Let’s face it, the Oscar telecast has become boring. That’s right. It’s been ages since it was fun. The last time I remember a good Oscar ceremony was when Jack Nicholson won Best Actor for As Good as it Gets. What has become of the Oscars? Why do they seem so utterly serious now? Why can’t we get excited about them anymore? This year, the ceremony was the most boring ever, made worse by producer Gil Gates’ lame attempts to spice up the show for ratings by finding “innovative” ways to rush along the tech and documentary categories because, presumably, the viewing public doesn’t care about them — and to bring “youth” to the show to make it look more like, oh, the MTV movie awards or the Grammys. Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Prince and Beyonce were some of the hipsters invited to attend. That move, along with host Chris Rock, and presenters Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz, made this the most ethnically diverse ceremony of all time. But to what end? To erase the shame of making Hattie McDaniel sit in the back row when she won her Oscar for Gone with the Wind? Or was it a desperate attempt to win the coveted “eyeballs” of our consumer-bred youngsters who would, in turn, buy from the evening’s advertisers? Somehow the latter seems more likely. Rock’s monologue was funny, but it was a tad out of place. He made jokes to Hollywood about Hollywood – while they prefer to hear jokes about anyone but themselves, as was proven by Sean Penn’s terse defense of Jude Law (of all people) who Rock joked was in every film he’d seen in the past four years. Law is overexposed and it was funny riff, to everyone but Penn. Touchy, touchy. That was probably the evening’s low point. Try as Cates might, the Oscars are never going to truly rock. They are always going to be a pretentious, bloated celebration of self by the Academy, where mediocrity often prevails, but for a few exceptions. The show exists not for us to decide how good a film is but to decide how sexy (or likable, or outrageous) an actress is. And on that subject, why must all of the women look perfect now? Curses to the advent of stylists, who have taken away our favorite Oscars pastime – waiting for the sea of gaudy and grotesque dresses to fill the red carpet – then choosing our personal “bests.” (A grateful shout-out to Melanie Griffiths for providing us with the night’s only truly awful gown.) And if they’re going to embarrass the craftspeople and short filmmakers by having them all herded out on stage, why don’t they do that with the screenwriters or the actors? Why didn’t they gather Hilary Swank, Imelda Stanton, Annette Bening, Catalina Sandino Moreno and Kate Winslet on stage so four of the women could watch the worst performance of the five win? They didn’t do that because they are showing, in a glaringly obvious way, that not all categories are created equal. Next thing you know, most of those “other categories” will be given off-camera, they way they are at the Grammys – and then announced by some hot young actress at the ceremony. If this trend continues, the Oscars will be one hour long and will contain only the top awards. No more will it be an all day event, as it has been for so many viewers for most of our lives. (Don’t forget the pre-shows!) No, no good can come from the recent changes to the Academy Awards ceremony – not the date change, which just makes Academy voters unable to see all of the movies, not their silly attempts to speed along the “other awards,” and not their transparent efforts to snare the 18-24 crowd. They reveal their weaknesses more than their strengths that way. As for the ratings, though early reports indicated that they had reached their highest in five years, it now looks as though the telecast was down 5 points nationally from last year’s ratings, when the popular Return of the King swept the awards. The best way for the Oscars to ensure a wider audience is to make sure they honor popular films as well as unpopular ones. Perhaps they ought not to have shied away from Mel Gibson’s Christian epic, The Passion of the Christ, but rather embraced it as the American public did. On the other end of the spectrum, Fahrenheit 9/11, one of last year’s most critically acclaimed films, and the highest grossing documentary of all time, was also ignored. The least they could have done was paired Gibson and Moore as presenters. That alone would have brought in a few extra eyeballs. The telecast’s decent ratings might mean that Rock is back as host next year, but hopefully the show will have gotten enough bad press to dump the heinous practice of making people accept awards in the audience or in a line onstage. Otherwise, like Rock said, “soon they’ll be handing out awards in the parking lot.” Mirror film critic Sasha Stone is the editor of www.OscarWatch.com.
Notable TV This Week
The Great Dictator (****), Charlie Chaplin’s greatest, 7:30 p.m., TCM. Candyman (***), when Virginia Madsen wasn’t an indie goddess, 8:30 p.m., TMC. Alice Adams (***), with Katharine Hepburn, 9:15 p.m., TCM. Manchild, is back, 10 p.m., BBCAM.
Friday, March 4 Gentleman Prefer Blondes (***), 7:30 p.m., FMC. The Gold Diggers of 1935 (***), 7:30 p.m., TCM. Waterworld (**), how will judge this film? 8 p.m., BRAVO. You’ll Never Get Rich (***), with the lovely Rita Hayworth, 9 p.m., TCM. Frank Sinatra, A Man and His Music Plus Ella Plus Jobim, 9:30 p.m., KCET.
Saturday, March 5 Magnolia (****), P.T. Anderson’s pornumentary, 7:30 p.m., IFC. Carrie (****), wonderful Brian De Palma film, though censored here, 8 p.m., UPN. Jerry Maguire (***), Renee Zellweger, Tom Cruise, 8 p.m., ABC.
Sunday, March 6 Rocky (**), there it is, the infamous film that beat Network, All the President’s Men, and Taxi Driver – how do you like them apples? 7:30 p.m., AMC. Their Eyes Were Watching God, the Zora Neale Hurston novel as realized by Oprah Winfrey, starring Halle Berry, 9 p.m., ABC. Inside the Actors Studio: Russell Crowe, 10 p.m., BRAVO.
Monday, March 7 Sleeping with the Enemy (**), with La Julia, 8 p.m., FX. Boss Swap, 9 p.m., ABC. Imitation of Life (****), from 1934, 9 p.m., TCM. The Contender, goes ahead with plans, even though a contestant committed suicide, 9:30 p.m., NBC.
Tuesday, March 8 The Verdict (****), Sidney Lumet’s showstopper, with Paul Newman, 7:30 p.m., WE. Ansel Adams: A Documentary Film, 8 p.m., KOCE. The Hustler (****), 9 p.m., FMC. Blind Justice premiered, 10 p.m., ABC.
Wednesday, March 9 Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (***), with marrieds Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, 8 p.m., IFC. My Music: Superstars of Seventies Soul, 8 p.m., KCET. Rocky V (*),this festival de Rocky never seems to end, 8 p.m., AMC. Washington Heights (***), 8 p.m., SUNDANCE.