Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Uncle Oscar

Watched the Academy Awards Sunday night.

For the 38th time in my life, I watched the entire broadcast. From jokey opening to final envelope.

My earliest memories of the Oscar telecast are from 1976, seeing Rocky take the statuette. Actually, I did see a lot of the year prior's ceremonies (1975, when One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest won best pix), but this was a clandestine viewing, not sanctioned by my parents. At the time, my bedroom was across the hall from theirs, where our one-and-only television set was. If I leaned out of bed and propped myself up by anchoring my left hand flat on the floor and locking my elbow, I could see the screen.

That's how I ended up watching a lot of Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher picking up awards.

Mom and Dad were both "into" movies. Mom loved those sappy MGM musicals and the Rogers and Hammerstein mega-hits. Dad loved comedies, from the Marx Brothers to It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. So I inherited a lot of this interest.

I always admired how, on Oscar night, when the camera panned the audience, they could call out: "There's Cary Grant." "There's Richard Burton." "Ooh, look at Lee Grant." "Doesn't Olivia DeHavilland look terrific?"

They'd do the same thing watching those compilation films like That's Entertainment: Howard Keel. Lena Horne. Cyd Charisse. Bobby Van. Margaret Dumont. Spencer Tracy. Joan Crawford. Mickey Rooney. Roddy McDowall. Ann Miller. Even Asta, the dog from the Thin Man films.

And so I went to school on old-time Hollywood. Until I, too, could identify Jack Lemmon or Shirley Booth on sight.

And so Oscar Night became my Super Bowl. I looked forward to it ahead of time. Jittered my way through school (or later, work) that day (remember, it used to be a Monday night, until the 1999 move), took the phone off the hook, and glued myself in place.

There were terrific moments (Jack Palance's one-armed pushups, 1992) and dumb moments (Rob Lowe/Snow White, 1989) and hilarious moments (Billy Crystal's yearly sung overture) and moments of unbridled joy (Roberto Benigni climbing over the seats, 1999).

And a whole lot of overblown production numbers, boring tributes, sketchy montages, political statements, egos run amok, dreadful best song slogs and truly touching "In Memoriam" segments.

What killed me about watching in the east was the timeframe. Oscar telecast kicked off at around 8 p.m. Which meant that at around 10:45, we could count on the whole ride grinding to a halt for a large-scale production number that would stretch on interminably. "And now, ladies and gentlemen, we present our tribute to the film reel!" "Join us, ladies and gentlemen, as we salute the concession stand popcorn man!" "Tune up that orchestra, Bill Cont; it's time for a song-and-dance retrospective of famous movies featuring clothespins."


This year's broadcast was... okay. Ellen pushed rather hard, I thought, and gags went on too long. Selfies and pizza were funny for a while, but she didn't seem to know when to move it along. I thought the only out-of-the-park laugh she had was appearing as Glinda the Good Witch, albeit late for the Pink rendition of "Over the Rainbow."

Speeches were fine. Nobody was outlandishly dressed (Cher!). And then there was John Travolta.

I thought, like other years, that the whole evening could have used an extra dash of class (but it was certainly an improvement over last year with Seth McFarlane). Proposal: Academy rules are changed so that Julie Andrews presents every Best Picture winner from here on out.

Nothing classier, in my book, than a dose of Julie Andrews.

So there's another notch in my Oscar-watching belt. I guess when it comes to this yearly overblown tribute to the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, there's only one thing I can truly say:

I like it. I really, really like it.

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