Three types of people watch the Oscar show: Grumpy TV critics working on deadline; film fans watching at home; and attendees at the Kodak Theater. The first group is guaranteed to gripe; second group, maybe. But for a newcomer to the live event, it’s an eye-opening experience: The whoop-de-doo hoopla makes every aspect of the show a lot more fun. The Oscarcast is a richer, glitzier version of the high school prom, but with Federico Fellini and Cecil B. DeMille as the heads of the planning committee. It seems clear that the best way to ensure maximum audience enjoyment is for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and ABC to figure out how to fit 800 million people in the Kodak Theater.
The daylong event kicks off with the drive to Hollywood & Highland. The city of Los Angeles deserves thanks for providing such memorable background extras, since the sidewalks are filled with hundreds of refugees from “Day of the Locust.” Some take photos; others wave to every limo, apparently assuming that if you’re Oscar-bound, you are Somebody Important.
Some in the crowd brandish political banners “Impeach Bush and Cheney” and religious placards “Hollywood Loves Hell and Degenerates.”
Everyone walks the red-carpet on Hollywood Boulevard, flanked by hordes of photographers and TV cameras on the south side and, to the north, bleachers of fans who have been sitting there since 6 a.m. All of them are shrieking stars’ names, while Oscar-goers create gridlock by stopping to soak up the spectacle.
Ellen DeGeneres’ opening monologue perfectly captured the mood inside the theater. The jokes were about the importance of the evening but her tone was intimate and informal. In a town filled with film events, this is still the Big One and the mood is high energy. But it’s also intimate and every winner seems like a pal, a neighbor and a member of the home team, no matter what country they’re from.
And at home, a surprise winner like Alan Arkin, Milena Canonero or “The Departed” may raise eyebrows, but at the Kodak it’s like a jolt of electricity.
Not that it’s all great. Three hours and 51 minutes is a long sit when you’re dressed up and a boring speech is boring no matter where you are.
The set, which sometimes appears confusing on TV, looks epic from inside the Kodak. As for those production numbers: In the Kodak, fantabulous. On TV, maybe not so much. And the confetti finale, you had to be there. It was great.
At home, commercial breaks seem long and frequent, but in person, they are all too brief. A trip to the lobby reveals a few people stretching their legs or eating a protein bar, while others are endlessly hanging out, apparently unwilling to return to their seats. In the background you notice some black-tie winner carrying an Oscar on their way to the restroom.
With a no-host bar and no sound on the many TV monitors, loitering in the lobby is discouraged. But, hey, this is Hollywood and nothing — repeat, nothing — can prevent schmoozing.
That is proven at the evening’s climax, the Governors Ball. This year, the planners gave up the idea of assigned seating at tables, knowing that eating takes up about 10% of the Ball, and the rest is devoted to roaming and chatting.
Every year, TV critics lament the Oscarcast. But a reviewer — sitting alone, eating takeout food and writing under deadline pressure — is not seeing the show under ideal circumstances. Home viewers may or may not have a good time, depending on who else is in the living room (and whether or not they win the Oscar pool).
But live and in person, it’s a surreal delight that’s a reminder of the old-fashioned phrase “Hollywood glamour.” Admittedly, a newcomer’s perspective may fade after years of Oscar-going. And for many, the evening comes after a grueling five months of campaigns, and at the end of a jam-packed week of partying (which, after all, is just another form of work).
But it’s good to remember that about 800 million people would be glad to have the oppportunity of being at the Kodak. Groaning about attending is like complaining about high taxes because your income was so enormous: There are bigger problems in the world to deal with.