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2008 Oscar® Ceremony

by Tony Medley

The 2008 Oscar® show was not just the worst Oscar® telecast in history, it was one of the worst television shows anyone has ever had to sit through. It was so bad that it’s difficult to know where to begin. So, like Alice in Wonderland, let’s start at the beginning, which is the Red Carpet.

Where did the women get the ugly dresses they were wearing? Meryl Streep’s dress looked like she picked it up out of the trash. The others’ weren’t much better. These women apparently didn’t want to look glamorous or don’t know how. They dressed as if they were auditioning for roles in the sequel to “Slumdog Millionaire.” Glamour clearly wasn’t a part of this year’s Oscar®.

Then the show started. The Oscars® have had many different hosts. Almost always they have been professional comedians. While there have been some disasters, like David Letterman in 1994, most have been adequate and some have been huge hits, like Billy Crystal and Johnny Carson. Each year the show has been pretty good, as far as I was concerned. Some people constantly criticized, but, except for the acceptance speeches, the format has served Oscar® well.

This year, however, danger was in the air because the Academy hired two new producers, Bill Condon and Laurence Marx. These guys are responsible for “Dreamgirls,” one of the worst musicals of all time, so trepidation was justified. And they validated that trepidation by hiring Hugh Jackman, not a comedian, as host. As might be expected, the first half hour, which consisted of Jackman trying to be charming and funny, was dismal. This was one of the longest half hours I’ve ever seen on television. I won’t go into details, because some of you probably actually sat through it. The only good thing about it was that the show probably couldn’t get any worse. It should have been all uphill from there. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

More horribly ugly dresses traipsed out on the stage, right at the outset, because the geniuses Condon and Marx had hired Philip McKinley as their Director. McKinley decided to get rid of one of the best parts of the Oscar® shows, the film clips that introduce the awards for Best Supporting Actor and Actress and Best Actor and Actress. Instead of clips, McKinley paraded past winners of each award to make maudlin introductions of each nominee. The acceptance speeches, which are what generally slow down the show, aren’t as bathetic as what each of these people said about the nominees. It wasn’t just uninvolving, it was embarrassing.

But what made it worse was that the first award was Best Supporting Actress, each nominee introduced by a former winner of the award. The five former winners were Tilda Swinton, Eva Marie Saint, Anjelica Huston, Whoopi Goldberg, and Goldie Hawn. Except for Saint (who was dressed like the lady she has always been), these women were dressed in the most horrible looking outfits seen this side of Soviet Russia. What were they thinking? They almost made the horrid outfit with which Streep ensconced herself look passable (almost, but not quite; nothing could make that rag look anything but awful).

Later, Reese Witherspoon came out in a dress that could charitably be described as hideous. But what really set her apart was her hairdo, which one of my companions described as looking like the way his housekeeper does her hair when she cleans his house.

Later, when the five women chosen to introduce the Best Actress award came on stage, their dresses were equally shoddy. Sophia Loren is one of the sexiest women who ever lived, even at her advanced years. But she must have asked her designer to pick out the most unsightly dress he could find, and he succeeded admirably. My date described Nicole Kidman’s dress by saying, “It would be great in a different color in a different style.”

What in the world was Sarah Jessica Parker wearing? Does she really need to wear a push up bra with a dress cut so that she was sure the tops of her breasts would be pushing out so people could see she really does have cleavage? Is she trying to make people think that she has Marilyn Monroe-like breasts? On National television? In front of billions of people?

When they did decide to show clips, they were enormously confusing. Instead of introducing each clip separately, they bunched them together, so you really couldn’t tell what you were seeing. Then, only after the clips, someone announced who the nominees were. The bunched up clips were a bad idea, but simple common sense would dictate that the nominees be announced before the clips were shown, not after.

By the time the Best Picture was going to be announced, I had figured that it couldn’t get any worse. I was wrong. They had clips. But one could have never anticipated what these geniuses did. Instead of showing clips of each film separately, they once again bunched them all together without any introduction. But to make matters immeasurably worse, they inserted scenes from past winners in with the scenes of each nominated film. So there we were watching a scene from, for instance, “Slumdog Millionaire,” and suddenly there’s a clip from “Casablanca!” They did that with each clip. What’s that all about? My date said that she thought it must be because the nominated films were so poor in quality that the producers wanted to remind people that at one time the Oscars® actually rewarded quality films.

I don’t know what the numbers are going to be for this show. I have a party every year at the same place for the Oscars®. This year the attendance was far below what it has been in the past. One reason, of course, is that the pictures nominated have been soundly rejected by the viewing audience. Nobody cared who won among the mediocre, politically-motivated films that were nominated, so they stayed away. I imagine that the telecast numbers will be the same. I also imagine that people would have turned it off. I would have, had I not been at a party. Not only were the nominated films ones in which people had little interest, but the production was uninteresting and tiresome.

While I’m at it, I must comment that when the mawkish acceptance speeches are made, it always reminds me that these people are actors and one cannot believe any emotion one sees by them at the podium. It always looks to me as if they have rehearsed these “emotional” speeches many times. Knowing that robs the speeches of the involvement one would feel if watching the same speech by a normal person. Kate Winslet’s gushing acceptance looked especially suspicious, because it was strikingly similar to her speech at the Golden Globes.

This could have been the kiss of death for the Oscars® as a widely-viewed television event. Sean Penn received an award that should have gone to Mickey Rourke, and then compounded the felony by offending at least half the audience by making a political speech. He wasn’t the only one. When the screenwriter for Penn’s film, Dustin Lance Black, received an award, he, too, made an offensive political speech. Both gratuitously insulted people who hold opposing positions, so they gratuitously offended more than half of their audience. Nobody cares about what these insular Hollywood people think about politics (Penn’s education ended when he dropped out of the Santa Monica Community College auto mechanics course). When they impose their opinions on viewers, all they do is turn people off.

As I said a couple of weeks ago, with the low-quality films that Oscar® has promoted the past few years, the only reason I watch the show is to see what the women are wearing. If this year is an example, there goes the last reason to watch this show.

February 22, 2009