that Oscar shows always have been—they’ve always represented the lamest of a species of self-consciously old-fashioned variety show, & that’s what we want. We want to hate the Oscars, & we’d hate them even more if they were somehow made “modern.” We’d probably hate them most of all in the unlikely event that they ever were a couple of tightly-paced hours of really first-rate entertainment.
I thought that Crystal, maybe the last of the comedians who sees doing a song-&-dance number as a routine part of his job rather than something for which he should get extra credit, managed his duties last night excellently, more relaxed & confident than he’s been in some past years. The Cirque de Soleil number was impressive, & I also loved this short sketch with Bob Balaban, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard, Christopher Guest & Jennifer Coolidge about a focus group for The Wizard of Oz, although I understand that it was poorly received...
When Crystal said “Weren’t they hilarious?” afterwards, many (likely similar) people online were quick to reply “No.”
The only remotely surprising win of the night, I thought, was Meryl Streep’s for The Iron Lady. It was a pleasant surprise—the movie was thin & weak apart from her, but that performance was sensational.
My gripe this year, as so often, was with the necrology. It was cool that George Kuchar was included, but here’s a list, compiled with the help of some friends, of those omitted: Harry Morgan, Charles Napier, Jeff Conaway, Sid Melton, Yvette Vickers, Tura Satana, Zina Bethune & Zalman King, among others.
You could quibble about some of these, maybe, but…no Harry Morgan? Really?