It’s impossible to present the Oscars in under three hours. I know this for a fact because the producers of last night’s show tried their darnedest—and the damn thing still went 20 minutes over.
On top of not having a host (more on that in a sec), the show had virtually no film-related montages, no honorary Oscar awards, and they cut the mic on acceptance speeches with cold-hearted precision. Even the In Memoriam montage went by in a breeze. If you were lucky, they flashed a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of your best work (these images went by so fast they almost qualified as subliminal) to accompany your name, picture, and year of birth/death. I was so pissed that Nicolas Roeg apparently hadn’t warranted a drive-by image of Don’t Look Now, I didn’t even notice that Carol freaking Channing had been omitted from the segment. Somebody’s got some splainin’ to do.
Look, the Oscars will always be the Oscars—the fashion, the high stakes, the upsets, the stars—but there was a workmanlike, nearly joyless quality to last night’s show that rubbed me the wrong way. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s clear that the show’s producers don’t love the movies. This was evident in the lead up to the show, when they floated everything from presenting half the awards during the commercials (including Editing and Cinematography!) to not performing the Best Song nominees to not having last year’s winners hand out statues, a long-held Oscar tradition. And don’t get me started on the Best Popular Film award. All these ideas were thankfully jettisoned before the actual show, but they were a sign of things to come. Call me old-fashioned, but I think the producers of the Oscars should love movies. (And love the Oscars, too, for that matter.)
With that being said, let’s go through The Good, The Meh, and The Ugly of last night’s broadcast.
The Good: Spike Lee Finally Gets His Oscar
It was doubly sweet that his good pal Samuel L. Jackson was on hand to present Spike the award for adapted screenplay for BlackKlansman (while also informing him that his beloved Knicks had ended their losing streak). That moment when Spike leapt into Jackson’s arms was an expression of pure joy. It’s insane that Lee didn’t have already have one—or several—of the gold guys. But this is a step in the right direction.
The Meh: Not Having a Host
The aha moment came when Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph came out and riffed on what they might have said had they hosted: Of course, they should’ve been hosts. (Backup idea: John Mulaney and Awkwafina, who also crushed it.) In fairness, it’s quite possible they were asked and said no. As I explained here, it’s a high-risk, low-reward gig. That being said, I didn’t miss the host as much as I thought I would? Much as I love Adam Lambert and Queen, I might’ve replaced the show’s opening with a funny, filmed riff on the nominees. This felt a little too much like the opening of the Grammys. Beyond that, after the initial monologue, the host generally becomes an afterthought anyway.
The Ugly: What’s the Rush?
As I said above, the Oscar’s breakneck pace deprived us of some of those special, Oscars-only moments. This felt like any other award show—but maybe even a little less fun. On Twitter I compared it to Sandra Bullock driving the bus in Speed and Lucy stuffing chocolate in her mouth at the conveyer belt. Please add your own “this is all happening too fast!” analogy in the comments. (Or convince me that quicker is better.)
The Good: Black Women Ruled
Regina King won for If Beale Street Could Talk. Ruth E. Carter (costumes) and Hannah Beachler (production design) both won for Black Panther. It was a wonderful night of black female excellence—and hopefully the new normal.
The Meh: Barbra Streisand for . . . BlackKlansman?
The show did a cute bit where surprising people came out and introduced the eight Best Picture nominees. Queen Latifah presented The Favourite. Diego Luna and Jose Andres presented Roma. When it was announced that Barbra Streisand was presenting a nominated film, all assumed she would be fronting for A Star is Born. Well, Babs zigs when you think she’s going to zag. She introduced BlackKklansman, a film she adored. Do you think Bradley Cooper’s feelings are hurt?
The Good: Gaga and Brad
Speaking of which, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga performed “Shallow” and, in my mind, it was the highlight of the show. Cooper vocally held his own next to Gaga, pretty damn impressive for anyone, let alone a non professional singer. And they have such great chemistry. As I said on Twitter, they’re very good at pretending to be in love. (Or are they pretending? I kid, I kid…) (The performance gave me chills. And thankfully, Shallow went on to win Best Song. Otherwise, this would be filed under Ugly.
The Good: Olivia Colman Won
Undoubtedly the upset of the night. And a great choice, too. Colman was absolutely brilliant as Queen Anne—funny, pathetic, daffy, dictatorial. What’s more, Colman was an absolute joy in her acceptance speech. “It’s genuinely quite stressful,” she said, through giggly tears. “This is hilarious! Got an Oscar!” Also, I believe Emma Stone was happier when Olivia Colman won the Oscar than when she won her own.
The Meh: But That Meant Glenn Close Lost
I don’t think Glenn Close gave the best performance in that strong Best Actress lineup (both Colman and Melissa McCarthy surpassed her) but I was very comfortable, even happy, with the idea of this brilliant actress finally winning after seven nominations. Her loss hurt even more because she was such a strong favorite. “You’ve been my idol for so long,” Colman said to Close from stage. “This is not how I wanted it to be.” Sniff.
The Ugly: The Stage
Liberace rose from the dead to call it tacky. My mother texted me to declare it “butt ugly.” Enough said.
The Good: Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry
To announce Best Costumes, they came out in ridiculous, overstuffed royal outfits—a riff on The Favourite (McCarthy’s train was festooned with bunnies). The best thing about this? McCarthy was nominated for a serious role for Best Actress but didn’t take herself so seriously as to think she was above such a blissfully silly sight-gag. For that matter, I’m pretty sure Tyree Henry—so brilliant in If Beale Street Could Talk and Widows—has a few Oscar nominations in his future. The only negative: The show didn’t pan to Olivia Colman or Yorgos Lanthimos once during this presentation. Is it possible they didn’t know it was a spoof of The Favourite?
The Good: The Edgy(ier) Fashion
I saw very few women wearing tasteful, nude-colored, or black dresses this year. (Ironically, Lady Gaga was one of them—although hers was a spectacular riff on a classic.) Instead, lots of hot pink, lots of unusual shapes and textures, and more gender-bending silhouettes. Not all of this worked—J Lo’s disco ball dress didn’t do it for me; my friend hated Rachel Weisz’s red rubber dress (I loved it). But that’s the point. When you take risks, you’re likely to be polarizing. And that’s a good thing! Fashion is supposed to be about self-expression, not blending in.
The Ugly: Bohemian Rhapsody for Best Editing?
Leading up the Oscars, a short clips from Bohemian Rhapsody was circulating on Twitter that demonstrated exactly how awful the editing was. Remember kids, the most editing doesn’t mean the best editing. This was embarrassing.
The Ugly: Green Book Wins Best Picture
Things had been going so well for Roma, too! It had picked up Best Cinematography, Director, and Foreign Film. So how—how?—did a mediocrity like Green Book win best picture? A few things: the Best Picture ballot is the only one that is “preferential”—a form of voting that favors a consensus pick over a truly excellent one. Also, as I said in my review, Green Book is the kind of film that comforts us and makes us feel good about ourselves: We’re not racist! We can all get along!
While it’s tempting to be drawn to a harmless, crowd-pleasing film like that in times such as these, it provided overly facile answers to difficult questions and a pat, shallow redemption arc for its racist lead character. There were so many more deserving films: Roma, The Favourite, BlackKlansman, just to name three. Film critics on Twitter were already comparing it to Crash’s infamous win over Brokeback Mountain in 2006. Oh, the humanity!