Chris rocked…

Posted on March 5, 2016


… but what about the rest? aka, the award for the show most in need of revamping goes to…

I didn’t expect much from the Oscar show. I missed the live telecast, and by the time I sat down for the rerun, I already knew who’d won the big awards. So I was surprised when I sat up five minutes into Chris Rock’s opening monologue. As if signalling his intent to not let the race controversy die, he wore a white tuxedo over black pants, and rapped about why blacks did not protest during the earlier Oscars. “Because we had real things to protest at the time, you know? Too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won Best Cinematographer, you know? When your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about Best Documentary Foreign Short.” I gasped. The occasional shots of the audience showed an uneasy bunch – they wanted to be hip enough to laugh, and yet, they didn’t know if they should. Rock was merciless. “This year, in the In Memoriam package, it’s just going to be black people that were shot on their way to the movies.”

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He did not spare blacks either. “It’s not fair that Will [Smith] was this good [in Concussion] and doesn’t get nominated. But it is also not fair that Will was paid $20 million for Wild Wild West.” This was the acidulous theme of the evening. There was a sketch in which black actors pretended to play parts made famous by white actors – I am still chuckling over the sight of Tracy Morgan in (and as) The Danish Girl. Another bit involved Rock outside a theatre in a predominantly black neighbourhood, where moviegoers registered utter incomprehension when asked about “white” films. (Spotlight? What the hell is that? Bridge of Spies? Where are you getting these movies from?) For the first time in maybe forever, it felt like the host wasn’t there to just dish out a few jokes. He had hijacked the Oscar stage for intensely personal agenda, to show an audience of ridiculously privileged whites what they looked like when seen through a black man’s eyes. Introducing the first presenters of the evening, Rock cracked, “You want diversity, we got diversity! Please welcome Emily Blunt and somebody whiter, Charlize Theron.” Ouch!

The other message Rock sent out was this: Enough with the lame routines. Let’s do this show like pros. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe’s shtick, to pick just one, was the very definition of a lame routine. Crowe began, “Good evening, folks. We’re here to present the award for Best Adapted Screenplay.” Gosling cut in, “Not to get too technical, that’s the screenplay that was the very best at adapting to whatever harsh conditions and obstacles were thrown in its way.” And on and on it went. Gosling and Crowe came off like amateurs in front of comedy pros like Sacha Baron Cohen and Louis CK, who feasted on the comic opportunities provided by the Best Documentary Short category. His brilliant bit landed at the sweet spot between “no one really cares about this award” and “what these people do is still so valuable.” Given that the Oscar host is essentially doing what a stand-up comedian does, why not get… actual comedians?

And why not get actual writers to script what the presenters read off those damn Teleprompters? Here’s how The Martian was announced: “A sci-fi epic with heart, a classic adventure saga that’s as big as an entire planet and yet occurs at the smallest possible human scale – that of one man alone.” This isn’t an art-house darling. It’s a huge global blockbuster. Why waste time telling the audience what they already know? Here’s how Cate Blanchett introduced the Best Costume Design segment: “Costumes are much more than just the clothes actors wear on screen. They’ve been called the skin of the character…” She could have said the same thing in four letters: Y-A-W-N. Another gem: “The five extraordinary artists nominated for Best Actress delivered performances with complexity and depth.” As opposed to all those other years where five merely ordinary artists found themselves nominated for phoning in their lines? How baffling to find such banality in the celebration of an industry whose currency is dialogue.

Why not scrap all this pre-award-presentation chit chat and give the winners more time to speak? I loved what Pete Docter said to schoolkids: “There are days you are going to feel sad, angry, going to be scared… Make films, draw, write, it will make a world of difference.” I loved the happiness Brie Larson radiated, the genuineness of her thank-yous. I was touched by Mark Rylance’s acknowledgement of his fellow nominees: “I don’t know how they separate my acting from your glorious acting in these wonderful films that you are in. I don’t know how they separated the five of us from all the other supporting actors who are making films at the moment.” I loved how heartfelt Leonardo DiCaprio sounded when making his points about climate change. There might have been many more such speeches if only the winners weren’t nervous about being shooed off by the eye-on-the-second-hand orchestra.

Because let’s face it, the majority of the awards are like the one for… Best Documentary Short. They’re important only to those who win. So if you want people to sit down for a three-hour show, you have to give them something too. No wonder the ratings for this year’s show are dismal. Who but the most ardent Oscar watchers would be interested in the grave address by the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences about the vital changes the industry needs in order to accurately reflect the world today? I’ve come to feel our awards ceremonies are sometimes better. They don’t think they’re saving the world. They deign to entertain viewers. I loved watching Priyanka Chopra at the Oscars – presenting a major award, no less, for Best Editing – but wasn’t she much more fun doing that tribute to Rekha at one of the IIFA shows?

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