The Oscars: The Super Bowl of Egotism

I used to love the Oscars. I gorged on the hype which led up to the awards. I knew the pitiful stories behind every feature documentary. The Oscars easily capture a child’s willing imagination. We watch the grown-ups who produce and portray our cinematic fantasies mingle together and celebrate themselves. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was a modern day Mt. Olympus, right here on Earth.

I don’t get anywhere near that kind of charge from the Oscars, anymore. It isn’t enough that we worship these screen actors as 25-foot deities? We also need to listen to their mortal selves thank their management?

Gods don’t serve themselves. I understood Norma Desmond. I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.

The Oscars are often posited as the female Super Bowl. That might be right. Start by focusing on fashion, with shout-outs to designers and dress talk. Combine that with the overwhelming, naked desire for self-validation which turns every red-carpet starlet into just another awkward teen. Pour over handsome men dressed in formal wear. Stir. Sit back and nitpick in between spoonfuls of Rocky Road.

I can’t compare it to the Super Bowl, though. Athletes train their whole lives to arrive at the biggest stage. Professional athletics is a meritocracy. The best rise to the top, no matter if you were born in a Florida swamp or a swank Upper East Side palace. Very little separates winners from losers, and that which does is transparent and quantifiable.

Not so much with the Oscars. The show rewards the profession with the least impact on the finished film product, acting, with the greatest amount of credit and acclaim. Each individual actor thanks personal deities, uninvited blood relations, and script-reading managers without the faintest realization that any number of sentient beings can do their job

Not to mention that so many actors — Robin Williams, Sigourney Weaver, Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Matt Damon, Jeff Bridges — are upper class twits who never worked areal job a single day of their lives.

Jealous? Sure. I wouldn’t mind still getting an invite to the coolest party in the world even after films like Patch Adams and Jack stained my resume.

The Oscars telecast made some significant changes this year. In order to draw more people to actual cinemas, they increased the number of Best Picture nominees to ten. Stop the presses! The Oscars must be saved!

Not so much. The Academy members have a difficult enough time selecting five worthy films each year, let alone ten. Yes, the increase allowed an animated film (that should have won) and two science fiction films to crash the party. But it also allowed for a Sandra Bullock vehicle to boast of being one of the ten best.

Further, I don’t know how many more people would see a film like A Serious Man in Winona, Minnesota if it isn’t showing there.

These Oscars, more than any in memory, wanted to please every demographic, except seniors (who don’t consume anything and therefore exist only to vote). They attempted to appeal more to the tween market by inviting presenters who individualize America’s junior-high lockers. Krisitn Stewart, Zac Ephron, The Other Dude From New Moon all gawked and stumbled through their first red carpet experience. I don’t know if it succeeded, but it left the Rockista and I asking ourselves often “Who the heck is that?”

The Oscars gave us Gen X-ers a tribute to John Hughes. Before I could agree on whether Hughes deserved his own tribute, it went all Celebrity Rehab on me when representatives from the Hughes Child Actors Guild appeared on stage.

Wow. Note to Mr. Nelson: You could have gotten your point across just as well by writing ‘Eat Me’ on an undershirt and saved yourself from having to steal the clothes off a bum.

Co-hosts Evil Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin provided the baby-boomer appeal. I don’t know what happened to Martin during the ’90s, but all the whimsy has left his humor. He is almost an entirely different comedian now, trading in cynicism and meanness.

Alec Baldwin, on the other hand, is enjoying a career renaissance with an on-going bit almost as challenging as Steven Colbert’s ‘Steven Colbert’. Baldwin, with his ‘Alec Baldwin’, mines our public suspicions about his character brought on my by the tabloid coverage of the past to construct a hard-to-resist offensive snob I’ve read that Baldwin does not embrace this success, and this hesitancy makes it even more effective. He’.s not begging for laughs, so we laugh more.

Cut from the telecast were the lifetime achievement awards. Lauren Bacall, Gordon Jenkins, and some other dude received these awards at a separate event which looked way more lively than what we were force fed. Whoever thought that a Lauren Bacall speech wouldn’t be entertaining probably lists The Breakfast Club in their personal top ten.

Even with the cuts, the Oscars ran long. The Rockista and I did not know who won the last three awards until the next morning because Comcast has yet to figure out how to keep their DVRs from cutting off live events. I’m sure there a lot of unemployed people who would be willing to sit someplace to send a signal toward the receivers extending time for sports and other live events.

We missed the Poor Man’s Julia Roberts’, Sandra Bullock, .acceptance speech for her Best Actress win. I’m not going to see The Blind Side, but I find it impossible to believe that Bullock gave the best lead actress performance of the year.

And there lies the Oscars’ biggest problem. Since actors make up such a gigantic percentage of Academy voters, the whole evening becomes nothing more than a trade-school student council election. Popularity and past work far outweigh the quality of work represented by the nomination. In fact, maybe that is the whole point. Maybe we watch the Oscars because they remind us of our own high school days.

The highlight of the evening happened at such speed you may have missed it. After Monique completed her own pitch for artistic and civil-right sainthood, the camera closed in on Samuel Jackson. Jackson glanced over at his neighbor, then turned toward the camera and rolled his eyes and shook his head in the universal “That bitch be crazy” look.

The lowlight was, for the 11th year running, Sarah Jessica Parker. Bill Hicks once believed that a national conspiracy was behind Whoopi Goldberg’s success. I believe there must be a national conspiracy behind Sarah Jessica Parker. How is this woman a sex symbol and fashion icon? I, and most other men, tuned Sex and the City out right after we realized that the sex revolved around her. Maybe the fashion world loves her because she provides such a unique challenge: How much of her can we cover up while still allowing for her to be recognized?

I must admit I am a huge fan of a few of her performances. First, her ’80s turns in Square Pegs and Girls Just Want to Have Fun (which also contains Helen Hunt’s best work). Second, her on-going success as Matthew Broderick’s beard. No wonder she wants to do more Sex and the City sequels.

Next year, they should keep the co-host idea, but it should be Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. Let them improvise whatever they want. Build a variety show around them. Make sure you bring Ben Stiller back. Bring back five films for best picture, and focus the telecast around them. Don’t let anyone dance.

Do not let an actor give an acceptance speech. Bring back the life-time achievement awards. Let the subjects of the documentaries accept the awards. Show the shorts during the telecast. Instead of a glorified trailer, have the cast of the best picture nominees improvise their film in three minutes or less. Have an act-off for the acting categories where they must reprise one of their competitor’s roles live. Make sure the show ends in three hours and finally, once again — no dancing!

Photo (partial) by © Robert Gauthier courtesy MCT