The main question facing Sunday night’s Oscars was: How do you kick off a show without a host, one you’re hoping to wrap up in just three hours? And the answer was: A four-minute opener that had nothing to do with the movies.
Queen, with Adam Lambert subbing for the late, memorialized-in-”Bohemian Rhapsody” Freddie Mercury, began with a performance of “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” that, if nothing else, helped establish the annual event’s privileged, self-congratulatory tone.
This year’s show was originally supposed to be hosted by Kevin Hart, who bowed out due to controversial social-media posts. So the Oscars went without a host and, almost immediately, it became clear it was going to be a problem.
Yes, the show quickly dived into the first award for supporting actress. That was a plus. But the Oscars seemed to taunt us with the trio that presented the award: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and last year’s MVP, Maya Rudolph. They should have hung around for the entire evening. Before presenting, Fey even warned us: “We are not your hosts but we’re going to stand here a little too long so the people who get USA Today tomorrow will think we hosted.”
In the absence of a host, it was clear that even not-very-good ones like, say, Seth MacFarlane or Anne Hathaway/James Franco, succeed in doing one thing: Setting the tone. A host almost always starts by acknowledging the ridiculousness of all these wealthy people spending three hours together, patting each other on the back. Without that acknowledgment, the show felt even more self-indulgent than usual.
The best hosts know how to welcome millions of home viewers into a ceremony happening among a few thousand people in a Los Angeles theater. But, without a host, it’s like all those people were having a party we aren’t invited to.
Home viewers like us can’t know how the hostlessness played in the Dolby Theatre. I assume those in attendance knew what was happening in-between announcements to return from the restroom to their seats. But the host isn’t for people in the theater. The host is for those watching at home, to provide us with an “in.” Instead we got the disembodied voice of Randy Thomas, the announcer whose job is literally never to be funny or have a personality.
If you’re keeping score at home, all of the back-and-forth about whether to include the presentation of four awards — for makeup and hairstyling, live action shorts, cinematography and editing — reverted back to inclusion. There was talk of eliminating some best song nominees, too, but they all were invited to perform (though we missed “All The Stars” from “Black Panther” because Kendrick Lamar wasn’t available). Those performances proved valuable for breaking up the broadcast. And they were all fine, particularly the Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga rendition of “Shallow” from “A Star is Born,” which may have featured the closest close-up in Oscar telecast history.
With no single person to tell us where we were, the presenters acted as rotating hosts, with Academy president John Bailey snagging some face time to introduce the tribute to moviemakers who died in the last year. The show also was short on movie clips. Other than one summing-up-the-year montage and a few unidentified shots during the In Memoriam segment, there was no sense of film history to the show (or among the presenters, other than Barbra Streisand, who won her first Oscar 50 years ago).
In fact, it felt like the Oscars left the we-love-movies stuff to the commercials, including an ad for watches that featured Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Martin Scorsese, who advised watch-buyers, “If you see the images in your mind, then go make your movie.”