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How do you solve a problem like the Oscars?

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Harry Bradley

Contributing Writer


March 1, 2015

How do you solve a problem like the Oscars? How do you catch a crowd and pin it down? Bring in the Emmy award winning, four-time host of the Tonys? You’d think.

The appointment of Neil Patrick Harris as emcee was universally thought to be best possible remedy for the hosting curse that plagues the prestigious event each year. Doogie Howser, M.D. seemed like the perfect man to resuscitate ailing Oscar, who had been quickly fading after hefty blows in recent years from the likes of James Franco, Alec Baldwin and Seth McFarlane.

The verdict? Oscar isn’t leaving the hospital anytime soon. Ah. Back to the drawing board then. Give Billy Crystal a call, he’ll save it. Oh, they did that in 2012; he didn’t.

Get ready for the Fallon vs. Kimmel argument until one is crowned Top Jimmy and confirmed as the next poor soul to take to the much-scrutinized stage. Harris’ problem was exactly this, he wasn’t bad, he wasn’t good, but he was heavily scrutinized.

It’s already a tough enough gig having to crack the immaculately constructed faces of Hollywood’s elite (apart from Channing Tatum, who was having the most fun anyone has ever had), making sure you don’t dent their well-polished egos at the same time, but having a horde of instant reviewers, anonymous hecklers judging you from the comfort of the own their own via countless avenues of social media is a battle already lost.

There’s no doubt that Harris, whenever he disappeared off stage, had aids scurrying after him in a plight to keep the host totally aware of what Twitter was up to and how he was doing. His ever deteriorating energy and the massively built up ‘predictions’ reveal showed such (instead of predicting the winners, Harris ‘pre-empted’ various highlights of the live show).

Without undermining Harris’ obvious talent as a magician, the pursuit of ‘keeping it current’ and one upping Ellen’s previous social media breaking stunt showed little more than someone out back following popular hashtags on their phone.

It’s a problem the producers always seem to fall into, the paradoxical difficulty of promoting tradition and grandeur as well as keeping it fresh and light. Addressing John Travolta’s hilarious flub of Idina Menzel’s name the previous year did feel a tad like capitalizing on something that was none of their doing (that was pure artistry by Travolta alone) but it was a highlight of the show.

Idina Menzel, a.k.a Adele Dazeem, executed her revenge and introduced Travolta as Glom Gazingo, which was all very funny (I gave a light clap, watching at home) but then Travolta came one and started touching her face, a lot, and the boy inside me that so desperately wanted to be Danny Zuko took of his T-Birds jacket and started to cry.

Travolta was on particularly touchy-feely form all evening as before the show a photo emerged of him holding a completely oblivious Scarlet Johansson from behind, in the mist of planting a kiss on her cheek. It was a real, wrong place, wrong time moment for the Pulp Fiction star but the Internet took charge and decided that John Travolta is weird now. Hard luck John, see you next year for whatever strangeness you’ve got planned.

For some reason that I am still trying to figure out, there was a 15-minute tribute to The Sound of Music embedded in the ceremony. With Lady Gaga singing through, what felt like, the whole film. I understand it’s the fiftieth anniversary, and that’s lovely, and seeing Julie Andrews is always a treat but in an already infamously lengthy show, why was it necessary?

The same can be said for Jennifer Hudson’s ‘in memoriam’ ballad. Good job Jen, you’re great and all that. But time, I feel, would have been better spent slipping in the odd clip of those passed. To see Robin Williams’ “carpe diem” or Lauren Bacall’s famous whistling tutorial would have hit a better note.

The original song performances were, however, good viewing. Rita Ora, Adam Levine and Tim McGraw ticked along nicely, the Lego Movie’s ‘Everything is Awesome’ was as batshit crazy and frantic as expected, all the while being wholly fun (especially Will Arnett clad in Val Kilmer’s butsuit and consolation Lego statuettes handed to those who were never going to win) but the obvious highlight was Common and John Legend’s rendition of Glory, from the Martin Luther King centric film, Selma. Emotional is an understatement.

Especially because both performers won the Oscar immediately afterwards and gave a rousing speech about race equality. It was so powerful that, David Oyelowo, who plays Dr King in the movie, was crying. When you address the issue of race so well that MLK shed tears, you’re doing all right. Social comment was something that ran pretty continuously throughout the whole evening. Graham Moore, winner of Best Adapted Screenplay for the Imitation Game, spoke of sexuality and suicide, as did Best Documentary Short winner Dana Perry.

The team behind Citizenfour gave a gentle reminder that we’re all being watched and Patricia Arquette used her Supporting Actress speech to call for equal pay for women, which made Meryl Streep especially giddy. Female empowerment was supported by Reese Witherspoon backing the #AskHerMore campaign, encouraging interviewers to ask more of women than just “Who are you wearing?” Although, she somewhat shot herself in the foot by posting exactly who and what she was wearing a couple of hours later after no one asked.

The speeches in general were particularly charming this year. J.K. Simmons, after brilliantly referring to his own children as average, urged everyone to call their parents in a nice variation on the standard, “Thanks to Mom and Dad”.

Seeing Eddie Redmayne being genuinely overcome with happiness as he was handed the golden statuette was refreshing. Although no one is ever unhappy about receiving an Oscar (well, Marlon Brando wasn’t overjoyed second time round) there is generally a sense of calculated thank yous and gravitas about being on the stage with the golden prize, much like Matthew McConaughey’s cool and calm self-appreciation last year.

This year, then, watching Redmayne bounce around like a boy given a shiny, new toy was thoroughly enjoyable. Him freaking out and uncontrollably smiling through it brought a touch of humility to proceedings that, most of the time, seem so far flung from anything us mere mortals can experience. As happy as that was though, equally as heartbreaking was the cameras catching Michael Keaton tucking his speech back into his pocket with a hollow smile.

Poor Mike, we’ll never know what he had to say. Winner of the speeches though goes to Pawel Pawlikowski for completely ignoring the attempts of the orchestra to play him off. Pawlikowski, winning for Best Foreign Language film Ida, just kept going and the one-time assassination like finality of the band was combatted. They managed to get the team behind Big Hero 6 off but you sense that Pawel has lit the fire for future speeches, using violins and cellos as his kindling.

Three and a half hours is a long time to wait to finally find out what takes home the most important gong, Best Picture. But this year, at least, it was worth it. What should have won and what I wanted to win is not the focus of this article.

But, as much as I loved Birdman and thought it a thoroughly deserved winner, Boyhood should have been recognized more than it was, such polarized debate being continued feverishly since Sunday night. To be Richard Linklater at the after awards parties must have been a hard slog of pats on the back, many a “lets get a drink” and that one prick who quips “maybe in another 12 years!”

The greatest moment of the big finish though came in the form of Sean Penn. The two times Oscar winner, announcing Birdman as Best Picture, innocently asked where “son of a bitch” Alejandro G. Iñárritu got “his green card from”?

An already much maligned event with regard to race ended the only way such a chaotic, mismatched, unpredictable, grand occasion could; with an unintentionally, in the moment, sour comment on race. Nice one Sean, thanks for coming. That though is the essence of the Oscars, the things that go wrong, the things that fall flat, the things that don’t live up. Because the entertainment lies in the unpredictability, bad or good.

You’ll turn the TV off denouncing another year as rubbish and another year that wasn’t as good as last year but you’ll still be talking about it the next day, reading opinions and thinking over the events, because whatever way it goes, it has a certain draw. How do you solve a problem like the Oscars? You can’t and you don’t.

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