The Oscars Are Still Old and Useless

Well, that's that! The 2011 Academy Awards have come and gone. That means it's time for Gawker's Brian Moylan and Richard Lawson to tear the miserable thing to shreds.

Richard Lawson

Oh man, Brian. Oh man. That was pretty bad, right? During the show I sent a text message to a friend saying that I was worried there was a gas leak or something in the building that was affecting people's ability to say complete sentences in intelligible ways. What happened tonight? It was mush-mouth, stuttery nonsense! Maybe the stuttering and strange meandering speeches were an homage to this year's only-sorta-deserving Best Picture winner The King's Speech, or maybe it was just an off night. As predicted, hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway brought little to the job, Hathaway being a giggling sycophant dork and Franco pissing all over the proceedings in a way that wasn't nearly as cool, subversive, or funny as his raised eyebrows seemed to suggest he thought it was. The Oscars deserve to be mocked, for they are glittery gold garbage, but they should at least be mocked well. Franco's "who cares?" shtick just seemed like a middle finger to the people watching, rather than the happy millionaires in attendance. Before we get to the basic awards stuff, what'd you think about the hosts and the overall tone tonight, Brian? Did you find it all as messy and incoherent (we all love Kirk Douglas, but to follow him up with a Melissa Leo tone poem? Too much) as I did?

Brian Moylan

I think the tone was poorly set by ABC's staggeringly bland red carpet coverage. The thing we want to see when we tune into the Oscars is spectacle. We want the biggest show on earth with the biggest stars on the planet dressed in larger-than-life costumes that we will never be able to afford. ABC gave us thoughts from the nominees moms, a bunch of singing public school kids, Krista Smith blandly interviewing people in the Xanax Green Room, and two (two!) segments with a stick puppet named Ben Mankiewicz. That is not what we want to see. We want to see dresses and stars! I completely agree with you about Franco and Hathaway. Though they had a few cute gags—Franco dressed as Rudy Giuliani dressed as Marilyn Monroe and a majority of the opening segment about Alec Baldwin's dreams—they really weren't at all up to the thankless job of hosting the Oscars. And what's up with them being the fresh new face of the show that's supposed to attract all these young viewers? There was a moment when they had these kids introduce Billy Crystal to talk about Bob Hope. The only thing that could have made that scenario stodgier is if the ghost of Martha Raye showed up to make a joke about Polydent. In a year when you have two people on the stage who need to walk with canes, you know you're in trouble. Speaking of which, what do you make of that Kirk Douglas moment? Was he off-script? Was he brave for doing that, or foolish for being made a mockery of? And what do you think about all the incredibly predicable winners?

Richard Lawson

The Kirk Douglas moment was... fine. I mean, he's old, he had a stroke, he's acting royalty, whatever. This is Hollywood's party and if Hollywood wants to invite its grampa to its big bat mitzvah, fine. But you do hit on a good point, Brian, with all the "old vs. young" stuff. As much phonily self-aware goo that the formidable comedy duo of Hathaway & Franco spewed about this being a youth-focused Oscars, we got a pretty traditional, staid slate of winners. The biggest upset — and I daresay I am actually upset about this — is of course Tom Hooper winning Best Director over David Fincher. Whereas Hooper turned a solid, straightforward script into a solid, straightforward movie, Fincher was tasked with something I personally long thought impossible — how does one make a movie about a bunch of nerds making computer stuff in a Cambridge dorm remotely interesting? Well it turns out one hires David Fincher and he turns The Social Network into a gorgeous, matte-finish movie bulging with strange melancholy and menace. His was a bigger feat than Hooper's, and I think his loss tonight stood testament to the fact that, as we've all whined about in years past (Crash, obvs), the Academy is rarely the voting committee to count on if we're hoping to see a new tone or have a new conversation. Which is fine! If they want to be boring and traditional, have at it. But to try to pretend that they're being anything but is just frustrating. I wish the Oscars would be honest about what they are instead of dragging out a bunch of Staten Island cherubs at the end in the hopes that we'll forget that we just sat through a boring, bungled three hours of echo chamberism. What do you think, Bri? (I use abbreviations after three vodka sodas.) Can Oscar ever actually be hip and young? Should it even bother trying? I mean, what's the point?

Brian Moylan

I don't think that it ever can, Richard, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The Oscars are an institution. It is large, solid, and completely nondescript, like a communist housing block, it will stand there, bland and eternal, making us damn everything that has come before us and hope for a better day. But that better day never seems to come. We think, "They'll find a great host next year," or "Maybe there will be an upset for Best Picture," or "Maybe they'll invite Bjork again just so she'll wear something ludicrous." But none of those thing are ever going to happen. I think that Steven Spielberg had the best quote of the night when he said the Best Picture winner will go on to join the ranks of great movies and the also-rans will join the ranks of even better movies that didn't win either. The King's Speech is now on par with Gone with the Wind (which we had to suffer a completely superfluous montage of at the top of the show), but it is also in the same league as Crash, Around the World in 80 Days and a bunch of other bullshit movies that people don't think are good anymore. Again, the Oscars are an institution, so they are slow to change and often don't make the right decisions. But the culture at large will judge, slowly over time, which movies were great this year, and The Social Network (or Winter's Bone or Black Swan) might be the film they're studying in 2153 at The University of New Miami as a watershed moment in cinema. Yes, the Oscars are an institution, a big hulking monolith of ugly cinder blocks that we try to gussy up each year with some throw rugs and new curtains, but it doesn't do much to improve the look of the place. Every winter we trudge back toward it, because it is something that is totally ours. It is something the rich oligarchs in Hollywood have constructed for us and told us to enjoy, and we do because it's the only thing we've ever known and it's better than being out on the cold windy streets. The Oscars are an institution, and that institution is our home. So even as we hate it, we're still planting some geranium seeds for next spring.