Slate Critics Debate the Merits of This Year’s Oscar Ceremony

All about the Academy Awards.
Feb. 27 2012 5:44 PM

Crystal Comedic Anemia

Slate critics debate the merits of this year’s Oscar ceremony.

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Host Billy Crystal (R) speaks with stage manager Dency Nelson during the Oscars on Sunday night

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Slate senior editor Dan Kois, film critic Dana Stevens, and TV critic Troy Patterson were on Slate’s Facebook page on Tuesday to chat with readers about Sunday’s Oscar ceremony. Slate  culture critic June Thomas also made a special guest appearance. The following transcript of the discussion has been edited for length and clarity. To see the full conversation, click on this link.

David Logan-Morrow: Maybe, in future, the Oscars might want to take their lead from the winning film ... and do them silently.

Beth Young: I'd rather watch paint dry. So boring.

Troy Patterson: Hi! Patterson here. Man, you guys are a tough crowd. I wanted to give the show a B-, I think, but I've got to dock it two grades on account of the audio feedback, which made me worry that the usual Day of the Locusts scene outside the ceremony had been replaced with actual swarming insects.

Troy Patterson: But before I dig in chatting about the telecast, I will direct you to the Twitter feed of Bret Easton Ellis for a report from the front lines: "Just got back from various Oscar parties. It's 6 AM in LA. Consensus: best-produced Oscar show ever. No lawyers, managers or agents thanked."

Dan Kois: Hello fellow Oscar complainers! We're here to talk awards with you. One thing I will say about this year's show: They came in at a snappy 3 hours, 14 minutes, a minute shorter than last year's!

Elizabeth Maria Seger: I enjoyed the Oscars. For the first time, other than the idiot Borat, there was no foul language, most of the people dressed well, the speeches were personal and sweet and, frankly, it might have been staid but it had something the Oscars have lacked in the last eight years—class.

Dan Kois I'm interested in your appreciation for the show's "class." It's funny, because I think I watch the show hoping for the exact opposite. Too often to me "class" reads as "dull," but I do understand that other viewers may find it refreshing or even inspiring.

Violet Crenshaw: I guess I was watching a different Oscars show... I was glad to see Billy Crystal back and thought he did a great job. It was better than it's been in years.

Dana Stevens: Hey all, I just got on here. Troy? Dan? Are you guys around? I actually didn't mind Crystal as host at all—he got through the opening clip montage & song medley pretty well, and then disappeared for most of the rest of the show. I'm curious: How do people feel about The Artist cleaning up as it did? If you haven't seen it yet, did the awards make you want to?

Troy Patterson: I think that you and I are on the same page re Crystal. Can't decide whether to be mildly annoyed at the grandiosity of his white-tie-and-tails or mildly amused by the self-teasing clownishness of same.

Dana Stevens: I actually thought Crystal had a couple of good jokes early on. The idea of him being the coma patient in The Descendants, brought back to life to host by George Clooney, was pretty funny. Though I could've done without the homophobic kiss gag.

Troy Patterson: What I found oddest about the kiss gag is that Crystal made two later jokes about it, which I guess counts as a leitmotif, or something.

Dan Kois: Whoo boy you guys, I can't get behind the Crystal it-wasn't-so-bad-ism. The guy had a hit rate of about 15 percent on his jokes. Even jokes that should be slam-dunks—introducing two gorgeous actresses, say—came off like crap that Mr. Saturday Night would've booted from his act. I winced every time I saw him, and the crowd at my Oscar party declared him finished by the end of the first hour.

Dan Kois: Yeah, I didn't find the kiss gag homophobic—it was played extremely straight, so to speak.

Dan Kois: Also, Troy, Bret is wrong! Octavia Spencer finished her speech UP with a panicked, teary thank-you to her management. It actually seemed like she was terrified about what would happen if she forgot them.

Dana Stevens: The last words of Octavia Spencer's speech were "I'm sorry ... I'm sorry ... " toward all the people she didn't have time to thank! I liked her genuine, flustered, teary manner. One of the moments, along with Asghar Farhadi accepting for best foreign film, that were sincerely moving.

Troy Patterson: Thanks for the BEE fact-check, Dan. But the speeches were generally pretty, do you agree? And do we think that the Undefeated guys, accepting their prize, were charming frisky puppies or simply sloppy dogs?

Dan Kois: Yes, there were some very good speeches. Christopher Plummer's, Asghar Farhadi's and Meryl's among them. And whichever one of the tech winners thanked, basically, everyone watching and not watching, already dead and not yet born.

Troy Patterson: Hey, Dan—I will venture that it is a measure of Crystal comedic anemia that, try as I did, I could not muster a wince. He excited raging dispassion.

David Sanchez: It was actually really sad seeing Billy Crystal bomb over and over again. It just felt like he was mumbling inside jokes the entire night. The highlight for me, and perhaps something that justified all the nostalgia the awards show was trying to market the entire night, was Christopher Plummer's acceptance speech. His manner, eloquence, and class are unparalleled.

Dana Stevens: Agree to disagree on Crystal—but can we all come together over the acknowledgement that it was painful to watch Brett McKenzie get his Oscar for the Muppet song, with Jason Segel & Kermit & Miss Piggy looking on, and not get to sing it. Why not cut a couple of the "hey, remember what movies are?" montages to make time for the nominated songs? "Man or Muppet?" would have brought the house down.

Troy Patterson: Yes, Dana, "Man or Muppet" was a missed opportunity. In my imagination, it's great, and it involves a variation on James Brown's cape routine.

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Andrew John: Struck me as an increasingly desperate attempt to convince somebody (anybody!) that America's culture industry is still relevant to human beings rather than corporations. And absurd that lifetime achievement and humanitarian awards are now regulated to a separate night—with a theater box and a bow—and that time instead used to have actors explain how great they and Hollywood movies are. Ha! And someone please get Angelina a cheeseburger and a therapist, stat.

Dan Kois: Yes, I also thought the evening felt disingenuous at times. I preferred Chris Rock's blunt (and funny) honesty about how voice-over acting is the easiest job in the world.

Dana Stevens: Dan, if we'd watched the Oscars together there would've been some tension in the room! Chris Rock was born to stand on a stage and be funny (and I loved the natural 'fro he was rocking), but that voice-actor diss sort of bugged me. It's only easy to make a million dollars voicing an animated character if you're already a movie star.

June Thomas: But, Dana, Chris Rock did tweak animated casting agents who do seem pretty narrow in how they cast even super-famous black actors.

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Kendice Masse: The show was wrought with problems. The jokes were horrible, the audio was plagued with a tin and it could not have been more painful to watch. The production staff is too old, the show formula does not work and until a suitable host is found they should not give it air time.

Dan Kois: Yes, I too noticed major audio problems. I could barely hear Crystal sing in that opening song; Paltrow's mic got stuck in the floor; the sound overall was buzzy and lousy. Was it all a conceptual tribute to The Artist?

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June Thomas: Resolved: TV people won the night. I'm thinking of the Bridesmaids presenters, who are mostly associated with TV at least for a little longer; Jim Rash, of Community and Reno 911 fame; Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords; Octavia Spencer has been on a bunch of small-screen shows, etc. Other than Meryl Streep, who perhaps didn't deserve the win but gives a great speech, and Christopher Plummer, the funniest and most moving bits were from telly peeps.

Chuck Kallenbach: Cirque de Soleil has nothing to do with movies. Shouldn't have been there. Besides, one guy fell down. That stuff weirds me out anyway.

Dan Kois: Yes let's discuss Cirque! That was weird, right? I mean weird in execution but also weird in that an ostensibly magical live performance featuring actual humans was supposed to make me excited about seeing movies?

Dana Stevens: Cirque de Soleil performance seemed like another demonstration of my theory that at some point a bunch of guys met in a room with a whiteboard & said, "How can we stage a really out-of-touch ceremony this year? Something that'll have people scratching their heads in puzzlement?"

Troy Patterson: Chuck: Cirque may have nothing do with movies—give or take the Vegas scene in Knocked Up—but it has everything to do with pseudo-events. First the Super Bowl, now the Oscars. I complete expect to see them at the GOP Convention in Tampa.

Chuck Kallenbach: Not Angelina's leg, but the winner who parodied her silly stance, THAT was the best moment of the night.

Dan Kois: Chuck, that was, as June points out, Jim Rash, an LA improviser/comedian who also stars on Community. Between that and the Bridesmaids—and the Christopher Guest & Co. bit—it's a good reminder that getting sharp improvisers who can think on their feet often makes for good TV.

Chuck Kallenbach: I don't watch Community, but all my friends do. Agreed that the TV folks knocked it out of the park, and I loved the Guest Oz thing.

Max Rohleder: Instead of all their little gags and nonsense presentations, they could have actually shown us the shorts. It would have been nice to see one of these ostensibly great pieces for once.

Troy Patterson: Max: HBO is airing Saving Face in early March.

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Dan Kois: Thanks everyone—I have to head out to a meeting. Dana and Troy have a few more questions in them, so fire away!

Alysia Abbott: I could have done with fewer, "Why we love the movies!" PSA-type productions. Was this included because of falling ticket sales? A fear that everyone is flocking to CABLE TV for the artful experience movies once delivered? As for the sweep of the night, I liked The Artist but couldn't enjoy their win because it felt like the predictable end-result of a moneyed thug insider (Harvey Weinstein) campaign. The sweetness of the experience of The Artist is drowned out by engine fuel of the Miramax machine.

Dana Stevens: Hey Alysia! Nice to see you on here. I'm finishing up my post to our Oscar chat right now & this is one of my main points. We get what movies are, and we like them already—that's why we're watching the damn Oscars! Agree also that The Artist is a sweet trifle of a film that feels a bit tainted by Weinstein's hype.

Dana Stevens: OK, y'all, I have to go blather in a different format now. Look for my final post to the Oscar dialogue in the next hour or so. Thanks to you all, and to God, Oprah and the academy.

Troy Patterson: OK, so: Who do we like for best actor next year: DiCaprio as Gatsby or Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln?

Isis Leininger: Larry King said it on the radio today: Did you laugh? Yes? So, there we go. Everyone just over criticizes it and forget to enjoy it. It was just the Oscars, people, enjoy it for what it is. Go criticize and worry about something else that actually matters.

Troy Patterson: OK, well, I do not see how to improve on the lovely notes that Dana and Isis leave us with, so I'll bet one Lincoln that DiCaprio gets an Oscar for playing James Gatz. Check back here next year to see if I owe you $5!

Dan Kois is a senior editor at Slate and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.