So, the Oscars happened again, and as usual, it was a combination of charming celebration, missed opportunities, artifice, tokenism, poor choices, and a dab of racism to round things out. Because the Oscars are a fucking disaster, almost every year. But they’re a wholly addictive disaster. I will say from the onset that I generally don’t watch them (and only watched about 45 minutes worth last night), but that’s mainly because, with a few exceptions, I rarely have interest in awards shows in general. I’m interested in who wins, of course, just not so much in the pomp and circumstance of it all. But I wanted to take a minute to look back at a time when the Oscars were at their very best.
You see, I often think of the Oscars in the same context as the Super Bowl Halftime Show.
Stay with me, folks.
The Super Bowl Halftime show is often seen as A Big Deal, though it rarely pays off. The performances are usually safe, sanitized, and not particularly compelling. This is of course in part due to the infamous Jackson/Timberlake debacle, an incident that soured the folks behind it on any kind of risk-taking (side note: seriously, get fucked, Timberlake). But the Oscars often fall into the same trap of trying to reward the performance or film or director who created something safe. Green Book is the prime example. There were an easy half-dozen great films last year dealing with racism, but Green Book was hands-down the safest choice, the choice that everyone’s mom and dad liked, the one that people thought had a great message without thinking about it too hard. Green Book was the Maroon 5 of Oscar wins.
But my other issue with the Oscars is that sometimes, like the Halftime Show, I don’t think it has anywhere to go anymore. Because I think that its greatest moment — and in some ways its moment of greatest spectacle — has already happened. This is the same with the Halftime Show. Because there will never, ever, ever be a halftime show as great as this one:
That was an astonishing performance, in the rain, by one of the greatest musical artists of all time. It will never get better. I believe this in my soul. And by the same token (heh), I don’t think it’s possible for the Oscars to ever match the dramatic, heart-stopping roller coaster ride that was this moment:
There is so much there. It’s everything. The thrill of winning and the entire cast and crew of La La Land up there, elated. The absolute bafflement that Beatty felt. And then, the slow, creeping realization that something was very, very wrong. The way everyone’s faces slowly shifted. And then, the change that takes place is … amazing. Jordan Horowitz became a low-key hero of mine after this, because he handled it with such unparalleled grace. When he strode over to the mic and said “No, no… there’s a mistake. Moonlight. You guys won Best Picture,” his voice was firm and confident, like he believed that this was the right choice. Almost as if he was proud of his film, but he knew that Moonlight was the best picture.
But that’s not the greatest part. The greatest part is watching the Moonlight cast and director and producers. Their utter shock, and confusion, and then unbridled fucking joy. THIS MOMENT:
There have been a lot of memorable moments in Oscar history, but this one, of Trevante Rhodes literally with his hand to his heart, so absolutely emotionally overwhelmed? I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. And then Barry Jenkins gives this jubilant, scattered speech that is just so real and perfect (and this is after a terrific speech from Mahershala Ali for his Best Supporting Actor win, so emotions were already high). I honestly rewatch this clip at least once a month, because there is so much pure, joyful humanity to it.
Of course, the whole thing is marred by Jimmy Kimmel, who does the white man-est thing possible and inserts himself into it so he can crack terrible, unfunny jokes, and I’ve never forgiven him for ruining one of my favorite televised moments ever, but whatever. Let’s not dwell.
There were great moments last night. Spike Lee’s win was spectacular, between Sam Jackson’s “SPIKE LEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE” moment to Lee leaping into Jackson’s arms. But there was also a deep undercurrent of “it’s about fucking time” to it. And while I was overjoyed for Spike, I was still angry that it took the Academy 30 goddamn years to get there. There was the spectacular speech by the creators of Period. End of Sentence. And… there were also not-great moments. The aforementioned Green Book issue. Troubles surrounding Bohemian Rhapsody. That performance from Gaga and Cooper that made me want to vomit so hard that I turn inside out.
I’ve felt genuine emotions from winners, but (with a few exceptions) there’s always a sense of preparedness to it, even for the most unlikely winners. But this was something unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and the emotion was so raw and unfiltered and pure. So yes, there will always be mistakes with the Oscars, and there will always be moments where they get it right. But it’ll never get better. Never again will we have both of those things displayed so perfectly as we did on that fateful night of February 26th, 2017, the night that — for me — the Oscars were perfect.
Header Image Source: ABC/YouTube