I suddenly have a strong desire to go buy tickets to a movie at my local theater and ask everyone I know to go with me and cancel my Neflix account and–wait a minute. Maybe that’s just the Oscars talking, literally. Though I watch the Academy Awards telecast every year, this year seemed more explicit about its message than any in recent memory: go (back) to the movies, America.
The motif of Hollywood’s glory days comprised a large part of the Oscar discourse between the nominations and the awards ceremony, mostly centering on the multiple nominations and odds of winning for The Artist and Hugo (though there was also some discussion about Viola Davis in relation to the legacyandlegend of Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar experience). Many heralded this year as indicative of Hollywood eating its own tail, creating an ouroboros of self-congratulation and nostalgia for the medium’s history. This claim was further supported by the LATimesinvestigation into the demographic composition of the Academy. The results were unsurprising: it’s mostly white men who were alive when cinema was still the dominant American entertainment form. All of this led us to last night, an Oscar ceremony that seemed to hammer into the audience at home one clear message: “Movies are great, but they’re even better when experienced in a movie theater. But don’t take our word for it; instead, take the word of thirty or so movie stars, a jaw-dropping Cirque du Soleil act, and a bevy of blue-silk-clad, leggy cigarette girls-cum-ushers who will entice you with free popcorn before the ad-break.”
Through Billy Crystal’s continual references to his eight other hosting gigs, the admittedly gorgeous art deco “movie palace” set design, and a decidedly skewed attention to pre-1990s films in its various salute-to-the-movies montages, this years Oscars felt like it was desperately seeking a halcyon past. While this is often the case with the Oscars–perhaps more than any other major awards ceremony–this year posed a strongly economic undercurrent to that nostalgia. It wasn’t as much about the movies from that bygone era but the mode of exhibition and patronage of the mass audience who treated a trip to the movies as a unique and desired cultural experience, and more importantly, who paid for that experience.
The Oscars have never seemed so baldly self-promotional to me before, which is perhaps why the irreverent moments–though few and far between–seemed all the more charming. These moments make these awards shows the cultural events they are, drawing on the promise of liveness. The Oscars broke out of the commercial shell (or at least acted enough like they were) when Octavia Spencer was so overcome at her win she could barely make it to the stage, when the winners for best editing didn’t try to fill in for their speechlessness and instead said thank you and “let’s get out of here” and did just that, when Emma Stone swayed onstage enticing,“Let’s dance. Let’s dance,” to convey her excitement, and when some wonderful audience plants shouted “Scorsese” during a Bridesmaids cast presentation, forcing Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne to pull mini-bottles of vodka from their decolletages and swig, per their SAGdrinkinggame.