2014 Oscars, For the Win

Kevin Fallon
2014 Oscars, For the Win

Is there anything we look forward to and dread as much as the Academy Awards? That we love as equally as we despise? That we find so hallowed and important, but also so asinine and silly?

The Academy Awards is this crazy thing. We spend the better portion of an entire year, each year, building up to it, placing a weight normally reserved for the first democratic elections of a formerly war-torn nation on whether Naomi Watts will be able to sneak into the Best Actress race. A tad ridiculous? Sure. But it’s a reverence that’s placed on the Oscars in exponential amounts each year, all building up to a tower of outsized expectations so high that it has no other possible fate but to topple over, burying us all in rubble of disappointment.

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Luckily, we’ve learned to wear our hard hats.

At this point, we expect such crushing disappointment from the Oscars. We expect it from the winners, who are almost never who we want to or think deserve to win. (Crash over Brokeback Mountain, lest we ever forget.) We expect it from the host, who is never as current, or as classic; as controversial, or as classy; as charming, or as cutting; or the impossible-to-strike balance of opposing qualities we seem to demand our Oscar hosts to be. The ceremony is always too stuffy, unless it is way too silly. It’s always far too long, the montages are always overwrought and pointless, and the presenters always too buttoned up.

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Conditioned to expect such disappointment year in and year out, we prepare, with an almost mischievous glee, to unleash an onslaught of criticism and complaining after the ceremony airs. We love trashing the Oscars as much as we love looking forward to them, which could make this year’s telecast a much-needed change of pace.

This year, the Oscars could actually be good.

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I mean we’re still going to complain about them. We always will. We’ll always find something. But surveying the plans and parameters for this year’s Oscar ceremony, it seems that maybe, just maybe, there will be less to complain about. At the very least, there won’t be a full-scale production number about the nominated actresses’ boobies.

Let’s start with the choice of this year’s host, Ellen DeGeneres. Now, obviously not everybody likes Ellen DeGeneres. There’s no one in the world that everyone likes unequivocally, except for that woman who played Aunt Jackie on Roseanne. She’s just a delight. But after years of gross hosting misfires, she’s the right choice for Oscars emcee.

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The Academy, perhaps fretting about uneven ratings this past decade, has been suffering a hard-to-watch identity crisis, the kind that if it were happening to a real person would actually make great fodder for an Oscar baiting film. Worried that, perhaps, the show wasn’t being enjoyed by young viewers, the “hip” odd couple of Anne Hathaway and James Franco were chosen to host, the disastrous results of which are legend. That calamity kicked off a dizzying zig-zag of overcompensation by producers of subsequent shows: older hosts like Billy Crystal, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin were ho-hum and boring. The attempt to be radical, progressive, and edgy in response resulted in last years misogynistic and meandering (not to mention unfunny) performance by Seth MacFarlane.

DeGeneres, on the other hand, is the closest thing the Academy will get to landing that same vibe that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have perfected at the Golden Globes without getting Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who have said they would not ever do it, to actually host the Oscars. An award show should come off as a party, and one you’d actually want to attend—not a vicious roast of attendees or a stuffy, pretentious gala for old people.

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It’s the host’s job to set the tone for that party, which DeGeneres, who hosted in 2007, can do quite well. The best thing about Ellen is that she is easy. That’s to say that comedy for her isn’t as much a stand up routine as it is a casual conversation between the audience and viewers at home. Her last Oscars gig was brimming with one-liners (to Peter O’Toole: “Congratulations on your eighth nomination! You know what they say: third time’s the charm!”) and inspired bits (asking Steven Spielberg to take a photo of her with Clint Eastwood, and then criticizing his shooting technique).

The Academy Awards is a contest, and because of that the ceremony can palpably feel like a pressure cooker of stress and importance. DeGeneres’s breeziness and warmth is the perfect antidote to that potentially off-putting vibe—not to mention to the alternately out of touch and embarrassingly ribald recent hosts.

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But, of course, the Oscars telecast is about 79 hours long, which means there are way more factors than just the host involved in making it properly entertaining. That’s why there’s more reason to be optimistic about this year.

Take, for example, the performers for Best Original Song. That category, historically, has been out of its damned mind. When past nominees haven’t been totally absurd and strange, they’ve been utterly boring. The performances of said songs, then, have suffered the same fate. But maybe not this year! The announced performers read like a super-cool concert bill, one that you would actually pay to be see, not be forced to begrudgingly sit through like on telecasts past.

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Pharrell, and maybe his Smokey the Bear hat, will be on hand to perform “Happy,” a nominated song that happens to—get this!—also be a great one. Idina Menzel will sing “Let It Go” from Frozen, which anyone who has had their hair blown back by the force of Menzel’s Broadway vocals can attest will be a vocal tour de force. Karen O will perform her song from Her, which has the potential to be pleasantly weird, and U2 will perform their song from Mandela, which will be pleasantly pleasant, because that’s just what U2 is these days.

On top of all that, Pink will be there. Why will Pink be there? We don’t know. But after watching her spin upside down from flimsy scarves while belting out ballads at the Grammys, we’re excited to find out.

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Many of the most memorable moments from Oscars past come from presenters, both the ones who bring the show gravitas and the ones who bring it goofiness. When past winners showed up to pay tributes to that year’s nominees in 2009, the reverence of it all was incredibly touching. When Ben Stiller showed up in full blue Navi makeup in 2010 to mock Avatar, the winking frivolity of it all was hysterical.

This year’s presenter list has the potential to bring both the gravity and the goof: yucksters always game for fun like Jim Carrey, Anna Kendrick, Bill Murray, and Jason Sudeikis will be there as well as industry legends like Sidney Poitier, Harrison Ford, and Kim Novak. Bette Midler will be making her first on-stage Oscars appearance. Maybe she’ll bring both!

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A final, crucial element in the success of an Academy Awards telecast are the year’s nominees. Some years, the big nominees leave little room for fun. This year, however, is a different story. There’s the garish glitz of American Hustle and the boys gone wild debauchery of The Wolf of Wall Street to play with. There are bonafide Movie Stars nominated: Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock, Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Roberts, and, today’s own It Girl, Jennifer Lawrence. There’s real potential for this year’s telecast to be really playful, maybe a little wily, even. With DeGeneres at the center of it all, that potential could actually be fulfilled.

Naturally, this is all prognostication and optimism. The Oscars could be horrible. But it might not be! Given that the telecast could run for up to four hours Sunday night, can you blame a person for having a little faith that those four hours might be, could be, just a little enjoyable?   

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