How To Have A Good-Ass Time Watching the Oscars

By  · Published on February 21st, 2017

It’s about focusing on everything else.

This year’s Oscars carry with them very little of the anticipatory dread of previous years, for me at least. A few times I’ve been unfortunate enough to be tasked with “covering” them, keeping track of favorites to win, and ultimately making predictions. This is all a very silly thing to do, of course, and as with most silly things it’s a crash course with the particularly acute annoyance known only to the most frivolous endeavors. Nothing is more aggravating than arguing with someone about what “should” win an Oscar, and it’s precisely because it’s such a dumb thing to argue about. It’s natural to root for a favorite artist or movie, but it’s essential for the sake of one’s blood pressure to keep in mind that who wins and who loses is far more political than it is meritocratic. That may not take all the sting out of a particularly nasty loss ‐ I’m still pissed off about Crash winning, for one ready example ‐ but it can help. What can also help is watching the Oscars for the stuff that isn’t Oscars.

The show itself has all manner of delights that don’t (directly) involve the competition. Most obvious, and with the greatest breadth to evaluate, is the fashion. Movie stars have a glamour few others can claim, and lend an entire new level to the art of haute couture, lending their ineffable shine to the clothes, which reciprocate. A true movie star in the right dress, or the perfectly cut tuxedo, is a wonderful thing to behold. And, because a little schadenfreude now and then is good for the skin, someone rolling in wearing something truly fucking hideous is a good time as well.

Predicting who will show up looking fly

In the interests of positivity I will not attempt to predict who will show up looking like a chartreuse nightmare (in any case, part of the delight of terrible fashion is the element of surprise: “Holy fucking shit what is [slightly past their prime/overconfident up-and-coming actor] wearing?”) but I will, for the hell of it, venture a guess as to who will, in the modern parlance, slay. Among the men I have never been more confident of anything in my life than that Mahershala Ali is going to show up looking absolutely amazing. Mark it in stone. The greater variance in women’s fashion may lead one to believe that it’s harder to determine a clear cut favorite, but lest you forget, Janelle Monáe is going to be there, and so is Isabelle Huppert. Keep in mind, as well, that many other people might show up in high fabulousness. The fashion is, hands down, the best thing about the Oscars, because anyone can be a winner just by looking right.

What can also help is watching the Oscars for the stuff that isn’t Oscars.

Predicting which presenter will be most inebriated

The secondary pleasures are more fleeting, but vast in possibility. One annual award I’m quite fond of bestowing, and “fond” is the exact word because there’s no malice to this whatsoever, is what I like to call the Cameron Diaz Memorial Brain Cell Award, named after this one time in the 90s when the award’s namesake showed up to present an Oscar for something or other looking more stoned than I’ve ever seen a human being look, with the possible exception of the time on some MTV show when Liam Gallagher told Jenny McCarthy “Youuuu looook liiiike somethinggg I put in my mouuuuth . . . and it got me . . . high . . .” before collapsing out of frame. It’s hard to beat the king. But every year at least one presenter looks higher than giraffe ass. (A couple years ago Kristen Stewart presented an award looking like she’d just taken a bong hit the size of her body, and the award was almost renamed in her honor, but not quite. That’s how high Cameron Diaz looked that one time.) This year’s crop of contenders is a little “weak,” with a few totally sober folk lowering the odds of a Full Diaz even further, but there is hope. Halle Berry, I submit with nothing but love and no snark whatsoever, leads the way. She gets nervous. Don’t discount Gael García Bernal here, to say nothing of Warren Beatty and/or Faye Dunaway. Don’t discount the possibility that I just jinxed the whole thing. And no, that was not a Die Another Day joke.

I have little faith anymore in much value being wrung from the host. It seems like a thankless job; I first started watching the Oscars during Billy Crystal’s run and was taken a bit aback to realize, on reflection, that most of his reputation for being great year in and year out rested entirely on the Jack Palance year, which was also one of the incredibly rare times a host was actually able to do something great. Every other year, the job of host is almost entirely to not fuck up. David Letterman did an otherwise excellent job his one year hosting, only to have the entire memory of his work be overshadowed by the only joke that clanked all night. Truly terrible hosts are rare ‐ Seth MacFarlane, Billy Crystal’s last one where he did the blackface bit for God knows what reason ‐ but memorable work equally so, with Chris Rock’s trip to the Magic Johnson theater to talk to regular moviegoers being one of the only bits that comes to mind, and that was over ten years ago. All of which is to say that Jimmy Kimmel should turn in solid, low-risk work, and barely be in the show after the opening monologue.

Predicting who will give the best acceptance speech

At that point, it’s about the presenters and the acceptance speeches, which, finally, are the best non-fashion thing about the Oscars. The problem with predicting who’s going to give the best one is you have to predict who’s going to win, and I am not good at predicting who’s going to win, through a fatal combination of never giving more than 75% of a fuck even when I’m getting paid to and the brutally stochastic nature of Oscar voting. So, if Mahershala Ali wins (like he should because he was better than the other four dudes, but see, there I go again with the “should”; it’s like I’m not even listening to myself) and gets up there in his aforementioned presumably awesome tux, he’s going to give an awesome speech. This is a given. So will Barry Jenkins, may the gods favor him. Huppert will also rule because that’s all she does. But, the best speech in any given Oscar year, almost without fail, is from one of the nerds who wins for the technical categories, or some documentarian who talks about their picture’s interesting subject, or one of the Bohemian makeup or costume design women. There is a generally (with notable exceptions) inverse relationship between level of fame and quality of speech. Every year, when you think about whose speeches were best, it’s always “well, [star I was rooting for] was good [because I liked them already and graded the speech on a curve], but man, the best Animated Short nerds owned!”

All of this is to say, the Oscars exist, and if you watch them, you might as well enjoy yourself. It’s going to kind of suck when Moonlight doesn’t sweep. But the evening can still be redeemed. Movies that don’t arbitrarily win things don’t vanish from the face of the Earth, and neither will our capacity to have a good time. So, let’s.

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Columnist, Film School Rejects. Host, Minor Bowes podcast. Ce n’est pas grave, y’all