I have two gripes to make in the wake of the Oscar Ceremony that unfolded last night.
The first is about Argo‘s best picture victory, and Lincoln‘s loss. I loved Argo and need not repeat my praises of the film. Also, Lincoln was excellent, and I completely understand why one would have preferred to see it, rather than Argo, take home best picture. My gripe is unrelated to the achievements of these films. Rather, it regards the argument I’ve seen about Argo being slight, or merely a Hollywood thriller, while Lincoln was “Lincoln,” an obvious classic. Richard Cohen argues this case the strongest today. I have to take a second to say this is stupid, Richard Cohen.
That a movie is fun, thrilling, expertly crafted and “Hollywood” should have no bearing on whether it wins Best Picture. The Best Picture might well be these very things, but if it is the consensus best, then it is, right? Lincoln is very good, but it isn’t the consensus best. I was actually impressed the Academy voters didn’t give in and award Steven Spielberg Best Director. Off all the films involved in that category, I think Spielberg was least responsible for the success of Lincoln. He ran the ship smoothly, which you can always rely on him to do, but it was Tony Kushner and Daniel-Day Lewis who are primarily responsible for Lincoln‘s achievement.
Lincoln is a very good film. Had it won Best Picture, there would be few reasons to slight the choice. But the notion that Argo is less deserving because it’s too fun and Hollywood, while a big-budget Steven Spielberg (!) historical period-piece about America’s Great War which celebrates the superior political process of the US Government somehow deserves adoration for being “brave” is, frankly, absurd.
Two: Whatever you do, don’t blame Seth MacFarlane for tanking the Oscar ceremony, if you indeed think he did. I thought, like most hosts, he was mediocre, with some jokes that landed (“cocaine trees as far as the eye can see”) and some jokes that were just awful and sexist and lazy (“I saw your boobs”? Really?). Hosting the Oscars is a thankless gig, and I don’t know why anyone does it.
But if you want to cast your ire somewhere, cast it squarely at the Academy. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is clearly lost at sea. When it comes to their annual glitz-blitz award show, they have no idea what they are doing. I don’t know the process, but they’re grasping at even the slightest notion of how to make their show a success. The Franco-Hathaway nightmare was course-corrected by the Billy Crystal disaster which was then re-routed to relevance with the Seth MacFarlane experiment. Clearly, it’s not the hosts that are confused.
Honestly, who picked Seth MacFarlane? Regardless of what you think of Family Guy and Ted, he’s a bad choice for the Oscars. First, he’s not famous. The fans of Family Guy aren’t following Seth MacFarlane to the Oscars, and the TV/Film Critic community of grouches who’ve been watching the Oscars for ever are going to fucking hate him, while praising, say, the schmatlziest performance of live television I have ever seen: Babs singing “The Way We Were” to Marvin Hamlisch. Ugh. Say what you will about MacFarlane, that was equally miserable.
And this is the Academy’s problem. Somewhere in the middle of that are viewers like myself, who found MacFarlane okay in a situation that was not for him, and Streisand terrible in a situation that shouldn’t have been. 30 somethings who love movies and movie history, who enjoy the show and don’t take it seriously, like me, will continue to cast our aspersions until the ceremony finds its way. I thought it was fine. I have no idea why we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of Chicago winning (who cares?), and I love Michelle Obama but have no idea why she’s appearing other than because wouldn’t it be wild if Michelle Obama appeared? The real unfortunate element is that these were great awards. Ang Lee and Jennifer Lawrence and DDL and Argo. Cinematically it’s a year the Academy should be proud of.
It was better than James Franco, worse than Jon Stewart. Why would we expect anything else? The Academy clearly has no clue what it’s doing. The writers got one thing right, though: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler should host everything.