The Oscars avoid risk and play it safe

Kelly Feng, Managing Editor

After last year’s unexpected slap left viewers shocked and bewildered, this year’s Academy Awards show played it safe. Produced with a paint-by-numbers vibe, the show predictably went precisely by the script (unless you decided to cut off the winning speeches, where there was no rhyme, reason or rule to any of the directorial decisions).
The musical numbers were mildly entertaining. David Byrne and Son Lux were joined by “Everything Everywhere All at Once” star Stephanie Hsu singing a rendition of “This Is Life.”
Random and awkward were Melissa McCarthy and Halle Bailey promoting “The Little Mermaid” onstage. But it was refreshing to see the low-fi singing from Lady Gaga and the over-the-top energy of Rihanna.
Four Oscars went to “All Quiet on the Western Front,” directed by Edward Berger, picking up statues for international feature, cinematography, original score and production design.
As widely forecasted, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” won all the “above the line” marquee awards, including best picture. The audience responded with delightful enjoyment and enthusiastic surprise, and I don’t know why the audience acted so taken aback. Last I looked, the betting odds were clearly in the film’s favor.
Just as predictable were the acting awards, but at least they delivered notable speeches.
After winning best supporting actor for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Ke Huy Quan delivered a moving speech about his journey from riding in a refugee boat to standing on Oscar’s stage. It was a genuine speech, humbling and exhilarating to the audience.
Jamie Lee Curtis won best supporting actress and gave another exuberant, if not overly caffeinated, speech. As is often the case, Curtis was rewarded for a body of work, not her performance (watch any other of the best supporting actress nominees’ work).
No matter how pumped the audience was following the two, producers should reconsider placing both categories back to back next year.
While riveting, putting them side by side leads the audience to believe more excitement is on the horizon, but the following categories and even some musical numbers were anti-climatic. Spacing out the awards would have added better pacing and more reason to look forward to the rest of the show.
Nobody can predict what kind of speeches the supporting winners make, but if history demonstrates, they are usually less scripted, more spontaneous and charming.
Based on previous awards and Las Vegas betting lines, it was easy to predict Brendan Fraser of “The Whale” would win for best actor. Early in the season, the Oscar was thought to favor Austin Butler’s star turn in “Elvis,” as he had won at the Golden Globes, which is sometimes a bellwether of the Academy Awards (but not always).
No question that both Butler and Fraser delivered outstanding acting. With two comparable performances, the trophy usually goes to the more seasoned actor, especially ones making a comeback, like Fraser. After a tearful acceptance at January’s Critics Choice Awards, Fraser gained momentum, and by then, Elvis had left the building.
Like her best-acting counterpart, Michelle Yeoh swept most of the trophies during award season and won for best actress. Following her cast members who thanked their mother, Yeoh did the same. She was just as endearing as the supporting duo but less annoying than Curtis.
The Daniels’ (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) win was exciting, especially since they are a directing duo but also created an original and non-derivative film.
Maybe because they were given three turns at the podium, there was something self-serving about them, even if they managed to thank their public school teachers. And I’m not sure because I don’t remember reading why, but the taller Daniel (Scheinert) got on Twitter’s nerves.
They also slammed conservative anti-drag bills. Don’t get me wrong. Millions hold the same thoughts. However, if online comments are a sign of what the audience felt, people are tired of being told what to do and how to think.
The show was overall entertaining, if heavily scripted. Hollywood insiders predict that the show will soon leave the television and stream online.
In any case, the Oscars are not the cultural force they once were. Although Twitter comments would have us thinking millions tuned in, fewer likely watched the show.