The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

March 12, 2014

Benji Tunnell: Boring, safe Oscars better than last year's program

JOPLIN, Mo. — Last year's Oscars were a mixed bag. Often trading class for crass, host Seth MacFarlane managed to be as offensive as he was entertaining.

His hosting stint stirred up enough anger that the producers this year opted to go with the relatively safe choice of Ellen DeGeneres, a blandly inoffensive former standup and current talk show host.

So were producers right in their host this year? Liza Minnelli, whom Ellen compared to a drag queen, might not think so. And June Squibb, 84-year-old nominee for "Nebraska," certainly couldn't have appreciated DeGeneres' implication that she was hard of hearing because of her age.

But then, DeGeneres managed to avoid alienating an entire sex, as MacFarlane did early in last year's show with his "We Saw Your Boobs" song, so I guess this could be marked in the win category.

DeGeneres was serviceable, often dull and seeming to try too hard to keep her celebrity friends entertained, sometimes at the expense of the much larger -- but apparently far less important -- home audience.

Better than last year? Certainly in parts, but the lack of risk-taking that we have seen with previous hosts did make it feel a little too safe at times. Here are some other highlights and lowlights of this year's ceremony:

¥ÊWhat are they doing there?: During the show, we saw Tyler Perry, whose output thus far has garnered far more Razzie recognition than Oscar accolades. But he is a money-making machine, so I suppose there will always be a place for him in Hollywood, and this will most likely be the closest he ever gets to Oscar gold.

Then we had the confounding duo of Whoopi Goldberg and Pink during the "Wizard of Oz" 75th anniversary tribute. Goldberg is a reminder to Oscar of the dangers of lack of discernment, and it is puzzling that she would be the one to introduce the tribute when Minnelli, Judy Garland's own daughter and an Oscar winner in her own right, is sitting in the audience.

But confusion really set in when Goldberg threw to Pink to sing "Somewhere over the Rainbow." I have nothing against Pink, and she certainly did a serviceable if not spectacular job with the song. But, like Goldberg, she had no real ties to the film, or to film in general. I have yet to figure out what she was even doing out there.

¥ÊThe ego has landed: You have to have ego to be in movies, but what defines a star is his ability to rein his own ego in when shining the spotlight on others. This year, we saw two massive egos crowd all others off the stage so as not to have to share the moment.

First was Jim Carrey, who has inexplicably managed to parlay the exact same shtick into a two-decade-long-and-counting career. He was great on "In Living Color," but with very little variation in his performances, the law of diminishing returns has kicked in on the actor, and he has gone from entertaining to exasperating.

Now we're at the point of just waiting out his fade into obscurity. Until then, we'll continue to get moments like we saw in Sunday night's show. Carrey obviously went away from his script, singling out nominee Bruce Dern for no other reason than to show off his Bruce Dern impersonation. It was one of the most self-serving moments in a night all about self-serving.

Then there was Carrey's former "Color" co-star Jamie Foxx. During his presentation with actress Jessica Biel, he launched into an again unscripted and stupid rendition of the "Chariots of Fire" theme, complete with faux running in place, to the consternation of an obviously flustered Biel. Maybe there is something they put in the water on the "Color" soundstage that only kicked in just now, but both Carrey and Foxx are quickly joining the obnoxiousness level pioneered by the Wayans clan.

¥ÊPlease stop beating that horse: The "In Memoriam" section of the show wasn't the only thing featuring the dead, as DeGeneres took a lame one-off pizza joke and then proceeded to flog it until far past the point that it still had life. It was painful in concept and more painful in execution as she had pizza delivered and then distributed to about a dozen of the many slightly bemused stars.

Honorable mention in things that should be put out to pasture: Harrison Ford's earring. It was douchey when he was going through his midlife crisis. Now that he's in his seventies, it's just kind of sad.

¥ÊSing a song: Not only were all nominated songs performed on the show, but each had appropriate production and accompaniment to compliment.

Pharrell Williams, bedecked in Run-DMC era tracksuit and Smokey the Bear hat, started with an energetic rendition of "Happy" that even had Oscar royalty Meryl Streep up and dancing. Karen O offered up a lovely, restrained version of "The Moon Song," and U2 gamely, if somewhat clumsily, tried to figure out how to play to a crowd that was full of people even more famous than they are.

The showstopper, however, was Idina Menzel's belting of "Let It Go." Much like Adele's "Skyfall" last year, the number was powerfully delivered and brought down the house. It is unfortunate that she had to be introduced by John Travolta, who couldn't be bothered to learn how to pronounce her name, and thus a whole bunch of people will now think of that lady who sang the "Frozen" song as Adele Dazeem. It's too bad that Travolta couldn't take two minutes to rehearse. I'm blaming the thetans.

¥ÊPhoto op: I'm sure I come across as a crotchety anti-technology hermit, but I have no use for Twitter. Facebook is barely serviceable, but Twitter, in its 140-character or less vomiting of any thought that pops into a person's mind, is the pinnacle of pointlessness.

There are a few who can at least make it entertaining (Steve Martin comes to mind), but like 90 percent of Facebook updates, most tweets are thoughts deemed far more important than they actually are by people who live for others' approval.

And when Ellen, with the help of what amounted to a prolonged Samsung phone commercial, went for the world record of most retweeted photo, it cemented the pointlessness of the service. I'm sure I have a Twitter account somewhere, but until I have something the world needs to hear, it will most likely stay ignored.

¥ÊAnd next year's host is: I've been a big Bill Murray fan for my entire life. I've watched him in "Saturday Night Live" reruns, admired his Ô80s output and marveled at the talented actor who has been hidden behind the smarmy, sarcastic groundbreaking comedian.

In his brief time on stage presenting, he managed to be both charming and funny, even working in a touching tribute to his recently passed friend and colleague Harold Ramis. I'm sure Murray has better things to do with his time, but I'd love to see him with a larger role in future ceremonies.

¥ÊNo, no, thank you!: There were no people swearing or snatching away the canes of stroke victims a la Melissa Leo a couple of years back, no impassioned and unwanted political statements and limited numbers of fumbling, nervous stammerings.

Instead, we heard succinct and appropriate speeches from just about every winner. Worth noting: The infamous "wrap it up" music was hardly heard.

Most touching were by two of the big winners. Supporting Actress winner Lupita Nyong'o was truly moving in her impassioned speech, a tribute to those whose lives were lost and represented in her film "12 Years a Slave," as well as a reminder to all that it doesn't matter the background or upbringing, dreams can come true for everyone if they are determined enough to work for them.

Also touching was Best Actor winner Matthew McConaughey, who lovingly offered tribute to God, his mother, his wife and his children while walking us through the things that keep him motivated in life. McConaughey has finally broken free of the romantic comedy trap that his career had been mired in, and his charmingly sincere speech was one of the highlights of the night.

Benji Tunnell is a movie columnist for the Globe. Contact him at batunnell @gmail.com.

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