Not only am I The Tech Daddy here on the Huffington Post, but I'm also Quill Music; I've worked as a music copyist and orchestrator in the professional music community of Los Angeles for over 40 years. I've even worked on a few Academy Awards shows. And I've watched the show every year since 1958. So I can say, with a certain degree of authority, that this was the worst show EVER.
The idea to use actors as hosts instead of a bon afide "entertainer" was a risky one, to be sure. Anne Hathaway was adorable and definitely put a lot of energy into the show. James Franco was... sincere... but he's not funny. Or spontaneous. Or even engaging, even after all that rehearsal time they had. He still managed to speak in a monotone most of the time, and seemed to be sometimes lost in a world of his own. Occasional attempts at being "wry" didn't work either. Stick to acting, James.
But the real problems with the show this year were not with the hosts. Rather it was with the producer/director Don Mischer -- who really should know better -- and the writing staff. There were PAINFULLY awkward moments in the show, odd transitions that didn't make sense, continuity problems, lack of info to the viewing public, and really bad presenter "banter." TRULY bad. Like the byplay between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law -- totally inappropriate. Did the world really need to be reminded of Downey's previous debauchery? Is that supposed to be funny? Or Matthew McConaughey and Scarlett Johanssen's stunningly un-funny banter ("sound!") There were so many bits that just went nowhere, such as Franco's walk-on as Marilyn Monroe.
Another mistake by the producers: asking winners to not use a list while making their acceptance speeches. This may have looked good on paper (excuse the pun), but it produced more than the usual amount of "deer in the headlights" moments during the speeches, some of which became needlessly repetitive.
One bright spot: Charles Ferguson, the winner of the Best Documentary Oscar for "Inside Job" reminding us that no financial executive involved in our recent economic meltdown has gone to jail. The Documentary branch has always been Oscar's "conscience," and once again it came through. But I believe most viewers in America had already tuned out by the time that moment came.
There were other astounding lapses of judgement in the show; let's look at the music first, as that's my field:
- Not telling us who the conductor of the orchestra was while introducing the orchestra; only mentioning Bill Ross' name afterward, almost as an after-thought. I like Bill Ross: he is an enormously talented man (and a friend of mine). He deserved better. On the plus side, the sound engineering was pretty good this year (except for the Best Song numbers, where the vocals were virtually drowned out), and the orchestra performed with their usual aplomb and professionalism.
- Not explaining that the four song nominees were being broken up into two segments, so that -- after the 2nd song ended -- the show just went to black which made us say "Huh? What happened to the other songs?" The filmed segment with people on the street recalling their favorite movie song was a nice touch, and one of the few nods in the show to how movies affect all of us. Unfortunately, the segment also highlighted just how dull, lifeless and un-memorable the four songs were this year ... just as they have been for several years. The Academy's Music Branch needs to once again redefine the rules for Best Song, as the category is in danger of becoming completely irrelevant.
- Not having Lena Horne's name super-imposed on her photo or underneath it at the end of the In Memoriam, when all the other people's names appeared, but rather making us wait almost 30 seconds before someone told us who she was. (I knew who she was, but the "younger demographic" they were supposedly aiming for surely did not.)
- The order in which the In Memoriam people were listed. I couldn't find any cohesive organizational theme to it. Normally they start with lesser-known people and end with the Giants of Cinema. This one was all over the place. Kevin McCarthy being 2nd to last? Really? Don't get me wrong; I love Kevin McCarthy. Maybe it was the final revenge for a true character actor. Or for that matter, ending with Lena Horne. I think that may have been a personal thing; not sure. Lena was beloved, and a true trailblazer, but not a Giant of Cinema like some of the other names on that list.
- Letting Kirk Douglas go on... and on... and on... it was funny for a little bit, but not for much longer. And then he refused to get out of the frame when the winner came up! Franco tried to pull him away, but to no avail. A host's job is not only to entertain, but also to keep things moving and, if the need arises, deal with sticky situations onstage. Once again Franco dropped the ball.
- Letting Mila Kunis say ANYTHING.
- That song with Anne Hathaway making fun of Hugh Jackman -- completely pointless. An in-joke only a handful of people would get ... or be interested in. They cut Franco's duet with Cher for that? Although it probably would have been a certifiable disaster.
- Would it have killed the Academy to show the names of the SciTech award winners? Having Marisa Tomei tell us there were 11 recipients, and then showing us a photo of them for 4 seconds? Really? How about a graphic with their actual names for 10 seconds instead? And it's not like you can go to the Oscars website and see them either; the site is still showing the 2010 winners as of this writing.
- No Chuck Workman montage, or anything even closely resembling it. There was talk about the "magic of film" but not much in the way of showing it during the broadcast. In the same vein, the "let's take a look at the greatest films of all-time" theme was also completely pointless, and served no purpose that I could discern. It wasn't even used consistently throughout the show. Yes, the opening bit inserting Franco and Hathaway into the Best Film nominees was clever, but it's also been done for several years now and is getting a little stale.
- The annoying graphics over the "Best Adapted / Original Screenplay" awards, with handwritten words becoming typed ones becoming... I'm not sure.
- The Shrek appearance that never materialized for the Animation awards, followed by the "you missed a spot" quip that made absolutely no sense. Shrek was supposed to present an award, so something must've gone wrong there. Like a lot of the show.
- SIX costume changes for Anne, which were two too many. OK, we get it: Anne is gorgeous, and can make a flour sack look glamorous. Why belabor the point?
- Having Billy Crystal come out to talk about Bob Hope, thus making everyone in the room and us at home miss not one but TWO classic hosts -- this segment served as a visceral reminder of just how far off-track the Oscars have become. It was no accident that the room gave Billy a standing ovation. Then to have SCTV's Dave Thomas (the best Hope impersonator ever) dub in Hope's voice at the end of the segment to introduce more presenters was off-putting at best and quasi-insulting at worst. It would have been more fun to have Hope say "and how about THESE Oscars, folks? I bet you're all really missing me now!" Amen.
I could go on, but you get the point. And, unlike this year's OscarCast, I don't want to wear out my welcome!