Call it Oscar burnout. emmy antipathy. Grammy burns.
I’ve spent a good part of my professional life covering various award shows, and now I can hardly bear to watch them. There was always a lot of stress involved: the scramble for credentials, parking issues, rushed red carpet interviews, and brutal deadlines. Really, the best part of covering the awards show was telling friends and family about it afterward.
On Sunday, I won’t worry about whether “Everything Everywhere All at Once” will beat “Tár” for best picture. (It will). Or if Jamie Lee Curtis will finally get the professional respect he deserves in the form of a golden statuette. (Could be the year of Kerry Condon.)
My awards show mantra: Just wake me up when I’m done.
Come Monday morning, I’ll watch slideshows of stick figures in beautiful clothes and laugh at fashionistas who proclaim that this It was the year of the neckline, the color yellow or the return to elegance. As if the themes that crop up on the red carpet are anything more than just matching and product placement for thirsty designers who often pay dearly to be “used.”
I’ll go through the list of winners, endorsing only one film, the documentary “Navalny,” because a best documentary Oscar could serve as a kind of life insurance for the anti-Putin dissident, who sits in prison while the Russian strongman tries to to destroy him and the democratic movement he built. (The film is a fascinating account of how Navalny, his colleagues, and the incredible Internet hounds of rattlesnake cat identify and then confront the men who poisoned him with a nerve agent in 2020).
It’s not often that the stakes at the Oscars are as dramatic as life or death, though winning awards can certainly make or break a career, and the whole show is a sub-industry unto itself. The show generates millions of dollars for city coffers and in advertising revenue for ABC. Studios spend millions on lobbying in the run-up to Sunday. I respect that. I really don’t care anymore.
In 1985, I covered my first Academy Awards as a reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News. I made my way to the ropes line outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on a small piece of land supposedly reserved for me, jostled by sharp-elbowed photographers, hoping to garner something more significant than a designer endorsement from the celebs who were speeding by. (Though, to be honest, “Who are you wearing?” was a useful enough question if you couldn’t think of anything else to ask.)
I’ve been outside the Oscars auditorium and inside the Oscars auditorium, outside the Governor’s Ball and inside, outside the Vanity Fair party and inside where reporters were banned from carrying notebooks and made to run to the bathroom to write things they didn’t know. I don’t want to forget.
At the 2006 party, I sat next to Russell Simmons, who was smoking a joint and jerked around when I identified myself. I ran into Jacqueline Bisset in the bathroom. Near a bar, I stood next to Michelle Williams, who was grossed out by party favors featuring lollipops featuring the face of then-underage Dakota Fanning. “That’s almost pornographic!” Williams exclaimed at the thought of people sucking on little Dakota’s face.
I was at the first post-#MeToo Oscars in 2018, when Hollywood was still in shock and just beginning to come to grips with its reflexive patronage of powerful men behaving very, very badly. The town was still in a state of moral confusion.
After all, that year he awarded an Oscar to Kobe Bryant for his short film “Dear Basketball,” despite having been accused of raping a woman in Colorado in 2003. (The charges were dropped when the victim, whose life had been threatened and that she had attempted suicide, stopped cooperating with prosecutors, Bryant publicly apologized to her).
But just a year before that, writer/director/actor Nate Parker was turned down for his remake of “The birth of a nation.” Parker’s film was a sensation at the Sundance Film Festival, and at a time when the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag had gone viral, the success of the film and its auteur were seen as a major corrective. “Birth” was supposed to be a top Oscar contender. In interviews for the film, Parker acknowledged that he had been accused of rape in 1999 while he was a student at Penn State; he was acquitted. But Parker was considered inappropriately defensive after news emerged that the alleged victim he had died by suicide in 2012. Hollywood turned it down; the film sank without a trace.
In my opinion, Bryant’s Oscar win coupled with Parker’s bizarre cancellation is a shining example of Hollywood hypocrisy.
This unfortunate quality was also on display after last year’s infamous slap, when Will Smith took offense to Chris Rock’s joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and took the stage in the middle of the ceremony to assault the host. I was surprised at how many people made excuses for Smith’s reprehensible behavior.
Dramatic, unscripted moments like that can turn a boring event into a spectacle. Before the Slap, of course, there was the Kiss.
Both were acts of aggression, though the waking audience at the 2003 Oscars didn’t seem to pick up on it. full body hug that Adrien Brody imposed on Halle Berry as a moral violation.
“I bet you didn’t know it was part of the gift bag,” Brody quipped, as if Berry was the equivalent of a gift certificate to Spago. Berry, for her part, looked stunned.
In the newsroom that night, I remember enthralled page designers and editors deciding to enlarge the photo for the Calendar section cover. It was definitely the most dramatic image of the night.
Berry later said that it had been a shock. She agreed, she told an interviewer, but her main reaction was “what…is going on?”
Later, I came to feel that we had valued a form of aggression.
Sunday afternoon I’ll be at home, in front of the fire, probably watching a movie. Good luck to all the nominees, but especially to the reporters, editors, and photographers facing their impossible deadlines. I wouldn’t trade places with you for anything.