Downsizing the Oscars

I’ve been watching the Academy Awards since Bob Hope was a baby. Back then, they didn’t have a different host each year: It was always Bob Hope. Then Johnny Carson took over for a while. Now they audition someone new every few years but it’s such a no-win gig, you wonder why anyone wants it. Jon Stewart did an admirable job a few years ago and his movie career still lingers in the toilet. Waiters at trendy L.A. restaurants get more Hollywood job offers. And they don’t even have to wear tuxedos.

The Academy Awards show boasts a long and storied tradition – of train wrecks. Every year, we get an endless parade of presenters who forget to bring their reading glasses, presenters who mangle the simplest names, presenters who are so improbably mismatched that you wonder whether the producer is wearing bowling shoes – “Now, from ‘Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay’ with the star of ‘Frost/Nixon’...” presenters who hurt their causes by flogging them, presenters who stumble over the easiest of cue cards. Considering these hapless podium jockeys are usually actors who have already gotten an Academy Award, you’d think they’d be able to at least act as if they are not reading from a teleprompter. You’d think one of their personal assistants could have remembered to bring the spectacles.

Then there are the awards for things that are – even in Hollywood – extremely trivial. My local theater has yet to show “Doubt” and “Milk,” two films nominated for best picture, so when do you think they’re going to show the nominees for short film (animated) and short film (live action)? Oh, yeah, never. The Oscar ceremony honchos always say they don’t have enough time to let the winners say, “Thank you,” but they have time for these two awards? I’m sure all the nominated short films are wonderful and award-worthy, but to the world at large, short films are like drum solos – even if they’re performed by Neil Peart, we don’t like them. Best documentary short could be dumped, too. Not because people won’t watch short docs (there is always a new freshman class at Angst University that will sit through anything), but on account of the fact that documentarians (particularly the short ones) rarely wear the nattiest of duds. Joan Rivers doesn’t even bother to ask them who designed their clothes. If you can’t pass that minor hurdle, do you really deserve an award?

They say a billion people watch the Academy Awards each year but those masses aren’t here in North America; a few hundred million live in India, a few hundred million in Indonesia, and a few hundred million hail from all around the world. They could boost the audience considerably if they cut to a high-speed car chase or a Rachel Ray rerun during the musical numbers. They might even hit 2 billion. I know there have been a lot of memorable musical numbers on the Oscars over the last 80 years, whoops, no, wait – there has been one memorable musical number over the last 80 years, Isaac Hayes performing “Theme from Shaft.” The music you heard on the other 79 shows was just the sound of a billion toilets flushing at the same time. You can run down to the beach in Mumbai and watch the ocean rise a few inches. That can’t be good for the environment.

For all my whining, I still watch the Oscars. It’s like going to a wedding where you finally meet the parents of the bride and the groom and all their crazy brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles. And you say to yourself, “That explains so much.” Yes, the band was too loud and the best man gave an awful speech; (what was the bride thinking when she picked out that ridiculous dress?) but you still come. You even bring a present.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2009, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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