By Aditi Mishra, Daily Arts Writer
Published March 1, 2013
The phrase that springs to mind when thinking about this year’s Oscars is: “Trying too hard.” To which I’d like to add: “And failing.” Getting a lot of people to watch something while staying true to the craft is an arduous task, even for the greatest film directors, let alone an award show. Which is why it’s time for the Academy Awards to decide whether they want to be respected or enjoyed because, as Sunday night proved, trying to achieve both is no easy feat.
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Let’s dissect Sunday’s show step by step, starting with the host. Needless to say, even at his most classy, Seth MacFarlane is a prick. But that’s what the world expects the creator of “Family Guy” to be; that’s why we were so excited about the prospect of him making this show both approachable to “the younger demographic” the Academy so desperately tries to please and exciting in the nerdy-cool way reminiscent of Andy Samberg’s contributions to “SNL.” But MacFarlane was neither, and his few crude jokes were too tasteless to be memorable or funny. After years of trying new things (the disastrous memory of Anne Hathaway and James Franco’s hosting still lingers … ), it’s clear there can only be two good kinds of Oscar hosts.
The most successful hosts to date have been Academy veterans, showmen like Steve Martin and Billy Crystal who look out into the audience and see the face of an old friend instead of can’t-joke-about-the-legend-himself Robert DeNiro. The other great kind of host is a complete outsider — the Ricky Gervais — who doesn’t give a crap about what DeNiro thinks of him, anyway. Which is exactly where MacFarlane, who’s close enough to the film industry to care but not close enough to insult, failed. Perhaps the Oscars need to come to terms with the fact that, with the exception of film buffs, people don’t generally care about who wins an Academy Award (we’re going to go see “The Avengers” regardless), and that the efforts to make them more approachable are fundamentally futile.
Clearly, choosing a good host wasn’t the only thing that befuddled the Academy this year. The show brought talking teddy bears and 1970s musicals together in the most confusing way possible. Boob songs were followed by ballroom dancing. The awards themselves were more indecisive and skittish than some of MacFarlane’s worst punchlines of the night. Affleck didn’t garner a Best Director nomination, but “Argo” won Best Picture; “Life of Pi” wasn’t even considered to be a legitimate Best Picture contender, but Ang Lee won Best Director. Even the technical awards were almost evenly divided and distributed among Best Picture nominees so that no one left the room a loser.
Trying to be unpredictable was the Academy’s most predictable move Sunday night, and it meant sacrificing the core principles around which the award show is built. Picking a winner is a subjective process, even the Academy knows that, but, in my opinion, it seems like the point of these awards has been to reward the daring movies and performances that not many would otherwise pay attention to. Which is why “Argo” ’s win seemed forced — a consolation prize handed to Ben Affleck as an apology for his missing Best Director nomination. In truth, almost every other movie in that category was as good, if not better than “Argo.”
While Jennifer Lawrence is adorable and deserving, her win seemed too forced and against the Academy’s better judgment. Don’t get me wrong, I love J-Law. But if these awards were happening a decade ago, Emmanuelle Riva or Jessica Chastain would have won. The Academy that picked the nominations and the Academy that picked the winners could not be more polarized.
Perhaps we can say that the Academy is undergoing a mid-life crisis. For the past five years, it has struggled with re-inventing itself and becoming more accessible to the masses. But there are only so many ways of re-inventing the wheel before one realizes that it can only be round.