TV Review: ‘The 88th Academy Awards’

Oscars 2016 Review Chris Rock
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Staging the Oscars is already a delicate high-wire act, and the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, fueled by a lack of diversity among the highest-profile nominees, added a formidable degree of difficulty. Meeting the high expectations the build-up engendered, Chris Rock brilliantly threaded the needle with his opening monologue. After addressing the elephant in the room, however, the producers and host went back to that issue a few times too many (and less sharply), in a telecast that yielded periodic highlights but couldn’t overcome the Academy Awards’ habit of feeling mostly inert.

Given how awkwardly the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handled the criticism when its nominations were announced, Rock performed an enormous service by tackling the absence of performers of color in such a smart yet funny way. Not only did he manage to underscore what the problem really boils down to – a deficiency of opportunity – but he put the debate into perspective, noting that the flood of indignation in part reflects overall societal progress versus where the U.S. was during past decades of Oscar history.

Rock was especially astute in characterizing Hollywood as being “sorority racist,” practiced subtly enough to undermine the town’s notoriously liberal leanings. If action to remedy these shortcomings begins with a conversation, Rock got the ball rolling without turning the event into a lecture – no small feat, under the circumstances.

The material was so strong, in fact, it would have been wiser to return to it sparingly – certainly by having Rock revisit those theaters in Compton and interview African-American film-goers, a highlight of his earlier hosting stint and this one. But the producers didn’t stop there, going back to diversity with mixed results, in a reasonably clever taped piece that involved inserting black actors into nominated films and a “Black History Month” bit that fell flat.

Moreover, the emphasis on race largely ignored one of the clearest themes to emerge from the ceremony – namely, the international nature of the movie business, which was repeatedly conveyed by the host of technical honors amassed by “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

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The show’s producers were Reginald Hudlin and David Hill, the latter the former Fox Sports chief, who brought all sorts of memorable innovations to football and baseball coverage. Yet despite Hill’s reputation as an innovator, it became relatively clear that there was only so much tinkering they could reasonably do with the basic Oscar template. (Disclosure: Hill employed me a few years ago as a part-time columnist for Foxsports.com.)

Take the idea of including a scroll of pre-identified “thank yous” across the bottom of the screen, intended to allow winners to say something more meaningful than just rattling off names. As it turned out, the powerful urge to express gratitude to people in this career-topping moment – family, agents, peers – simply overwhelmed efforts to rewrite or rein in the speeches.

Some recipients, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Rylance and Sam Smith, took the opportunity to say something with a bit more substance to heart. So, for that matter, did “The Revenant” director Alejandro G. Inarritu, which made the attempt to play him off mid-speech all the more cloddish.

Other production flourishes were more successful, from the pop-up cheat sheets about the presenters to the way the sound and cinematography categories portrayed their contributions. That said, those technical categories would have clipped along faster if the honorees didn’t seemingly have to be bussed in from the parking lot.

Politics are another recurring question surrounding the Oscars, and there were several references likely to rile conservatives, from DiCaprio’s impassioned comments about climate change to Andy Serkis’ glancing shot at Donald Trump, from Sam Smith’s advocacy for LGBT rights to “The Big Short” director Adam McKay’s plea not to support candidates who favor the unrestricted flow of money into campaigns. Notably, Vice President Joe Biden received a standing ovation, as he introduced Lady Gaga’s show-stopping performance of the nominated song from the documentary “The Hunting Ground,” arrestingly flanked by rape victims.

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That moment stood out, as did the ovation for veteran composer Ennio Morricone, and Louis C.K.’s hilarious riff about how the documentary short Oscar would go home with someone driving a Honda Civic. And yes, it was even cute when Rock used the well-heeled audience to peddle Girl Scout cookies.

The producers also labored to give “Star Wars” a presence within the telecast, given what a commercial juggernaut the film has been. The highlight, though, was seeing “Room’s” young co-star Jacob Tremblay leap to his feet to catch a glimpse of the droids from “The Force Awakens.”

To its credit, ABC’s preshow acknowledged the diversity issue, including a brief interview with Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. In fact, the conversation was moderately more substantive than has often been true in terms of the mix between discussing the movies and fashion (the emphasis on the latter having produced its own hashtags). Of course, that’s allowing for the inevitable fawning and giddiness strewn over 90 minutes, as in “Wow! The stars are walking up stairs into the theater! I was sure they were carried in gently on the wings of angels.”

On the downside, the network indulged in a brazen level of self-promotion, plugging not just Jimmy Kimmel’s after-show and Michael Strahan and Kelly Ripa’s next-day “Live” episode, but also working in ABC primetime stars Kerry Washington and Priyanka Chopra.

Ultimately, all those responsible for this year’s Oscars are likely relieved to put the event behind them, in a show that went off without a major hitch. Yet while the #OscarsSoWhite controversy is hardly settled, nor is the more prosaic matter of #OscarsPrettyDull.

TV Review: 'The 88th Academy Awards'

(Special; ABC, Sun. Feb. 28, 8:30 p.m. ET)

Production

Broadcast live from the Dolby Theatre.

Crew

Producers, David Hill, Reginald Hudlin; supervising producer, Michael Seligman; director, Glenn Weiss; consulting producers, Cindy Hauser, Nicolle Yaron, Chris Pizzi; head writer, Billy Kimball; production designer, Derek McLane; supervising music producer, Byron Phillips; music director, Harold Wheeler; choreographer, Fatima Robinson; talent producer, Taryn Hurd; lighting design, Robert Dickinson. 3 HOURS, 37 MIN.

Cast

Host: Chris Rock.

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  1. cleo punsalan says:

    BOOHOO so you’re black so what are you victims because that’s what you are doing here “CAPITALIZING” on your being BLACK so what man humanity has been equal for so long now you are whining for no black nominees? so much more is going on now color is not an issue anymore but since it is no longer an issue you just wanna all put it back on the front lines the headlines urgh talk about self promoting BLACK

  2. natarajan says:

    he is not suitable for oscar because many indians are doing good. no proper judgement.waste of time

  3. Sandy says:

    Worst Oscars ever! Not watching it anymore. I didn’t tune in wanting to hear about racism.

  4. DebLA says:

    I don’t know what to say… WHY did Harold Wheeler, a seasoned AA musical director, and African American, no less, select Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries as the cut-off music cue for award recipients whose speeches ran on too long? Of all the years to feature this piece, when racism became the theme of the night, it was poorly thought out. Wagner was Hitler’s favored Third Reich national composer, and Valkyrie’s was played in times of WWII tank and Lufftwaffe air attacks. Wagner himself was a white supremacist. but let’s not stop there: DW Griffith who directed Birth of a Nation – the KKK flick?… used it too. Did anyone even check?

  5. sue says:

    Why were all the Girl Scouts Black? Why was the entire show pressing the Black Issue? Why if Blacks are 13% of the population, wasn’t Chris Rock and the writers addressing the lack of Asians, Arabs, Indians, etc etc…it was all about blacks vs whites? This show was reverse discrimination.

  6. bganon with one n says:

    Stars aside, Ms. Isaacs missed an important 2 minute opp to make AMPAS actually relevant.

  7. Joel says:

    How come there was only 1 white player on each of the Eastern and Western NBA All Star teams this year, and 14 African Americans? And the white guys did not get much playing time. That seems just as racist to me as this Oscar’s thing. Why didn’t Chris Rock mention that? No Iranians on the All Star team? No Asians? How ’bout Jeremy Lin, why wasn’t he on the team?

  8. Norman Desmond says:

    Awful show. Totally tacky. The worst ever, imo. I stopped watching after a half hour. The color issue got really old very fast. Enough already.

  9. janet oliver says:

    THE OSCARS SHOW WAS THE MOST PATHETIC EVER…SO VERY RACEST AND WENT ON THE WHOLE 3 HOURS…EVEN TO THE POINT OF BRINGING GIRL SCOUTS IN TO SELL COOKIES…VERY UNPROFESSIONAL. WE ALL HAVE OUR FAVORITE FOOTBALL, BASEBALL, BOXERS, SINGERS, RUNNERS, ACTORS OF EVERY ETHNIC BACKGROUNDS. I REALLY DON’T SEE THAT WHITES THINK THE ARE BETTER NOR DO THEY “STEAL” POSITIONS FROM ANY ETHNIC GROUP. AT LEAST WE DON’T HAVE AN ALL WHITE AWARDS PRESENTATION SHOW
    AS THE BLACKS DO. I THINK AMERICA HAS COME A LONG WAY…EVEN FROM FREEING THE SLAVES IN ABRAHAM LINCOLNS TIME…WE HAVE EXCEPTED THE BLACKS, NOW HOW ABOUT EXCEPTING WHITES AND STOP ACTING LIKE “PEOPLE STARVED FOR ATTENTION.” WE KNOW YOUR THERE AND WE KNOW AND APPRECIATE YOUR TALENTS. AGAIN…THAT WAS THE WORST HOSTING OF THE OSCARS AND I AM SURPRISED IT WAS ALLOWED. IT MADE THE OSCARS CHEAP AND UNPROFESSIONAL.

  10. Are u saying CR did a good job????, REALLY???, LAST NIGHT WAS THE MOST PATHETIC , AND POLITICIZED SHOW IN HOLLYWOOD HISTORY!!!!,

    • Young K says:

      Agreed. It was one of the most ridiculous and annoying shows ever shown in recent memory. The show wasn’t so much about the accomplishments of nominated actors/directors/producers..etc. but rather all about bashing, attacking and throwing temper tantrum against white people for 3.5 hours. There should have been another Oscars show – to honor and recognizing accomplishments and upholding the prestigious traditions, and one for garbage spewing one like the one from last night. What’s with Girlscout cookies being sold by all black girls only? What happened to diversity there? And, Chris Rock making fun of 3 Asian kids? I guess the racism only works one-way for blacks…

  11. David says:

    This was the absolute worst show ever, and I don’t just mean the content. A Black President of the Academy speaks, while a Black Host introduces the Black Music Conductor that surely was hired by the Black Producer of the show, and the grand finale is a bunch of black Girl Scouts and Shug Night in prison garb. Why were all of the Girl Scouts Black? If the show wanted to actually show Diversity, why not have one girl of various ethnicities? Why repeatedly refer to the criminal Shug Night? The elegance and class of the Academy Awards was destroyed by a fabricated issue – yet while fabricating the issue, Blacks have done to ALL other minorities what they claim has been done to them – they outright discriminated against ALL other ethnicities. It is clear that Blacks believe the BET Awards and the Academy Awards should be directed solely toward them. I for one agree. I believe that the next Academy awards should only nominate and only award to Blacks no matter whether a black is in the particular category or not. It will be a wonderful show, and highly rated I am sure.

  12. theschu says:

    Every year it’s basically the same review Variety. Seriously. Do you have a negative review template and you just fill in the blanks with the details from whichever year you’re writing about? You would think someone over there would apply a little historical context to the Oscar telecast review. But no. It’s the same old complaints made every single year. The only thing that separates this review from the ridiculous comments is the writers clear grasp of the english language.

  13. I don’t look for entertainment or political commentary while watching the Oscars. All I care about is who was nominated, who won, and their speeches. #CallMeBoring

  14. Facebook says:

    The 2016 Oscars was the WORST I have ever seen. Chris Rock did a terrible job. Most of his comments were not comical, and making the event mostly about his and other’s projection that there has been a lack of Opportunities for African American actors to be recognized in the motion picture industry is their position, and not the general public’s.
    Taking the time that he took on that complaint and the Girl Scout promotion was wrong, inappropriate, and took time and significance from the basic intent of the Oscars which is to validate and recognize those actors who have demonstrated Excellence in their craft.

  15. Joanna Kerry says:

    Tired of this Black Issue, there are so many other Races out there getting a raw deal..including the white race lately! How about judging people on their brains and TALENT instead! The OSCARS were disgusting this year and the very heart of it was missing.The Glamour, the Class, Lightheartedness..
    The world is dangerous enough, take people to a respite mentally for a CHANGE!

  16. Kayla says:

    Why make Oscars about black or white??? Aren’t we over the racism thing? Get over it omg. It was annoying to hear that through out the show. There are many many great black actors. And you don’t see white people on bet saying what he says. Please never again!

    • CARO0LINE says:

      I agree. Between this display of disrespect to Beyonces disgusting superbowl performance. I am sick of all this racist wining bullshit. What about their BET AWARDS, DO THEY NOMINATE WHITES? Hell no but if white people did what BET does we are called racist. I am one person that is over this one way standard. Are they that stupid that they are doing exactly to other races what they are CONTINUALLY PLAYING OUT OVER THE MEDIA. AND GETTING AWAY WITH IT.

  17. Dellie Q. says:

    It’s great when international actors give the Oscar ceremony a grander scope (this year: Priyanka Chopra, Sofia Vergara, Abraham Attah and Byung-hun Lee), but in a year about diversity it was odd that the only non-white/non-black American actor/actress to present was Benicio del Toro. No Asian-American, no Indian-American, not even First Nation actors who did some great work in The Revenant (Forrest Goodluck, Duane Howard). So, don’t throw around the word Diveristy when you’re just singling out one race throughout the whole show.

  18. Dellie Q. says:

    This was the most racist ceremony. I’m black and I felt offended and singled out with most of the jokes. I’m all in for more opportunities but I don’t think they are using the word “Diversity” correctly. If they are only talking about black actors (like the cast of The Wiz) that’s the opposite of diversity and inclusion.

  19. Claude Meru says:

    I was a very awkward show. Why should so much attention be given to only 13% of the population when they commit 80% of the violent crimes in USA? They dominate all sports isn’t that enough, now they want acting field? NO! They ‘re not good enough in acting field but they are in sports so that fair. No forced diversity to stop the spoiled whiners from complaining. Enough is enough. If you don’t like it make your own black movies, and all black award shows.

  20. I remember the program “Why I Hate Chris Rock!” I don’t recall seeing a lot of Black’s working behind the scenes or anywhere, and a lot of the crew joked about it! Maybe Chris should take a drive over to the Screen Writers Guild and get a comprehensive list of Black Screenwriters, have a gathering and ask wassup? Because Chris and Company might want to remember, eh, THIS IS A BUSINESS, OF THE 20 OR SO MAJOR FILMS TO MAKE IT TO THE SCREEN, THOUSANDS OF TREATMENTS, SHORT STORIES, AND PLAYS DIDN’T GET A SECOND THOUGHT! WHY DOESN’T BET, OR OPRAH HAVE A BLACK ENTERTAINMENT FINANCING PROGRAM FOR BLACK ONLY STORIES? WHY, BECAUSE THE REALITY IS, NOBODY WANTS TO PAY $25.00 DOLLARS TO GO SEE ONE. HEY CHRIS, WHILE YOUR AT WHY NOT GET PRESIDENT OBAMA TO SIGN AN EXECUTIVE ORDER? I MEAN HE THINKS THAT HE CAN CHANGE THE WEATHER DOING THAT!

  21. Dan says:

    Chris Rock started the night off with a pretty funny monolog…for a while. But then it was clear this telecast was going to be all about how the blacks were discriminated against at the Academy Awards this year. They kept beating the issue to death, until finally my wife and I had to turn it off about half way through the broadcast. Such a shame, the biggest night in Hollywood ruined.

  22. Oh my! says:

    The interviews of people in Compton was rather unsettling. Normally one would have to break down on MLK Blvd. (ANY MLK Blvd in America) to hear such nonsense. Black twitter is a safer alternative.

  23. Kaye Bass says:

    Chris Rock did an awesome job as expected! He is the best. However, Robin Roberts, although beautiful, did a terrible job interviewing the actors. She was awkward.

  24. Donna Quercia says:

    I was so disappointed watching the awards Sunday night. I am so tired of hearing about prejudice. What about all the BLACK TV SHOWS with no WHITES on the show, or maybe one white person.What about the all BLACK AWARDS…with no WHITE ACTORS. Enough is enough!!! I am not prejudice, but I am so tired of hearing it from black people. They can say whatever they want about white people and nothing is done about that. It has to stop!!! If black actors feel they are not given leading roles in certain movies, then dont take any role in that movie. Many black actors are given leading roles and have won awards. I thought some of Chris Rocks comments last night were very prejudicial against white people. I was very insulted by some of his remarks.We should all just live in peace and be happy to be alive.

  25. Mark says:

    Apparently, diversity = more blacks? No one else?

  26. Saiber says:

    Chris Rock rocked! He had an uneasy task on an uneasy subject and he nailed it! The problem is not the Academy, it is the money. And where the money is, there are the opportunities. So, blame the studios, the writers, the directors and the moviegoers. And of course, if an Afroamerican does do the wrong choice to choose dumb blockbusters (where he earns more money) instead of an opportunity where his acting skills are asked, then blame him (Will Smith).

  27. JP says:

    Chris Rock’s opening was great. The rest was par for the course to a low key level, there’s no getting around this being a rather boring year for many of us given the nominations. And that’s not a diversity comment, just a no blockbuster and a lot of lesser known names comment.

    As for Kerry Washington and Priyanka Chopra – Kerry is so not a big deal to have as a presenter, she shouldn’t even be mentioned here. She’s been in several nominated movies even if not this year, no one is paying attention to that being a potential network tie in. Now, Priyanka that’s worth mentioning. I’m not the biggest fan of it, would prefer they go with someone else who is on the network, but is also known for Hollywood films. I would understand it a lot more for the Emmys or Golden Globes with the TV focus.

  28. BLACKS ARE RACIST says:

    What the serious fuck is up with chris rock??? Black lives matter??? Forcing everyone to pay for his kids’ girl scout cookies?? He has been talking about black people the whole bloody time. If i was a black person, a black celebrity or himself, i would be completely embarrassed and disgusted with that sort of behaviour that he displayed tonight. The academy awards is not the time, nor the place to be placing importance on black needs and black rights. How did the head of academy awards allow him to be racist and anti-white??? He is the reason that i absolutely cannot take black people seriously, black people like him only have themselves to blame for that. Stop with self-pity, butthurt feelings, anti-white mentality. YOU LOOK RACIST, IMMATURE, UNEDUCATED AND AN EMBARRASSMENT!. GO JOIN THE LIKES OF RACIST BLACKS LIKE WILL SMITH AND HIS IDIOTIC WIFE. Black folks are not nominated and are not winners because they have no talent!. Stop forcing “black lives matters” down our throats. WE DO NOT CARE!. Until i see black folks campaigning against anti-white racism and stop wanting everything handed down to them for being black, then!! i’ll start taking whatever you have to say seriously.

    #oscars
    #theacademy
    #redcarpet
    #chrisrock
    #antiwhiteracism
    #racistblackfolks
    #antiwhitementality
    #embarrassment
    #beingblackisnotafreepass
    #whitelivesmatter
    #disgustingbehaviour

  29. IT--two--IT says:

    “I have SHOWN that the financiers and their accomplices
    ———————–have DESTROYED ART———————–
    —————————————-in the 20th century
    —————————————————and I can NEVER forgive them for that.”
    Miles MATHIS
    MilesMATHIS dot com
    2016

    As we take in the decades STALE
    ————————‘creatively bankrupt’
    ———————————-100% INTEL RUN
    ——————————————psychopath directed,
    —————————————————Hollywood franchise slum
    —————————-and its 100% INTEL RUN
    —————————————–scripted
    ————————————————‘conflict creation’
    ——————————————————————- – – -‘diss-ant’.

  30. I think the Stacey Dash bit bombed because she’s not famous enough. Most people didn’t get the joke because they are clueless about her … see what I did there?

  31. The Truth says:

    The live switch had several funky moments with cuts to shots of basically nothing. Then there was the totally bored guy with his head on his hand. And what was up with the clumsy opening of Lady Gaga’s number? Not a great night for the director. On the other hand, the production design was fabulous.

  32. Karen T says:

    Wow, lets slam black People, trying to make a course is just a contadiction. Why not women, gays, and breastfeeding in public ? Seriously is this 2016 ?

  33. LynnS says:

    Flat, neither funny nor fun. This avid moviegoer and Oscar show viewer of over 40 years is disappointed. Worst show ever. If the film community wishes to air grievances within the industry, do it there. I am watching to see talented people in the film community receive rewards for jobs well done, not to be preached to. A little goes along way. How sad.

  34. Geoff says:

    In a show that went to great pains to illustrate how black people were underrepresented, how on earth was the decision made to make “Room” a joke? It is a story of a woman kept in slavery! Is that less of a cause!?! Sasha Baron Cohen’s jokes were not just unfunny, they were insensitive as all hell. What the f Oscars?

  35. Hollywood Mark says:

    Notice how every joke fell flat. Painful. So racist and gutter-oriented. Rock with 10 year old girls in back of him yelling that Harvey Weinstein can kiss his ass. Are there no Latina girlscouts in Los Angeles? Or saying he wanted to show the black orchestra conductor so he could get laid at the Governor’s Ball. Jesus. Pharrell with no socks and rolled up pants. Classy. WTF was that thing with Joe Biden. Take what pledge? Louis CK was embarrassing since the documentary short winner he intriduced was about honor killings. Nice touch, Mr. CK. Guess the winner will drive home her Oscar to her shittly little LA apartment. WTF? Sickening. The whole sordid affair.

    • Timo says:

      I agree with the comment about Louis CK. Do people really think it is funny to see a millionaire like Louis CK make fun of people who have far less money? That is stupid in itself, but doubly so when these documentary filmmakers have chosen to make films which show what is wrong with the world – so that things could become better. It’s like a boob job plastic surgeon poking fun at a surgeon working in a war zone.

  36. David in Idaho says:

    Worst Oscar show ever. Hands down.

  37. glofish54 says:

    Had to turn this childish nonsense off and miss a show that I look forward to watching every year. Playing the race card at every turn ruined the show for me. Anyone not able to handle the nominations tallied by the academy, and not just themselves,doesn’t belong in the business. If members are pressured to set aside preferred performances in order to meet a racial quota, it defeats the purpose of the awards.

  38. Jacques Strappe says:

    Every network airing an awards show shamelessly plugs their respective stars and shows, including the Grammy and Emmy Awards.

  39. John Miller says:

    The opening monologue was great! I actually thought the inserting-African-American-actors-in-otherwise-white-movies skit was funny. But, yeah, the other jokes about the Oscar controversy didn’t work as well.

    • cadavra says:

      The Leslie Jones/REVENANT clip is even funnier if you remember her SNL bit last month in which she enthuses about how she can “get” DiCaprio as a boy friend.

  40. Faithful Oscar Viewer says:

    Sleek; it moved along for the most part; funny. The digs at Jada and Will in the monologue were hilarious! Thank you, Mr. Rock! Lots of surprises. One of the better Academy Award broadcasts in recent years.

  41. smith says:

    i AGREE it was WAY to much last night! It had me steaming!

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