February 22, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Review: The Oscars


There were no surprises of any scale at tonight’s ACADEMY AWARDS (a full list of winners is here) , and that went for the telecast, too.  Neil Patrick Harris was as personable a host as anticipated, and he/his writers were sometimes quick on their feet, as when he had a gag ready about a Documentary Short winner’s pom-pom laden gown as soon as the acceptance speech was finished.  (That same speech had pointed out the suicide of the winner’s son as having inspired the short, which made the timing of the gag slightly dubious, but that’s another issue.)  Overall, Harris seemed less comfortable, almost ill at ease, hurling jokes at movie people, compared to his panache in poking fun at TV and Broadway luminaries.  Things went downhill from his bright opening number, which was complete with appearances by Anna Kendrick and a pseudo-Sondheimian Jack Black doing his version of the Witch’s rant in Into the Woods.  A parody of the single-shot style of Birdman was far less effective than the one at yesterday’s Independent Spirit Awards.  An attempt to put a curve into Harris’s Tony gimmick of insta-rapping a song about the awards just instants after they finished, this time with a magic-trick envelope of “predictions” that was teased endlessly throughout the show in a supposedly inviolate on-stage briefcase and ended up, surprise surprise, recounting details from the ceremony, fell very flat, especially as the conclusion of an over 3 1/2-hour ordeal.

As that last bit indicated, producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan seemed to have no sense of how long the evening was.  To their credit, the seemingly wacky idea of having Lady Gaga anchor a salute to The Sound of Music was objectively speaking a triumph, because Gaga (unlike, say, Carrie Underwood) really has the pipes to deliver those tunes, and when Julie Andrews came out to present the next award, her appreciation seemed genuine.  But stopping the show for 10 minutes in its third hour, after half a dozen elaborate musical numbers had already been sung, on the slim pretext that the film of Sound of Music was celebrating its 50th anniversary, was just wearisome, especially because the last of those numbers, Common and John Legend performing the theme from Selma (which then won Best Song), provided as much emotional release as the evening was likely to get.

Some of the tedium could have been excused if the awards themselves had carried any excitement, but in a night when the closest things to upsets were Big Hero 6 winning Animated Feature and Whiplash beating Boyhood for Film Editingthat wasn’t the case.  Birdman, its director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Eddie Redmayne, Julianne Moore, Patricia Arquette, J.K. Simmons, the Song and Screenplays–all were much as expected.  An acceptance speech here and there struck a political note, like Arquette’s for gender pay equality and Imitation Game screenwriter Graham Moore’s it-gets-better message to gay and misfit teens, or a presenter bit scored, like Idina Menzel and John Travolta playfully acknowledging his mangling of her name last year, and that was about all there was to keep one awake, with little in the way of bad behavior or even terrible outfits.

Birdman‘s win marked the 4th time in 6 years that the Best Picture has made less than $57M at the box-office, and it’s been 12 years since a winner earned $150M+.  Boyhood, Whiplash and Still Alice, other high-profile winners of the night, are even lower-level hits.  That’s certainly not to say that quality is linked with ticket sales–as we all know, often the reverse is true–but it’s getting harder and harder to reconcile the big-tent Oscars telecast with a list of winners that essentially duplicated those of the Spirit Awards the day before.  Really, the Oscars are the Spirit Awards, but with a swollen budget and more than an extra hour of screen time.  Maybe the right host or production could smooth over that discrepency, but tonight’s show felt like its set-pieces were trying to be a distraction from the talent being honored, and vice versa.

Tonight was far from a disaster, either in terms of the winners (Birdman has its shortcomings, but it’s not The Artist, and it has more artistic guts and integrity than the enjoyable but thin Argo, while the actors all richly deserved their prizes) or entertainment value, and Harris was very far from a Seth MacFarland-level flop.  All the elements of the evening, though, carried the same malaise of being not quite good enough.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."