It's very nice that Oscars made a special tribute to movie musicals. The only problem is that not a single one of the musicals honored (Chicago, Dreamgirls, Les Miz) was ever eligible for Oscar's own category of "Best Original Musical." That's right, there really is an Oscar category for Best Original Musical (that's never actually been activated, but sits there in the Academy rulebook nonetheless) -- but it holds that all the songs have to be truly original, which is why adaptations of Broadway musicals are never going to be eligible.
The last decade has indeed seen a renaissance of the movie musical -- some adaptations of plays, some not. Think about Once, Sparkle, Ray, Walk the Line, Footloose, Hairspray, Mamma Mia!, Pitch Perfect, RENT, Enchanted, The Producers, High School Musical 3, even the much maligned Rock of Ages this year. (For various reasons, none of them would have been eligible for the Academy's Best Original Musical either, except for maybe Once.)
But eight years ago, there were enough teams to activate the Best Original Musical category (Team America: World Police, Home on the Range, Greendale, Open House and Half Empty), and the Academy went out of its way to squash the category completely, inexplicably defying its own rules.
If you are going to celebrate past musicals, then how about pick more than three -- (including one that was produced by the Oscar show's own producers, and quite possibly lip-synced by Catherine Zeta-Jones -- if not, it was the most invisible microphone ever). If you are going to reunite the cast of Chicago, how about bringing up Taye Diggs or Oscar-nominated supporting actor John C. Reilly? If you're worried about your ratings, how about invite Beyoncé or Oscar-nominated Eddie Murphy to sing with Jennifer Hudson? And if you've got John Travolta introducing the segment, why not let him actually sing a little from Hairspray -- arguably one of the best musicals of the last decade.
If you have real respect for the form, why not invite the actual musicians to be in the room, and not a mile down the block at the Capitol Records basement. (I was at an Oscar watching party in Hollywood that was actually closer to the Dolby Theater stage than their own musicians.)
And don't even get me started on Reese Witherspoon's hyperbolic introduction of Les Miserables being the "only" film since the silents to use live singing. I'm glad they did it, but they're hardly the first. Everything from the Marx Brothers movies, to Altman's Nashville and Popeye, Bette Midler in The Rose, Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You, Bogdanovich's At Long Last Love, and my own two musicals Open House and Half Empty all had their actors sing live on set. I can imagine Barbra Streisand cringing in the wings: She insisted on singing live for the late Frank Pierson's A Star is Born, winning her a Best Song Oscar for "Evergreen." (Frank probably rolled over during the In Memoriam section, too.)
So I suggest to the Academy: Either admit that you really do like movie musicals and figure out a way for the ones you like to get nominated -- on a consistent, fair basis every year so that their performances at the awards ceremony actually seem relevant, entertaining and in context. Or drop the charade of even pretending to have a Best Original Musical category that sits there in your rulebooks like Anne Hathaway's misfortunate Fantine -- hairless, dirty and singing in the dark.
(For what it's worth, actors singing live in a musical isn't rocket science -- here's a nifty video on how we did it with Open House... eight full years before Les Miz, and for a fraction of the budget):
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