Paul Whitington: 'Snoozefest Oscars needs to regain its sense of humour again… pronto'

On a night when Hollywood was so terrified of offending anyone that it turned the Academy Awards into an epic snoozefest, there were at least a few surprises, and one funny speech.

That speech belonged to Olivia Colman, winner of the Best Actress award for her barnstorming portrayal of Queen Anne in The Favourite.

Glenn Close was the bookies’ favourite for that Oscar and now, incredibly, has seven nominations, zero wins. Colman, meanwhile, has been winning everything this year (Golden Globe, BAFTA) but doesn’t appear to be getting used to it.

She seemed genuinely surprised and thrilled, and informed the watching world that winning an Oscar is “genuinely quite stressful”. She blew a polite raspberry at the Academy flunkies reminding her to wrap up, and told her kids she hoped they were watching because “this is never going to happen again”.

Oh how the event could have done a few other moments of genuine spontaneity.

One was tempted to shout “get a room!” as Lady Gaga practically sat in Bradley Cooper’s lap while they crooned a steamy version of A Star is Born’s Oscar-winning song Shallow, but the performance was carefully rehearsed, and so was practically everything else in this deadly dull ceremony.

Hopes of some actual entertainment were briefly raised when Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph took the stage to present an award, and Rudolph quipped “there’s no host tonight, there won’t be a popular movie category, and Mexico is not paying for the wall”.

Comedian and actor Kevin Hart had been dropped as host following concern over some gay jokes he’d made in the past, so stars and former winners filed politely on and off, reading rehearsed jokes and skedaddling as soon as possible.

Regina King movingly thanked her mother as she accepted the Best Supporting Actress award on a pretty good night for African American performers and film workers.

Black Panther won three technical awards, with Ruth E Carter becoming the first ever African American woman to win for costume design, while Spike Lee deservedly won best screenplay for his very clever 70s race drama BlacKkKlansman.

“Do not turn the motherf***ing clock on”, he told the speech timers before comfortably breaking their 90-second rule, and making one of the night’s rare forays into politics.

“The 2020 presidential election is right around the corner,” he told his audience, “let’s all mobilise.”

He is probably not intending to canvass for Mr. Trump.

“Every time somebody’s driving somebody,” he also joked, “I lose.”

He was referring to Green Book, which won Best Picture and two other Oscars, but also to Driving Miss Daisy, which had eclipsed Lee’s angry classic Do the Right Thing back in 1989.

Green Book’s win is controversial because its race politics have been perceived as disastrously old-fashioned. It gives us a heavily romanticised true story, and stars Best Supporting Actor winner Mahershala Ali as Don Shirley, a refined jazz and classical pianist who hires an uncouth Italian-American nightclub bouncer (Viggo Mortensen) to drive him across the Jim Crow south in the early 1960s. 

Online outrage greeted the decision, though given Green Book’s comparatively modest box office performance, one wonders how many of the righteously offended have actually seen it. It’s not the best film of the last 12 months, and is so old-fashioned it might have been made 30 years ago, but it is exceedingly entertaining.

Roma was one of the year’s best films, and Netflix’s heavy-handed campaigning on its behalf paid off to some extent as it landed three awards, including Best Director for Alfonso Cuaron. But it was a quiet enough night for Element Pictures and The Favourite, which seemed to peak to early in the awards season, as indeed did A Star is Born.

Despite all the Academy’s botched attempts to speed things up, the event ran for over three hours, mainly in an atmosphere of polite and stifling correctness.

Last year’s US TV viewing figures were the lowest ever, this year’s may be slightly better, but in order to remain bearable, the Oscars needs to regain its sense of humour again pronto.

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