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By Rory L. Aronsky | February 28, 2005

It was a night of hoping that Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek would just drop all decency wishes brought on by the ABC censors, and producer Gil Cates, and get to that kiss we all know the world needs. It was also a night of….well, what else was it a night of?

Chris Rock was the host. That much is known. But for the most part, Rock can’t be entirely faulted for what transpired during the ceremonies, save for the bouts of bad writing and comedy brought on by him and his writing staff, including a badly-timed gag involving him impersonating Catherine Zeta-Jones after she didn’t come to the stage, and Adam Sandler acting as an interviewer, plus a later joke about Gwyneth Paltrow being the first woman to breastfeed an “apple”. For the most part, he was left off to the side, a product of the desire for a very, very clean show by ABC and the producers so that the FCC would not be at anyone’s throat the next morning. But what did we actually have here? A few wins, a few losses, nothing entirely unexpected, except for one major matter of importance that should not be ignored. The ceremony was one of the absolute shortest: 3 hours and 10 minutes.

What? Why are they not on the stage? What’s going on here? This is TOO informal. – truepictures on Film Threat’s live Oscar thread in the forums.

Producer Gil Cates’ attempts to make the Oscars a shorter affair than recent years was most noticed in the announcements of the nominees in each category and subsequent awards. The winners for “Lemony Snicket” in the makeup category, Valli O’Reilly and Bill Corso, were not permitted on stage, to save time, and their awards were handed to them at their seats with speeches made at a microphone nearby. This happened on a tiny number of occasions in the show and all in all, it was a real shame for the people involved because it’s that one chance to prove to the Hollywood elite that you’re actually a real person, that you actually do work somewhere in the industry that contributes, at least among all the people locked in that planet. Cates also had some categories such as production designer placed on stage with the five nominees standing there like being part of a beauty pageant and the winner stepping out. This was a real time saver because the camera pans across everyone in a swift few seconds. And fortunately, those camera operators are good in hiding the expected disappointment of the rest of the group because none of that was seen. The camera followed the winner quickly and that was that.

As movie buffs, many of us experience the joy of movies each day. However, there are those who do not experience that all the time. Despite its supposed intention to promote what the movies are all about, this year’s ceremonies proved above all, as always, that mainstream movies at least are a business and the ceremony moved quickly as such. There was no joy felt at all toward movies. Even the clip package at the beginning, with “It Happened One Night” among others was narrated joylessly, in favor of moving everything along. Somehow, the entertainment and emotion of movies was long forgotten here. The set, which I guess was meant to represent movies as a stairway to heaven (at least from the perspective of the ceiling), was nothing more than an overly overdone showpiece. Heck, the tent at the Santa Monica Beach for the Independent Spirit Awards had more of an air of excitement toward the art of movies than this did. Merely big and lumbering, this stage merely contributed to the feeling of mental listlessness and boredom that spread throughout all the minutes of this numbing time.

There are many other faults that befell this year’s Oscars besides Rock’s bad writers, and Gil Cates’ and ABC’s desire to give family groups and the FCC their own perverted brand of pleasure. Beyonce Knowles was part of the problem. Performing three songs, her presence was not welcome in either of them. “Believe” from “The Polar Express” was never meant as a duet, and Josh Groban proved that through his version. Here, even his strong voice could not overpower Beyonce’s amateurish contribution which diminished the emotion in the song. France must have been pained to hear Beyonce sing “Look to Your Path” from “The Chorus” as she mangled some of the language in the song, and the accompanying boys’ choir upstaged her. And “Learn to be Lonely”, from Phantom of the Opera was merely a trifle by her voice. The trick with the best song nominees is to choose people that are “different”. That’s the key word. Did all music artists in Hollywood prove to be unavailable for the ceremonies? Was Beyonce purchased for a cheap rate or something?

Who won? Many people won. And there are a bevy of websites and news sites to help find that out. But what happened here was a complete lack of anything that could last for anyone until even the next day. At the moment of this writing, scores of stars, directors, agents and other figures of Hollywood are headed to many Oscar parties, some hefting the naked golden man. All of them one way or another are headed toward flutes of champagne and other alcohol, a variety of rich elegant foods, and excited conversation. We regular folks got nothing. We got a ceremony that proved the Oscars are fast becoming the biggest waste of time in the nation. At least at the Department of Motor Vehicles, I can bring a book or something that will make slight use of my time, and help me accomplish something that needs to be done while spending five birthdays there. This year’s ceremony just sucked any semblance of potential excitement and spontaneity right down into the sewers. It shows that the only excitement that can be had from movies are our own experiences sitting there in the theater or at home, taking in something new, something to possibly enrich our lives, or just something to giggle or cheer at. Big expensive sets, colorful dresses, and hyped-up hosts don’t always make a ceremony what it is. It’s those moments that make us realize why we watch movies, why we love them so much. The only moment I could find was with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award given to film preservationist Robert Mayer and an Honorary Oscar for Sidney Lumet. They know what movies are about. The rest was just glimmer and glamour and too much business, even for Hollywood.

But in ending this, I’m reminded of something that The Baron mentioned in the Oscar thread. Something we the unsatisfied should adhere to. Whether it will change the course of future Oscar ceremonies remains to be seen, but it may be worth a shot:

“If the program was boring, then I highly suggest that you write and email the network and the FCC. Do exactly what groups like “Focus on the Family” did, and put pressure on the powers-that-be to ease the f**k up on the censorship campaign. Tell your friends to do like-wise. Make yourself heard, rather than kvetch and commiserate on an internet forum. Seriously, if there is any hope of stemming the tide of censorship and neo-theocratic regulation of art and expression, it’s got to start somewhere.”

I never put much stock in the Oscars as it was, especially towards whom the statues were given to. In my mind, if I like a movie, that’s good enough for me. But for 3 hours and 10 minutes or more, give me something I can enjoy. I’m investing my time. And just like a movie, the producers and creative team involve should invest not only their heads, but their hearts. Perhaps another producer should take over next year. Not Joe Roth again from the 76th Annual Academy Awards. Someone completely new. Censorship should never come into play when it comes to the arts, even awards ceremonies. We really did suffer enough during this ceremony. Even though the running time was physically short, the Oscars felt as long as they are usually are. Because of this, watching next year’s Oscars may be an even bigger risk. And I’m not sure I’m ready for that. Burned this time, I’m not sure I want to be burned again.

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