November 24, 2017
Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Oscars gala plays it safe all the way

Ellen DeGeneres hosts the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre.
Ellen DeGeneres hosts the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre.
Ellen DeGeneres hosts the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre.
By Hank Stuever
The Washington Post

From Ellen’s easy-does-it show to anticipated winners, predictability was the name of the game

After too many years of trying to wow us or discover some elusive idea of edginess, the producers of Sunday’s 86th Academy Awards show decided, for once, that simple does it.

Host Ellen DeGeneres told jokes that were easy on the ears, gentle on the mind and, for the most part, sparingly nice. By reverting to basic awards-show conviviality and glamour, the show got slightly more classy, but it also overindulged in its reverential Hollywood worship — weighing down the first half with meaningless clip montages, telling us about budding filmmaker awards and taking care of other industry-supporting business that the Academy likes to conduct but nobody likes to watch.

At three and a half hours, the show ran about as long as usual; it just seemed much longer. The orchestra appeared to have given up on rushing acceptance speeches with wrap-it-up cues. It was a show that spent the night acting as though it had all the time in the world — tacking on Bette Midler singing Wind Beneath My Wings after the In Memoriam reel instead of during it; the perfect song to accompany the show’s sense of bloat. Meanwhile, your Oscars-watching party guests began to look at their watches and fret about the wintry mix and peel off before any of the major awards were handed out.

When the show would get moving, it would just as quickly come to a halt, such as it did with a 75th-anniversary commemoration of the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. Even with a lovely belting-out of Over the Rainbow by pop star Pink, I wondered whether there has ever been a time when our culture has not been honouring The Wizard of Oz — re-releasing new DVDs; mourning the deaths of the last of the Munchkin actors; auctioning off the shoes and other memorabilia. Note to Hollywood: Surrender the addiction to Dorothy.

The great middle of an Oscars show is always something of a chore to endure, and always will be. Some 90 precious minutes elapsed between Jared Leto’s anticipated win for best supporting actor in Dallas Buyers Club at the beginning of the show and Lupita Nyong’o’s anticipated win for best supporting actress in 12 Years a Slave, which seemed like a long trek because the proceedings were missing some kind of boffo centrepiece — an extravagant pre-recorded mini-movie sketch or something — that usually has everyone talking the next morning.

Instead, we had DeGeneres wandering the audience, taking selfies (part of a Samsung cross-promotion) and joking about ordering pizzas for a crowd of woefully malnourished celebrities. And by golly, the pizzas arrived, wasting still more time while DeGeneres handed them out. Then she came back around to the joke, carrying one of Pharrell Williams’s Smokey Bear hats and asking stars to chip in. Money jokes seems to really crack up the A-list. DeGeneres handed Bradley Cooper some scratch-off tickets, making a joke about consolation prizes. (It’s funnier because they’re both so rich!!!)

DeGeneres is the perfect sort of host for roaming the aisles and joshing around with the celebrities who adore her non-threatening style. The show was cute and casual and just a bit boring. This is not to say I sat through this year’s show pining for another Seth MacFarlane show tune about naked boobs — at least, I don’t think so. But the dragginess of this year’s show did afford me enough time to search out and watch the clip of that number from last year’s show.

Lowlights included

Most years, whatever happens during the Oscars telecast (good, bad or otherwise) wipes clean any memory I had of the red-carpet pre-shows hours earlier, but not this year: ABC needs to get a grip on how it handles the hour or so before the Oscars begin.

I get that it’s a smarm-fest; I’ve been there myself, trying like crazy to get movie stars to say something interesting. Even allowing for the requisite fawning that comes with the drudgeries of red-carpet duty, Lara Spencer, Robin Roberts, Tyson Beckford and Jess Cagle (who edits Entertainment Weekly and now People, too, and, as such, should not be engaged in this level of shameful celeb slobbering) fumbled through it with dopey banter and anemic non-sequiturs.

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