Oscarcast loses montages and acting tributes

Posted by · 9:13 am · February 22nd, 2011

Forgive me if this news, from the Hollywood Reporter, is a couple of days old — I’m still catching up on Oscar-related nuggets I missed while I was in Berlin. But I was so pleased by these details relating to Sunday’s telecast that I had to share them.

I’m on the record as saying I thought last year’s show, produced by Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic, was one of the sloppiest I’d seen in my lifetime of Oscar-watching, and I know a number of others were similarly dismayed. So as far as I’m concerned, the duo steering this year’s ceremony, Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer, would benefit by doing things as differently from Team Shankman as possible — and indeed, that seems to be their MO this year.

Their first good move came with the reinstatement of the nominated song performances — disrespectfully binned last year to make room for such gems as breakdance routine to the “Hurt Locker” score — though Cohen admits to being “disappointed” the Academy’s music branch didn’t give them a Cher number to work with.

Then came another U-turn: after Shankman insisted on re-introducing the old “And the winner is…” catchphrase for award presentations (something several presenters refused to go along with), this year’s producers have stated their preference for the more diplomatic “And the Oscar goes to…” line.

Cohen and Mischer most recently announced changes, however, will have more effect on streamlining the show: the themed movie montages that have hogged so many minutes of recent Oscar ceremonies will be dropped, while acting presentations will return to a simple single-presenter format, after two years of experimenting with five-person nominee tributes.

Both strike me as good moves. The montages, even when they’re not as uninspired or irrelevant as last year’s head-scratching horror-film tribute, have been a constant point of complaint for those who find the show overlong, and represent the easiest, most painless area to trim some fat.

I suspect there will be fewer protests over the loss of the montages than the multi-presenter acting tributes — though those have received a mixed reaction in the past two years. I, for one, won’t miss them. As conceived by 2008 producer Bill Condon, the concept was clever enough, particularly when the presenter-nominee match was as inspired as, say, Shirley MacLaine singing the praises of Anne Hathaway in a role that could be seen as an update of her own early work.

But the presentations brought as many awkward moments as affecting ones — Adrien Brody sleepwalking through his tribute to Richard Jenkins, anyone? Then Shankman and Mechanic completely butchered the idea last year, spoiling the original idea’s elegant sense of baton-passing tradition by having non-winners deliver tributes, while divorcing the tributes from the final presentation in a very clumsy (and time-consuming) segment. Best to scrap the routine altogether, I think, than risk another such fiasco.

Cohen does, however, offer this cryptic hint as to how the nominated actors will be appropriately celebrated:

What we did love about [the five-way presentations] was that it was a moment where each of the nominees really gets their due. [But] we found a version of that, without using the five people on stage, from the 1970 Oscars, and we stole it.

I must profess to being a little confused — YouTube clips of acting presentations from both the 1969 and 1970 ceremonies (depending on whether Cohen is referring to the film year or ceremony year) reveal nothing more innovative than a rote read-through of the nominees’ names. Can any more seasoned awards-watchers cast their minds back and illuminate us young ‘uns?

Anyway, this all raises my hopes for a tight, entertaining night’s viewing come Sunday. The counter-intuitive selection of Anne Hathaway and James Franco to host is a decision we can only judge after the fact, but that wild card aside, Cohen and Mischer seem to have their heads screwed on straight.

[Photo: World Culture Pictorial]

→ 29 Comments Tags: , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

29 responses so far

  • 1 2-22-2011 at 9:24 am

    Maxim said...

    “Then Shankman and Mechanic completely butchered the idea last year, spoiling the original idea’s elegant sense of baton-passing tradition by having non-winners deliver tributes, while divorcing the tributes from the final presentation in a very clumsy (and time-consuming) segment.”

    I diagree with your first point. To me tributes were meant to offer a personal touch or provide insight from someone who had known/admired the nominee long enough to have them influence their own work. I appreciated it as such and though it added an element of class – the thing I have almost most sought during Oscar ceremonies – and grounding. The fact that this may include non-winners (a rather arbitrary notion anyway) doesn’t bother me, especially the ceremony is usually full of them and I actually find the whole “passing-the-batton” notion sappy and depressing.

    That said, I fully agree that last year’s decision to move such introductions to the beginning of the ceremony felt awkward and abrupt.

  • 2 2-22-2011 at 9:27 am

    tom said...

    Old guy with a memory trying to help:

    The article I read last week said “1970s Oscars”, not “1970” singular, meaning some year during the 70s.

    My guess is he’s referring to the 1972 ceremony, where the lead acting nominees were introduced in film segments that featured commentary/clips briefly covering their careers in general, followed by a clip from the nominated performance. Example: the actors included Olivier, Brando and Caine, so we saw brief shots of Olivier’s Shakespeare films, Brando in Streetcar and Waterfront, Caine as Alfie, with admiring voice-over, leading in to clips from Sleuth and Godfather. Lesser-known Paul Winfield was more of a challenge, but I believe they dug up some of his TV work. (I do recall Cicely Tyson’s intro on the female side had a clip from her work on the George C. Scott TV series East Side West Side)

    The same, as I say, was done for actresses. Odd detail that’s stuck in my mind: the intro for Liza Minnelli began with the clip of her being walked by her mother and Van Johnson at the end of In the Good Old Summertime, while Rock Hudson intoned “In a horse race like the Oscars, bloodlines count, and Liza’s got bloodlines”. Liza was apparently peeved by this, rightly preferring to believe she was being honored for her performance alone, and thus, in her acceptance speech, pointedly said “Thank you for giving me this award. You’ve made ME very happy”. (Which was then misinterpreted by many in the press as a slap at Brando, who’d moments earlier done his Sacheen Littlefeather thing)

    It may turn out I’m wrong, but that treatment sounds like what they want to do this year, to preserve the career overview the five presenters format provided, but not take up a ton of time.

  • 3 2-22-2011 at 9:28 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    They weren’t moved to the beginning of the ceremony — they just preceded a separate presentation by the previous year’s Best Actor/Actress winner. (Perhaps you’re thinking of that excruciating pageant-style lineup of all the acting nominees on stage at the beginning.)

  • 4 2-22-2011 at 9:29 am

    Nathaniel Rogers said...

    I was so curious about your question that I had to open up The Holy Bible (aka INSIDE OSCAR) to research. The only thing “special” about the acting nominees i could find in either of those years was that the set of the 1969 oscars (held in april 70) featured big hanging photos (banners?) of the 10 lead acting nominees that pulled away as the academy president (gregory peck) entered.

    doesn’t seem all that special but who knows… maybe he misquoted the year?

  • 5 2-22-2011 at 9:29 am

    Will said...

    Agreed. Last year’s acting presentations DRAAAAAAAAGGED. Glad to see them go.

  • 6 2-22-2011 at 9:38 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Tom: Thanks! If indeed he does mean the 1970s Oscars, then that opens up the possibilities a little.

    Nathaniel: So diligent, as always. Here’s hoping it’s more exciting than that.

  • 7 2-22-2011 at 9:39 am

    Maxim said...

    “Perhaps you’re thinking of that excruciating pageant-style lineup of all the acting nominees on stage at the beginning.”

    That’s exactly it. That part was so bad I completely blanked out what it was actually about.

  • 8 2-22-2011 at 9:49 am

    DarkLayers said...

    Tom, interesting enough, but I wonder if it heightens the sense of overall career playing a role.

  • 9 2-22-2011 at 9:50 am

    Joseph said...

    I will miss both cuts, especially the acting tributes.

    At least post the tributes online or something.

  • 10 2-22-2011 at 9:50 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Plus, what would they do about poor Hailee Steinfeld?

  • 11 2-22-2011 at 10:04 am

    Matthew Starr said...

    lol @ #10.

    They will have to show Hailee’s one commercial she did prior to True Grit.

    I’m ready for Tribeca and Guy’s coverage of Cannes. Any day now.

  • 12 2-22-2011 at 10:12 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Matthew: That’s sweet, but I’m so not ready for Cannes. Let me stock up on two months’ worth of sleep first!

  • 13 2-22-2011 at 10:18 am

    Loyal said...

    “Plus, what would they do about poor Hailee Steinfeld?”

    She has a great K-Mart commercial touting her “blingatude.” Also, her uncle is Jake Steinfeld of Body by Jake fame. They could include some of his fitness videos.

  • 14 2-22-2011 at 10:19 am

    Speaking English said...

    I’m glad they’ve done away with the five-actor tribute, but getting rid of the montages is a huge mistake. When Oscar gets it right, those montages make for some of the best, most historically relevant moments of the night. Remember that foreign language one they did in 2006? Ones like that add a lot of class to the show.

  • 15 2-22-2011 at 10:20 am

    Nicolas Mancuso said...

    This is slightly off-topic, but I suppose this is as good a place as any to address it:

    I’m a little alarmed by the AMPAS list of presenters including neither Chrisoph Waltz nor Mo’Nique. Were they BOTH not available? Surely, they were invited to present this year’s supporting actor awards.

    Has anyone seen any hint of the producers addressing this somewhere?

  • 16 2-22-2011 at 10:25 am

    Dan Seeger said...

    As I recall, they dropped the added tributes for the supporting nominees last year, so if they follow suit there’d be no concern about how to handle Steinfeld in an expanded career assessment approach since they’ve stuck her in the wrong category (albeit a category she could actually win).

    I agree that the extra tribute has been sometimes mishandled, but when it worked it worked like gangbusters. I think of Christopher Walken honoring Michael Shannon’s performance in Revolutionary Road or Robert De Niro singing the praises of Sean Penn. I like that it helped make the moment a little more special to all of the nominees, something that seems more valuable now that the winner is more commonly practically predetermined by Oscar night. I think having, say, Jodie Foster talk about why Jennifer Lawrence’s work in Winter’s Bone is special honors the performance better than a fleeting, decontextualized clip.

  • 17 2-22-2011 at 10:41 am

    Paul Outlaw said...

    Tom, do you remember what clips they showed for Diana Ross in ’72?

  • 18 2-22-2011 at 10:46 am

    tom said...

    Obviously they had no earlier-film clips, as Lady Sings the Blues was her screen debut. My memory may be playing tricks here, but I’m thinking they prefaced her part of the intro with something like “Occasionally someone bursts on the scene and becomes a star overnight”, showing stills of Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand as others who’d done the same, then gave a brief look at Ross singing in front of The Supremes, followed by her clip from Lady.

  • 19 2-22-2011 at 10:50 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    In the case of Ross, they at least had a substantial showbiz career to work with, right?

  • 20 2-22-2011 at 10:58 am

    tom said...

    Agreed. As I said, Paul Winfield was where they really had to stretch; no one had a clue who he was. (Cicely Tyson had at least had a role in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter a few years earlier, as well as the Tv work I mentioned)

    Jennifer Lawrence will be their problem this year (as others have said, I assume this will be limited to lead nominees, so Steinfeld is not an issue). About all they can do is have her director/co-stars say some nice words about her.

  • 21 2-22-2011 at 12:04 pm

    tina p said...

    ” Shirley MacLaine singing the praises of Anne Hathaway .” That and Anne’s song-and -dance number with Hugh Jackman were some of my all-time favorite Oscar moments.

  • 22 2-22-2011 at 12:15 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Tom: Actually, Jennifer Lawrence made a pretty striking impression in The Burning Plain. She didn’t arrive totally out of the blue.

  • 23 2-22-2011 at 2:48 pm

    Squirrelman said...

    Quick question:

    Is “In Memoriam” cut along with the other montages?

    If so, that would kinda frighten me.

  • 24 2-22-2011 at 3:45 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    In Memoriam stays, of course. They’re referring to the themed montages.

  • 25 2-22-2011 at 5:15 pm

    Glenn said...

    I really liked last year’s Supporting presentations, with a clip package not just one single scene, but the Lead presentations were awful. Just awful.

    The worst montage I remember is the ode to animation from a couple of years back, introduced by Jennifer Aniston and Jack Black. Featuring multiple clips of “Space Chimps”.

  • 26 2-22-2011 at 5:24 pm

    Michael Shetina said...

    They did the career tribute montages for the 1979 (April 1980) Oscars as well and only for the lead performances. For Bette Midler, they did a tribute exclusively to The Rose, with Richard Dreyfuss saying something about “sometimes a star burst on the screen…” I didn’t know they did the tributes at more than one 1970s ceremony, so maybe this is indeed the “1970s” aspect they’re lifting?

  • 27 2-22-2011 at 8:45 pm

    parker said...

    Those 1970s introductions sound a little too ‘Behind The Music’ for my liking.

    But I’m really happy they pointless montages have been ditched.

  • 28 2-23-2011 at 10:18 am

    John said...

    I actually loved the format of five people presenting the acting nominees. Last year was a much butchered version of it. Awkward and unimportant people talking about how cute the nominees were. Strange. But the previous winners idea was heaven. Okay, it didn’t always work (yes Brody, etc.) but it was so lovely to see Eva Marie Saint, Shirley MacLaine and etc.

  • 29 2-23-2011 at 12:17 pm

    Ryan said...

    I LOVED the presentations of the acting awards in 2008, when they were done by previous winners, though I agree last year’s were painful. I wish they wouldn’t do away with the idea entirely – only revert back to the 2008 concept.