COMMENTARY: Oscars like cheese from a can

The Oscars make us wince, generally.

Oh, there are those moments, like Octavia Spencer being genuinely overwhelmed, a character actress with a so-far background career, suddenly achieving the pinnacle of her craft and getting a standing ovation for giving a damn. Christopher Plummer finally getting the recognition he deserves at 82, and bringing best supporting actor home to Canada, as well as getting two of the five legitimate laughs on the night.

Mostly, though, the Oscars are cheese. And not good, fancy European cheese. Spray cheese, from a can.

Best joke by host Billy Crystal? You got me. His opening song was like sitting through a two-hour Wayne and Shuster special, just absolutely wince-worthy; similarly, the usual “unscripted” scripted banter between the stars made even joyful, hopeful people wince with despair for their own futures and contemplate eating a bullet or shooting a snuff film or something, just for the emergency injection of pathos and realism.

But the political stuff was okay. Everyone hates a politician; there’s no level you can stoop to, really, without at least the potential for a laugh. Really. Got two or three monkeys? You can test this theory by having them fling feces at a politician for five minutes. I guarantee you, at least half the time, it will seem hee-LAR-ious.

General themes for the night? The Artist was brilliant, but silent film is still dead. Crystal is funnier when he wings it than from a script … but in both cases you’d need to be a fan of 1950s Catskills stand-up to actually want to laugh or anything. The stiff from the academy who read the official announcements was so stiff he was accidentally funnier than Crystal. Crystal realized this, by playing the obvious punch-line off it – three minutes after everyone else got the joke.

Editing and cinematography and other stuff that should get starring status in filmmaking (but doesn’t) got lots of face time, which was nice.

It was obvious, though, when they whipped out Cirque du Soleil for something that was apparently inspired by Cary Grant suspense films but looked like every other tumbling act you ever saw that the whole thing was an exercise in jamming something in there for everyone, like the effects nomination for Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Naturally, Hollywood gave it another standing ovation. People stood up a lot last night … almost as if they wanted to leave.

Perish the thought. It might be three hours and 55 minutes of hell, but that other five minutes? Goddamned if they weren’t going to find something you might like.

Most of the biggest awards were backloaded, to build tension through the artifice of giving a shit about whether Jonah Hill has a career outside of slacker comedies. But Chris Rock, who obviously insisted on writing his own stuff, basically saved the night from being a complete sack of crap. Introducing the best animated feature nominees, he noted that it’s all about the equality.

“In the world of animation you can be anything you want to be. If you’re a fat woman, you can play a skinny princess, if you’re a white man, you can play an Arabian prince, and if you’re a black man … you can play a donkey or a zebra,” said Rock.

Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis presented in white tuxes with cymbals and cited “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” as a prior winner. So edgy, like ordering a McMuffin WITHOUT the ham.

The Alberta representative amidst this mess was Wild Life, a bleak animated short about a poncy Brit immigrating to Alberta in the frontier days and … well, that going about as well as you’d expect, once winter hit. It’s quite brilliant, and wildly stylish, like a Punch editorial cartoon come to life in western form. My favourite short was one of those that just missed the nomination cut, a great piece of Pixar-style animation called Nullarbor. Absolutely hilarious. The winner was the Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, a pointless and dull exercise in animation without a narrative which, once again, shows what happens when you let people vote on things. As another famous piece of animation, Kent Brockman, once famously declared, “Democracy just doesn’t work.”

And the night’s big winners? Anyone who measured the three-plus hours the show takes against the slow and inevitable journey we all take towards death and, like a bleak Norwegian short film, did something completely different with their time.