Oscars 2012: Just Like Grammys, But With More Leg

Why the contest between the year’s two biggest awards shows wasn’t really much of a contest at all, in Bigger Than the Sound.
By James Montgomery

Angelina Jolie presents at the 84th annual Academy Awards

Photo: Kevin Winter/ Getty Images

There was a wardrobe malfunction, some racy fashion, a bit of onstage inebriation, a little pre-show punking and even a Justin Bieber sighting … and none of it was enough to spare Sunday’s 84th Academy Awards from being called “as bland as oatmeal” and a “badly paced bore-fest.”

Those criticisms may or may not have been deserved; after all, the three-hour-and-something telecast certainly lagged in spots, most of Billy Crystal’s shtick seemed to have been vacuum-sealed during the latter days of the Carter administration and the most memorable moments centered on supposed nipple sips and Angelina Jolie’s right leg. And, shoot, it’s not like there was a whole lot of suspense involved with the show itself; everyone knew “The Artist” was a lock to win Best Picture, and, lo and behold, it did just that.

Still, there were highlights— Emma Stone’s charming (and well-written) presentation bit opposite Ben Stiller, Octavia Spencer’s gob-smacked Best Supporting Actor acceptance speech (and frequent near spills beforehand), Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis’ cymbal-smashing stunt — but overall, consensus seems to hold that this year’s Oscar telecast was too bloated, too straight-laced and too self-reverent. In other words, it was just like every other Oscar telecast, only with accidental nudity and some Cirque du Soleil thrown in at the last minute.

Which is why, after sifting through the aftermath of the show itself, I can’t help but notice the similarities between the Oscars and the 54th Grammy Awards, which unspooled earlier this month and were greeted with the same basic criticisms immediately afterward: feckless host, lifeless pacing, predictable results. And while comparing Billy Crystal to LL Cool J is basically a futile endeavor (Crystal was funnier, but LL bested him when it came to prayer-leading and headwear), it’s not exactly a stretch to call both telecasts long-winded, or make the connection between “The Artist” and Adele.

Of course, some (like, uh, me) have already floated the notion that the Oscars and the Grammys are basically the same show anyway — both are slightly silly, thoroughly incomprehensible exercises in self congratulation — though, for what it’s worth, I actually enjoyed Sunday’s Oscars way more than this year’s Grammys. I thought the former was a better show, more creatively staged, and certainly more adept playing the hand it was dealt.

To wit: Producers went into Sunday’s Oscarcast having already weathered the Brett Ratner/Eddie Murphy bad-press fiesta, and knowing that a) this year’s crop of nominated-films weren’t exactly compelling, b) a (largely) silent, black-and-white film was the odds-on favorite, c) their host was born in 1948, and d) they were opposite the NBA All-Star Game. Forget about “cool” … about the best thing the Oscars could hope for was “classy,” and in that regard, they definitely delivered.

On the other hand, heading into the Grammys, the presumptive favorite had also sold nearly 7 million albums (about as close as a consensus as you can get these days), one of the most-popular hip-hop artists on the planet was the night’s most-nominated act (that would be Kanye West), and three of the world’s biggest pop stars (Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Rihanna) were all in attendance. Oh, and then, on the night before the show itself, Whitney Houston — one of the greatest singers of all time, and a talent whose entire career was basically interwoven with the history of the award — unexpectedly died. If anything, the show was set up to be one for the ages.

And yet, it largely wasn’t. Sure, Adele soared and scored, but everyone else in the previous paragraph was basically an afterthought. And the tribute to Houston, featuring a very game Jennifer Hudson, was buried in the telecast and largely forgotten by the following morning. Combine all that with an odd Nicki Minaj performance, that whole “EDM” tribute and a thorough bungling of the annual “In Memoriam” piece, and the Grammys were a debacle in just about every conceivable way (except for Dave Grohl, of course, who was awesome as always).

So if these two awards shows really are so similar, well, for one year at least, they weren’t. The Oscars definitely out-gunned, out-shone, and even managed to out-Grammy the Grammys themselves. There was a slight spirit of irreverence (Angelina’s leg show, Sacha Baron Cohen’s ash-spilling stunt, the boozy “Bridesmaids” salute to Marty Scorsese) that permeated throughout the buttoned-up proceedings. They even got Justin Bieber involved, and the last time I checked, he was a musician (or at least that’s what people tell me). Both certainly warranted criticisms, though perhaps that’s just the case with all awards shows these days: They are largely antithetical to the way we operate, after all: throwback, three-hour telecasts where brevity is encouraged but never really enforced. They are practically constructed to be deconstructed by bloggers the following morning, painfully un-hip, unapologetically huge and forced to appeal to the broadest of demographics. And yet (or probably because of all that), they routinely deliver viewership — this year’s Grammys were watched by 39 million folks, the largest audience since 1984 — which means they’re not going anywhere anytime soon … if ever.

So if we’re stuck with them, we might as well come to appreciate them. Neither the Oscars nor the Grammys are ever going to be perfect … and this year, neither were. But when comparison is necessary (and given the scope of both, basically unavoidable), the Oscars came out on top, by a large margin. They did more with less, and did so with style to spare. And less Nicki Minaj. Then again, perhaps all of this just begs a larger question: Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some alternatives out there? I wouldn’t hold my breath for an answer, so in the mean time, I’m left to compare one bloviated, bloated awards show to another, even if they don’t even merit comparison.

What awards show did you enjoy more this year: the Grammys or the Oscars? Leave your comment below!

The MTV Movies team has the 2012 Oscars covered! Keep it locked at MTV.com for updates on the night’s big winners and the best red-carpet fashion.

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