In any past year, if someone told me they hadn’t watched the Oscars, I’d say they were either irreparably straight or blind. This year, I’d just say they were lucky.
The show has been flailing for a while now, but us loyal gays have stuck with it. Ok, we stayed mostly for the dresses, but still we could always hope for a surprise winner here and there, a transcendent moment in an acceptance speech, an iconic musical performance maybe.
The 94th Annual Academy Awards could barely manage to throw us a bone, other than Timothee Chalamet’s chest, and who wants to chew on that? Thank god for Arianna DeBose, in general and last night, who put the red in red carpet. If she and Gaga rep as our new Cher at the Oscars, maybe there’s a glimmer on the horizon.
The show did open big, with Beyonce doing a commercial for Pantone’s Color of the Year. She and her entourage didn’t move too much, and her song may as well have been written by Diane Warren for all its uninspired lyrics and flat composition, but we take whatever Beyonce we can get.
Then a trio of lady comedians were presented as hosts, but after their opening, we barely saw them. The gig clearly scares the shit out of everyone, so kudos to Wanda Sykes’ balls, but there was a lack of boysterousness, a sense of apprehension, to the bits, like ‘ok, we’re going to do this joke, hope it works, ok, here goes…”
Halfway through, it was hard to remember anything that had happened. The winners and their acceptance speeches were predictable, even when they were touching. If I pull up a Pixar movie, I know I’m going to tear up in the final act, so same when I know Troy Kotsur’s going to win and give an emotional acceptance speech.
Speaking of unavoidable animation studios, let’s note that Disney doesn’t talk about Bruno because he’s a gay kid in Florida. Why, why cannot voters let go of their fealty to Disney animation? Encanto is yet another off their production line with a theme no one can make sound resonant beyond the now clearly disingenuous theme behind every single other Disney movie (don’t be afraid to be your true self! Right.). Is animation only worthy of an award when it’s written by rich Hollywood parents who can shield their children from red state legislatures? And no, throwing Megan Thee Stallion into your TikTok Bruno pablum doesn’t help. A trophy for Flee would have helped.
There were two other musical performances that didn’t involve dancers kicking a camera around the stage, but were just as nauseating. Reba McIntyre tried valiantly to get her notes around one of the ugliest Diane Warren nominees ever, and that’s saying a lot. Then there was the song from Encanto that wasn’t Bruno, and thus was forgettable, presented in a faux jungle clearing with a dancing couple pulled from a Cinco de Mayo celebration at Union Station.
Billie Eilish and Finneas delivered the only Oscar-worthy performance, of the only decent song nominated. And they won, so that was a tiny blip of light in the dullness.
Another blip came in the second half when the Pepsi-logo stage design was changed out and props repositioned so it didn’t appear as a big white Oscar was looming over the shoulder of all the POC presenters.
As expected, Dune rolled through the craft awards, and all we got out of their six times on stage were what looked like the same two 50-year-old white guys bowing in reverence to some lady named Denice Villeneuve.
And we do care about craft awards! Costume and Make-up especially. Taking most of them out of the broadcast changed nothing. In fact, a lot of times those winners bring some quirkiness and surprise to the proceedings, which last night lacked more than ever.
But what about the BIG surprise, you ask? The most shocking moment in 94 years of Oscar history? Doesn’t that make up for the boredom?
No, not when it’s an on-stage assault. If my beloved Oscars were already on life support, Will Smith just smacked the plug right out of the socket. He didn’t just wipe out the joy of watching CODA win, or Jessica Chastain paying tribute to a woman who was never given her due as a gay ally. He wiped out any hope left that this event is worth watching.
The Academy’s misguided stabs at relevance, complicated by TV network executives blind to what relevance actually is, have already done serious damage. You can forgive new producers for clumsy execution of good ideas, but this strategy has left us a show that trots out lifeless GenZ presenters, who aren’t talented enough actors to pretend they want to be there, and jettisons aspects of the Oscars that have always and will always work – like a full orchestra and a silent In Memoriam segment – for contrived hipness. The few seasoned pros who know how to bring life and spontaneity to the proceedings have either left the building, or are getting assaulted on stage.
This week will be for major damage control on the part of the Smiths and the Academy. But let’s admit it – the hole in the soul of the Oscars is just too big to fill. It was a near-extinct species trying to hobble across the speeding freeway of oblivious and insatiable pop-culture consumers, and Will Smith just made it road kill.
It was so fitting, and so sad, that the final visual of this Oscar night was major talent and gay icon Liza Minelli parked in a wheelchair onstage, no one listening to her because they were all on their phones reading about a Jerry Springer brawl.
My gay heart was broken last night. But maybe that’s good. No matter how enlightened the show tries to be, this Academy still clearly has a lot of mold to clear out of its basement.
The fact that we’ve stuck with Oscar until now shows we diehard fans are willing to compromise. I’d happily sit through a hollow Euphoria pretty-boy attempting to read off a teleprompter if they’d stop giving trophies to every Disney animated movie made. Or hold my tongue about a KStew nomination if they’d stop nominating Diane Warren. But last night left little to negotiate over.
Maybe the Academy should take their awards in-house for the next few years, then put on a major spectacle for the 100th Anniversary in 2028, when Duane Johnson is elected President. Maybe things will be sorted out by then. Maybe Jada’s hair will have grown back, and Will can get angry over reviews of Hancock instead. Maybe Nicole Kidman will be the ultimate Oscar host, as her ‘please go back to the theaters’ promo suggests.
Maybe Oscar can resuscitate itself. In the meantime, let’s look forward to the Gaga/Minelli Vegas show.