Oscars telecast review: Bumping categories didn’t make for a shorter – or better – show

Oscar co-host Wanda Sykes referred to the Oscars as an evening “where movie lovers unite and watch TV.” The joke was a sobering reminder that the Academy Awards are, above all else, a TV show. Producer Will Packer intended to create a spectacle but most of that effort was in vain. After a promising start, viewers were rewarded with one bad decision after another, resulting in a disappointing ceremony lifted only by the winners’ speeches.

The evening’s opening seemed to be a promise of great things to come. Beyonce’s performance of the Oscar-nominated song “Be Alive” from “King Richard” was powerful, filmed in a neighborhood in Compton with singers, dancers and instrumentalists dressed in matching tennis-ball green.

This was followed by host Amy Schumer, Regina Hall, and Sykes delivering a mostly stellar monologue that promised an evening of sharp but loving barbs. The three hosts had an easy chemistry. Even if every joke didn’t land, there was a refreshing optimism in having designated hosts for the first time in four years.

Even after the opening monologue, two of the evening’s emcees had chances to shine. Schumer’s solo monologue was as cutting as one might hear at the Golden Globes, which she referenced as being part of the “In Memoriam” segment.

Hall had one of the most risqué moments of the evening as she objectified some of the male movie stars including Bradley Cooper, Timothee Chalamet and Tyler Perry, who gamely played along as she insisted she needed to see these eligible bachelors privately because of COVID results. How refreshing to see the Oscars making the men the center of some gawking.

But then the show veered off track. Why stick Sykes in a desperately unfunny segment that was nothing more than an ad for the academy’s new museum? And in what has become a perennial complaint when it comes to the hosting of awards shows, the trio quickly became an afterthought.

Some moments seemed designed for an effect didn’t quite land. Wesley Snipes, Rosie Perez, and Woody Harrelson reunited for the 30th anniversary of “White Men Can’t Jump.” Nothing came from the moment, other than Perez seemingly being the only one not in some sort of chemically altered state.

In what universe does it make sense to have three American extreme athletes — Kelly Slater, Tony Hawk, and Shaun White — present a tribute to James Bond? Especially when you have Bond cast members Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, and Rami Malek in the audience? And why not follow that moment with the performance of the Best Original Song nominee (and eventual winner) “No Time to Die” from the Bond film of the same name, rather than a performance of a song from “Encanto” that wasn’t “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”?

Speaking of strange intros, why have Sean “Diddy” Combs introduce the 50th anniversary tribute to “The Godfather,” especially with Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Francis Ford Coppola there?

Or how about showing a countdown of Oscar’s most “Cheer Worthy” moments where not a single person cheered?

Even more so, the decision to present eight below-the-line categories prior to the ceremony may have saved time, but not by much, which made it all the more galling. After all, the show still ended well past the three-and-a-half-hour mark. And it especially didn’t make the show any better. So what was the point?

And then, in what could be considered a crime against the moviegoing public, producers turned “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” one of the highest-profile original songs in recent cinema history, into a confusing and ultimately boring production number. How do you screw that up?

There seemed to be no hands at the helm of this year’s Oscar ceremony. And no, I’m not talking about the hand of about-to-be Oscar winner Will Smith finding its way to the cheek of presenter Chris Rock after Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith‘s alopecia. That interaction seems best left to others to debate and analyze.

Thankfully, there were inspirational speeches by the winners that helped give a rudderless ceremony some much-needed heart.

Best Supporting Actress winner Ariana DeBose’s speech set a high mark for the evening that almost nobody would be able to surmount. Yes, she rightly paid tribute to the great Rita Moreno, the original Oscar-winning Anita. But she also made history as the first openly queer performer to win an acting Oscar, dedicating her Oscar win to those who “question their identity or find themselves living in the grey spaces.”

One might have thought that speeches couldn’t get better than DeBose’s. Then Best Supporting Actor winner Troy Kotsur (“CODA”) contributed to one of the great images in Oscar history: a near silent standing ovation as the audience signed its applause for the history-making Deaf actor. That image was repeated as the film earned a historic Best Picture win with the same near silent ovation. It was a moment that pulled at the heartstrings and dared even the most cynical of Oscar fans to not shed a tear.

But one is left wondering if the emotional impact of those moments was worth what it took to get there. After trying to bring the ceremony in under time, this year’s ceremony still went over by more than 30 minutes. So after all that, the major question is why?

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