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Bring back the host!: 92nd Academy Awards showed the pitfalls of a host-less ceremony

  • Vox

    The chief job of a host is to bring continuity to the ceremony, which was something this year's Oscars lacked. "The 2020 awards kept trying to have segments built around the function of a host without actually having a host, says Emily Todd VanDerWerff.. "When Steve Martin and Chris Rock came out near the top of the show to offer five minutes of comedy, it felt like gilding the lily after Janelle Monaé’s entertaining but odd opening musical number. 'Musical number,' then 'host-like segment that, nevertheless, is not actually a host segment,' then the first award is a whiplash-inducing sequence." VanDerWerff adds: "It’s entirely possible that the problem with this year’s award show wasn’t the lack of a host, but its inability to decide which elements of a traditional host to keep and which to jettison. For as impossible a gig hosting the Oscars is, the simple fact that someone like Jimmy Kimmel or Chris Rock or Ellen DeGeneres is there to smooth transitions and help out when, say, La La Land is erroneously named best picture over Moonlight, offers a constant place for the director of the awards show to cut to. It’s a home base in a show that sometimes badly needs a home base. Television usually works best when a show has some sort of status quo to return to. That’s the case with awards shows, too. For as bad as so many Oscar hosts have been, they really do maintain the evening’s status quo. Even when you’re not sure why Joaquin Phoenix keeps winning awards for Joker, your host will be there to guide you through it. A hostless Oscars could continue to work, but the structure of the show as-is all but begs for a host. In order to not have one yet again, the show’s producers will likely have to get more ruthless about which elements of the show are tossed and which are kept."


    • There's no reason a host-less Oscars should run longer than The Irishman: "At three hours and 32 minutes, the 2020 Academy Awards ceremony was longer than its notoriously sprawling Best Picture nominee, The Irishman," says Jen Chaney. "It was also 15 minutes longer than last year’s ceremony, but not as long as the longest Oscars ceremony of all time — the 2002 marathon that lasted four hours and 23 minutes. Can you imagine sitting through that whole show only to find out at the end that Moulin Rouge! lost Best Picture to A Beautiful Mind? Well, I can, because I actually did. Bloated Oscar broadcasts are nothing new, and jokes about the show going long have provided comedians with material for decades. But now that there is no host — following last year’s post–Kevin Hart-debacle decision to go emcee-less, this year went the same route — the Academy Awards should, in theory, be much more streamlined. The most maddening thing about this year’s Oscars, which featured many delightful moments, including a semi-surprising Best Picture win for Parasite, wasn’t that it ran late. It was that there was absolutely no reason it needed to run late. If just a few segments had been snipped and some awkward transitions had been finessed, this could have been one of the best Oscar broadcasts in recent memory. It came close, but didn’t quite get there."
    • Parasite saved the Oscars from an unmitigated disaster of a telecast: "The Oscars need a host," says Kevin Fallon. "Hosts provide guidance, inject energy, wrangle things into focus, and help maintain the gravitas that the ceremony requires. Before the conclusion’s much-needed Bong hit, the telecast was a lifeless slog, a zombie that somehow still tripped over the low bar that was set for the night." Fallon adds: "Here’s a thought: If you’re not gonna have a host, why have any of the fringe hoopla? If they only aired the announcement of the winners and their speeches on Sunday night, you’d have missed that convoluted Janelle Monáe performance, Eminem rap for some reason, (Chris) Rock and (Steve) Martin bomb their monologue, and live renditions of five of the snooziest songs to ever compete for an Oscar. Sounds ideal! Give me the full crazy, or give me just the goods. Thanks to its rewarding of Parasite, the Academy delivered the goods. But a desirable end result doesn’t absolve the messy, complicated journey it took to get there. That roadmap needs a major overhaul, even if we get to toast to Bong tonight."
    • Hosts provide a needed function of being the elephant-in-the-room pointer, the joker, lowercase, who acknowledges the industry’s failures and embarrassment: "The Oscars are now an ensemble production," says James Poniewozik, adding: "This anarchist collective of a ceremony ended up being a sort of anthology of mini-shows, hosted by a string of presenters. Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig won Best Audition for a Future Awards Show, nailing a tight a cappella duet medley themed to the best costume design category. James Corden and Rebel Wilson, in costume from Cats, spoofed the uncanny-valley horror of that movie. There was also a string of questionable choices, starting with a bizarre Russian-doll approach in which several of the presenters were introduced by their own presenters. (The show did recognize that some stars, like the musical guest Elton John, needed no introduction.) There was, for some reason, a musical recap of the program halfway through, rapped by Utkarsh Ambudkar."
    • Host-less Oscars led to some bizarre presenting decisions: "Going host-less for the second year running ostensibly puts more pressure on the presenters, some of whom inevitably fared better than others," says Caroline Framke. "But the show’s emphasis on not just presenters, but (younger) presenters for the (more established) presenters, seriously pushed the limits of what constitutes a high value cameo. I’ve always wanted to know who networks think they’re luring into an awards show broadcast thanks to some star power reading the categories, and this round’s especially strange attempts confirm that awards shows are especially prone to the 'more is more' approach, regardless of logic. There’s just no reason, for instance, that Booksmart star Beanie Feldstein shouldn’t have presented alongside Mindy Kaling instead of alerting the audience to Kaling’s presence. 1917 breakout George McKay truly needn’t have thrown to Olivia Colman from the tippy top of the Dolby Theater. Most importantly, and perhaps in the most perfect summary of just how bizarre the night got by the halfway mark, who on earth suggested that Anthony Ramos introduce Lin-Manuel Miranda, so Lin-Manuel Miranda could introduce a montage of popular movies and the songs they made famous, which in turn introduced none other than Eminem performing the entirety of his 2002 Oscar-winning song 8 Mile, for no other reason than he didn’t get the chance before and that has a new album to promote? By the time Utkarsh Ambudkar was rapping about what had already happened in the ceremony so far, in a tepid reboot of Neil Patrick Harris’ go to closing bit for the Tonys, it seemed like the show had completely lost the thread."
    • The Oscars flaunted diversity without fully delivering: "Indeed, the Oscars kept patting itself on the back by trotting out women and people of color, as if giving them airtime made up for the lack of true recognition," says Shirley Li. "Actors like Beanie Feldstein, Zazie Beetz, and Mindy Kaling presented awards and introduced performances. Some, like the In the Heights star Anthony Ramos, arrived to present another presenter; in his case, Lin-Manuel Miranda. These moments appeared to not only be about making up for the lack of a host, but also about underlining the Academy’s expanding membership. Often, though, they only reminded the audience of the nominees’ homogeneity....Sure, it’s wonderful to see the Oscars give Kelly Marie Tran time to riff with Questlove, to watch Sandra Oh trade quips with Ray Romano, and to revel in Billy Porter taking the stage with Monae and matching her in exuberance ...But honoring those times requires more than just dressing up dancers as characters from the overlooked films and doling out stage time during a telecast at the end of a long awards season. Parasite’s Best Picture finish showed that if the Oscars wants to call itself diverse and to brandish its inclusivity, it’ll have to do so by nominating films that reflect diversity in the first place. When the roster of honorees looks nothing like the presenters and performers on Oscar night, the self-congratulatory tone doesn’t work. Actual results will always matter more than awards-show routines."
    • Perhaps Parasite winning Best Picture will convince HBO to scrap its Adam McKay adaptation: "i really hope Parasite winning Best Picture means it'll re-open wide and stream everywhere and HBO will cancel the sh*t out of that Adam McKay version," tweeted Inkoo Kang. "if the highest honor in the industry isn't good enough to let a film stand on its own, what use is it?"
    • Chris Rock and Steve Martin "sort of" hosting is sort of like Oscar category fraud: "Hollywood has somehow discovered a new form of category fraud," says Richard Lawson. "Running an obvious co-lead performance in a supporting category to better an actor’s chances of winning is a time-honored practice. But for two years now, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has said the Oscar ceremony won’t have a host only to reveal…sort of some hosts! In 2019, it was Tina Fey and Amy Poehler kicking off the show with some yuks, while this year it was past hosts Chris Rock and Steve Martin. They essentially gave the traditional opening monologue, ribbing the evening’s ills—particularly its near-total lack of people of color nominated in the acting categories, and the entire lack of women on the best director list—and then offered some warmed-over jokes about Fords and Ferraris and the Iowa caucus debacle. It was pretty unremarkable, except for one dark facet: Both Martin and Rock seemed pretty chagrined, perhaps channeling the mood an at least partially embarrassed Academy that knows the show must go on despite egregious nomination oversights and ineffectual efforts to prevent them. Do the Oscars hate themselves? No, of course not. But during those awkward host-ish moments, this Academy showcase seemed at least a little squirmy about the status of its legacy."
    • Sigourney Weaver, Brie Larson and Gal Gadot delivered the night's most cringeworthy moment: "The superwomen read some blustering, barely coherent text with all the good intentions in the world, including a belabored set-up about an all-woman fight club and a dull punchline about women in the industry being asked what it’s like being a woman in the industry," says Cassie Da Costa. "Then, the trio introduced Eimear Noone, the first woman conductor at the Oscars, who—in a horrifying move that surely wasn’t Noone’s choice—only led the orchestra for the Best Original Score nominees, and nothing else for any other part of the ceremony. It was a clear instance of tokenism: as long as we can see her, she can conduct."
    • Fewer montages made for a more "present tense" ceremony: "As for the Academy’s notorious and roundly deplored love of montages," says Rob Harvilla, "there were fewer of the tired History of Cinema flourishes that have stopped past ceremonies dead in their tracks; the most prominent montages this year were, in fact, the lengthy jumble of scenes from all five nominees that preceded the major acting categories and many of the other awards. (Whoever picked the flamethrower scene from Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood to represent the film for Best Sound Editing deserves, yes, an Oscar.) The show was ferocious in its desire to stay present tense, to go light to the point of nonexistent on the Lifetime Achievement Award front, save for Billie Eilish quite movingly singing the Beatles’ 'Yesterday' during the In Memoriam segment, which is frankly quite the collection of nouns."
    • If you like your Oscars automated, this year's ceremony was for you: "Automation isn’t just threatening the American workforce; it might be undermining America’s biggest awards show," says Hank Stuever. "The 92nd Academy Awards on ABC, hostless for a second year, seemed to run off some predetermined algorithm, not only in what viewers saw on Sunday night, but from the moment nominations were announced last month. Each year, that list seems perfectly calibrated to strike the most passionate filmgoers as just out of step with cultural progress; the outrage about that chronic condition is also beginning to seem reflexive, like a button too easily pressed. The telecast is then predictably salted with lots of jokes and jabs about what’s wrong with the Oscars." Stuever adds: "The more rote the Oscars become, the more they stand in contrast to what has perhaps become the most entertaining movie awards show — the Film Independent Spirit Awards, which took place Saturday afternoon and aired on cable channel IFC. Held under a big beachside tent in Santa Monica, the Spirit Awards have much of what viewers say they want from these affairs: spontanaiety, diversity and the general idea that going to a star-studded event (even vicariously, on television) ought to be a lot of fun."
    • Just let Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig host next year's Oscars: "What more do you people want from Maya Rudolph?" says Marissa Martinelli. "This marks the second year that the Oscars have gone without a host, and also the second year that Rudolph has stolen the show while presenting an award. In 2019, after Kevin Hart walked away from the job rather than apologize for homophobic tweets, the Academy left the host spot vacant, with presenters and announcers instead trading jokes and introductions. And for the most part, it was fine! But Rudolph, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler had such strong chemistry that it made us wish they’d just been given the gig instead. The Golden Globes got the memo, announcing that Fey and Poehler will host next year’s ceremony. But that leaves Rudolph, who once again shone at the Oscars this year, this time while presenting with Kristen Wiig."
    • Oscars' In Memoriam segment snubbed Luke Perry, Sid Haig and Cameron Boyce
    • Jane Fonda's reaction to Parasite winning made it clear she was about to announce Best Picture history
    • Brad Pitt insists he's written all his award season speeches, but with some help from "very, very funny friends": “Historically, I’ve always been really tentative about speeches," Pitt said backstage after accepting the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. "They make me nervous, so this round I figured if we’re going to do this, (I’d better) put some real work into it, to try to get comfortable, and this is the result of that. I definitely write them. I have some very, very funny friends that have helped me with some laughs, but it’s got to come from the heart.”
    • Billie Eilish accused of disrespecting Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig -- but she has a connection to them: The "Bad Guy" singer, who was shown side-eying the two comedic actresses during the Oscars, has a connection to Rudolph and Wiig through her mom, Maggie Baird, a teacher at the legendary comedy theater and school that's been the training ground to many SNL stars.
    • Joaquin Phoenix's Oscars speech on racism, queerness, misogyny, animal rights, personal sacrifice and cancel culture was a sprawling sociopolitical epic
    • Laura Dern's Oscar speech was great, but it couldn't eclipse the Independent Spirit Awards tribute to her the previous day
    • Watch Ray Romano's F-bomb, which wasn't bleeped on Australian TV
    • Who Is Utkarsh Ambudkar, the guy who recapped the Oscars?: Ambudkar played Mindy Kaling's brother on The Mindy Project and is best known as a member of the freestyle live performance rap group, “Freestyle Love Supreme," along with Lin-Manuel Miranda.
    • Meet Sharon Choi, Bong Joon Ho's translator: Choi, a filmmaker herself, is the interpreter who has followed Bong and the “Parasite” team throughout their successful awards season.
    • Twitter couldn't figure out Ryan Seacrest's "weird" accent on the red carpet
    • ESPN's Stephen A. Smith co-hosting the post-Oscars show begs the question: When did he have time to watch all of the nominees?
    • ABC under fire for banning a postpartum pain ad from the Oscars

    TOPICS: 92nd Academy Awards, ABC, HBO, Parasite, Billie Eilish, Bong Joon Ho, Brad Pitt, Cameron Boyce, Chris Rock, Jane Fonda, Janelle Monáe, Joaquin Phoenix, Kristen Wiig, Laura Dern, Luke Perry, Maya Rudolph, Ray Romano, Ryan Seacrest, Sharon Choi, Stephen A. Smith, Steve Martin, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Award Shows, Diversity