We don't need no stinkin’ heroes, and other things we learned on Sunday night
Some people watched Sunday night's Oscar show and decided that Ellen is the new Billy.
Others watched it and are convinced that the Oscars will never be enjoyable until they throw a bunch of categories off the television show.
Everybody watched it and wondered just how John Travolta‘s tongue could turn “Idina Menzel” into “Adele Dazeem.” (And I have it on good authority that he did show up for rehearsal, so he actually practiced saying it.)
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But there are other lessons to take away from the 86th Academy Awards. Here are five.
1. Oscar shows do not need themes.
The second Oscar show produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron was far better than the first, with Ellen DeGeneres a low-key, inclusive host as opposed to the more aggressive divisiveness of last year's emcee, Seth MacFarlane.
The show's faults – and it would be a rare Oscars if it didn't have plenty of those – included a slow pace and a sense that nothing much was happening, which wasn't helped by the fact that award after award went to the favorite.
And Zadan's and Meron's stated theme, “a tribute to heroes,” added nothing to the evening. The video montages of animated heroes, real-life heroes and superheroes were the most extraneous, peripheral and entirely unnecessary parts of the show, and could easily have been jettisoned at a savings of at least 10 minutes.
Back in the early '90s, when Gil Cates took over as the producer of the Oscar show, Cates used to give his shows themes. But after four years of themes, Cates stopped doing that – and not only was there no clamor to bring back the themes, most people either didn't notice their absence or liked that they weren't there.
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You know what the theme of an Academy Awards show should be? “The Oscars.”
2. Harvey Weinstein may be a master campaigner, but he's not a magician.
The Weinstein Co. had a big slate of awards-worthy films in 2013, but “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and “Fruitvale Station” didn't land any Oscar nominations. “August: Osage County” got two acting nods and “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” got a single song nomination for U2; the company's most-nominated film was “Philomena,” which landed in the Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Original Score categories.
And in the final weeks of the campaign, nobody worked harder than Weinstein. Invitations to events for “Philomena” and “Mandela” seemed to arrive almost daily, and the company's campaigners were equally aggressive with the documentary “20 Feet From Stardom,” a TWC/RADiUS release.
It helped that the subjects of “Philomena” and “20 Feet,” Philomena Lee and a group of backup singers that included Merry Clayton and Darlene Love, could be trotted out to post-nomination events without counting against the strict AMPAS limits on Phase 2 parties and Q&As.
But in the end, “Philomena” didn't win anything, “August: Osage County” didn't win anything and U2 didn't win for “Mandela.” After a typically aggressive and exhaustive campaign, Weinstein could lay claim to the Best Documentary award for its TWC/RADiUS offering “20 Feet” … and that's it.
For a company only two years removed from back-to-back Best Picture wins for “The King's Speech” and “The Artist,” that's a paltry haul, and one that shows that even Harvey Weinstein comes up short at the Oscars sometimes.
3. As far as the Academy is concerned, 3D is 1D too many.
Sure, Oscar voters loved “Gravity” and gave it seven awards, just as it made the 3D “Life of Pi” a big winner last year, and “Hugo” the year before.
But when it comes to Best Picture, 3D's best chance to make it to the winner's circle came up short once again. Apparently, the kind of movies that lend themselves to the process – big, exciting movies with lots of visual effects – aren't what the Academy is looking for, at least not yet.
And in the Animated Short category, Disney's 3D Mickey Mouse cartoon “Get a Horse!” was considered a big frontrunner for its delightfully format-bending approach. But in a category where all the voters received screeners of the nominees, the Academy refused to let Disney send 3D screeners of “Get a Horse!,” saying that it would give the film an unfair advantage.
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But doesn't forcing voters to see a film in a format other than the one for which it was made give that film an unfair disadvantage?
And isn't this sort of be like telling the other four cinematography nominees that they have to send out black-and-white screeners because “Nebraska” was in black and white?
4. You can overthink the process.
In truth, I should change that line to “I can overthink the process,” because I'm really talking about myself now.
Back in September, “12 Years a Slave” seemed to tick lots of the boxes that Oscar voters look for in a Best Picture winner: It was big, bold, important, potentially historic. I put it in the No. 1 spot in all of my Best Picture predictions at that point, and kept it there for most of the next six months.
But with only a couple of weeks left in the race, I dithered and agonized and decided that in such a close race, it mattered that some voters were apparently too squeamish to watch the film. And mostly, I thought that the Academy's preferential system for counting Best Picture votes would play a role in giving the win to “Gravity,” which might be more of a consensus favorite.
If the voting rules used when the Academy had five best-pic nominees were still in place – the movie with the most votes wins, period – I would have stuck with “12 Years a Slave.” But preferential seemingly had the potential to change the dynamic, to upend the fact that “Slave” looked more like a typical winner than “Gravity.”
So I switched, and I was wrong, which contributed to a thoroughly mediocre year of predicting winners. And I learned that maybe I put too much stock in moving stacks of ballots (or poker chips, as the case may be), and that if it looks and feels and talks like a Best Picture winner, it's probably going to win Best Picture.
5. It's an honor just to be nominated. No, really. It is.
“You should all think of yourselves as winners,” DeGeneres said in her opening monologue on Sunday. “Not all of you, but the people who have won before.”
The joking aside, the Oscars gave a lot of people a chance to think of themselves as something other than winners. “American Hustle” went 0-for-10, one shy of the record for an Oscar-night shutout. “Captain Phillips” went 0-for-6, giving Sony a big 0-for-16 if you don't count the win for Sony Classics’ “Blue Jasmine.” “Nebraska” went 0-for-6, too, while “The Wolf of Wall Street” went 0-for-5, “Philomena” went 0-for-4.
In fact, of the 32 features that were nominated for Oscars in 19 categories (not counting foreign-language and documentary features and the shorts), only seven of them won anything on Sunday. The other 25, almost 80 percent of the field, went home empty-handed – and that fraternity of let's-not-call-them-losers included not just the films I've mentioned but such acclaimed works as “All Is Lost,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Before Midnight,” “Prisoners,” “Saving Mr. Banks” and more.
Moving to individual nominees, cinematographer Roger Deakins is now 0-for-11, despite the fact that the night's winner, Emmanuel Lubezki, has called Deakins “the greatest cinematographer alive.” And composer Thomas Newman is now 0-for-12, though he's still a few losses shy of the 0-for-15 streak his cousin Randy Newman was on before Randy finally won the first of his two Oscars.
Oh, and Leonardo DiCaprio is now halfway to Peter O'Toole's record of eight acting nominations without a win.
So to all the folks who will have to find consolation in the fact that they're simply Oscar nominees, take heart – you're in fine company.