Oscar drama continues

After last year’s Academy Awards ceremonies were widely considered to be the worst in years, the Academy was left in a dark place. As co-host Anne Hathaway’s bubbly enthusiasm failed to counterbalance the dead weight that was her hosting counterpart, the leaden James Franco, who was infamously rumoured to be high during the ceremonies, it was clear that the anticipated ‘young blood’ approach to hosting was flagrantly unsuccessful, prompting a revamped approach for this year. Nonetheless, the preparations for the Academy Awards have prompted an uproar of politics, tension and unintentional humour unlike any ceremony in years.

Perhaps most controversial was the appointment of director Brett Ratner of Rush Hour and (prepare to gnash your teeth) X-Men: The Last Stand fame, as co-producer of the ceremonies.

While some thought Ratner’s risqué comedic sensibilities would punch some much needed life into the notoriously dry ceremonies, others were concerned that his usual brand of self-indulgent crudity would dispel the usual vestiges of panache the Academy struggles to maintain.

Ratner’s choice of host, comedy legend Eddie Murphy, elicited feelings of relief in many, though many remained anxious that the reprised collaboration of the two would turn the Oscars into Tower Heist 2 — flimsy satire and ill-conceived racial humour included.

At any rate, it seemed apparent that, whether promising or cringe-worthy, the Academy appeared to be tapping into public sensibilities to try to again, to do something pointedly different than the past.

However, this was not to be the case. During a publicity tour for Tower Heist, Ratner’s mouth got the better of him, resulting in him making several crude references to his sex life and (allegedly unintentional) homophobic slurs. Despite numerous public apologies by Ratner, the publicity backlash led to him “resigning” as producer, with friend and collaborator Murphy quickly following.

Now forced to re-fill the positions of producer and host while subject to considerable scrutiny, it would seem the Academy considered this turn of events as representative of taking a chance on a new approach, as their new appointments, producer Brian Grazer and eight-time host Billy Crystal, epitomized the notion of ‘safe’. As Grazer stated, “Humour and comedy are going to be our tentpole. We’re not going to try to reinvent the wheel. Our obligation to the Academy is to respect it.”

While the reappointment of the beloved Crystal was a source of adulation for many, the Ratner debacle and the Academy’s recovery from it does provide considerable insight into the inner workings of the Academy itself.

Tellingly enough, last year’s ceremonies, which arguably took the biggest chance in a while with the youngest hosts to date who were also not specifically anchored as being comedic (like Crystal), also shoehorned in an almost uncomfortably overt succession of allusions to the history and tradition of the Oscars, as if desperately trying to assert more relevance than a burgeoning desire to appear ‘hip’ and ‘cool’.

Likewise this year, in the face of scrutiny and controversy, the Academy reverted to the most traditional, ‘safe’ framework of the past with Crystal and his patented approach to hosting.

While the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” does come to mind, the projected ‘image’ of the Oscars in terms of an evolving entity attempting to address a technological age where audiences appear less inclined to sit in a cinema to watch films, remains even more unfixed and uncertain than ever.

It will be interesting to see how the ratings reflect the ‘safe’ choice of Crystal as host, and whether, in order to reassert relevance, the Oscars will revert to such drastic ends as (God forbid) hiring the Twilight stars to host next year’s ceremonies.

Leave a Reply