There is surely a smidgen of irony in the fact that an industry that sells entertainment, whose very name conjures up entertainment, cannot bring itself to make its annual awards show more entertaining. Hollywood's ritual of self-congratulation, otherwise known as the Oscar awards, has become the most boring show on the planet. This isn't about the low-rent stand-up-comedy patter that kicks off the evening, a clutch of insider jokes carefully calibrated so as to not really offend anyone in attendance. This is a harmless enough crime. The real offence is in the utter predictability of the prizes. Sitting through the three-and-a-half hours leading to the announcement for Best Picture has begun to feel like going through a 1000-page book when someone's already revealed the ending. Was anyone really surprised when The Artist, a slight but charming ode not just to silent cinema but to Hollywood itself, left its competition in the dust with five wins? (It won Best Picture, Actor, Director, Costume Design and Musical Score. Martin Scorsese's much-lauded Hugo, also harking back to silent cinema, equalled this count, but with a string of less-prestigious awards in the technical categories, including Best Cinematography and Visual Effects).
The problem lies with the interminable stretch of honours announced in what has come to be known as “awards season.” First, the various critics' circles, like the National Board of Review, have their ceremonies. By the end of these announcements, there is already some sense of consensus, and this is only confirmed by the Golden Globes (awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association) and the BAFTAs (the British Academy of Film and Television Arts). And what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences do, essentially, is stamp their seal of approval on these awards. About the only award that quivered with an iota of suspense was the one for Best Actress, where Viola Davis was expected to win for The Help. (Meryl Streep won, instead, for The Iron Lady.) Otherwise, it would have made no difference if they'd announced the list of winners earlier and the show had simply focused on their showing up to collect the trophies. Stifling one of many yawns, several viewers no doubt looked back fondly at the time Shakespeare in Love came out of nowhere to snatch the Best Picture trophy seen as belonging to Saving Private Ryan, or when Marisa Tomei won Best Supporting Actress for her flamboyantly comic turn in My Cousin Vinny, beating such luminaries as Vanessa Redgrave and Judy Davis. Were these upsets deserved? Perhaps not. But no one will deny that they made a stodgy evening a lot more interesting.