When Hollywood writers on strike met with studio bigwigs last week to agree on a new contract and end the three-month work stoppage, movie fans across the country breathed a sigh of relief. We won’t be seeing any new episodes of “The Office” for a while, but the resolution had one immediate benefit: The 80th annual Oscars can now be held.
Still, as much as everyone tries to pretend things are back to normal, sore feelings from the strike will definitely be leaving a lingering stench on the red carpet Sunday. Hollywood is a different place now, and this change is going to be reflected in the Academy Awards.
Returning host Jon Stewart has a reputation for creating more conflicts than he solves (see his 2004 appearance on CNN’s “Crossfire”), so he may not be the best person to ease tensions between writers and producers. I’m crossing my fingers that his opening monologue contains just the right amount of strike jokes, and that he takes the two camps equally to task. As for those fears that his act won’t be as funny given the shortened amount of time he and his writers have had to prepare, let’s not forget that this man is a master of improvisation. He was even able to keep the Daily Show going by himself for its first few writer-less weeks last month.
With fewer than two writer-supported weeks to prepare for the show, the Oscars’ organizers will have to find some easy ways to pad the event. After all, something has to happen between award presentations. Given that the backup plan for Oscar night (dubbed “The ‘B’ Show” by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Sid Ganis) was going to be a clip-heavy retrospective of ceremonies from years past, expect some of these elements to carry over into the final product. Unfortunately, that translates to even more boring montages than usual, since they don’t require writers to fine-tune. Plus it’s Oscar’s 80th birthday, so anticipate lots of old footage as a form of congratulations on the meaningless milestone.
It’s obvious that everyone wants to make this year’s Oscars symbolize the tiptoeing return to old-school Hollywood after the strike. The problem, however, may be that the industry is changing too much to go back. The main bargaining chip for the strike dealt with writers’ residuals for movies and TV shows distributed through the Internet – a concept that probably flew right over the heads of most Academy voters, who most likely have difficulty operating a computer. Don’t forget that many of the people deciding who gets these awards are older than Oscar himself, who’s no spring chicken at 80. The Academy is attempting to act as the bridge between the film industry’s generational gaps, but their end results aren’t so much forward-thinking as plain bizarre: Witness the 70-year age difference between Best Supporting Actress nominees Saoirse Ronan and Ruby Dee.
The writer’s strike has definitely changed things in Hollywood, but those running the Oscars will do their best to remain consistent. Still, beyond the red carpet, edgy host and never-ending montages lurks something universally pleasing: the thrill of competition. Regardless of the offstage drama and the debate about whether Hollywood’s too stuck in its ways, even the writers know Sunday night is Oscar’s night.