Oscars night is the biggest performance of them all - Monocolumn | Monocle


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24 February 2012

In the English-speaking entertainment world it’s a good week for awards shows. Those of you who love to watch the rich and famous rock up to the most literal form of the opening of an envelope might have kicked off proceedings with the Brits, live from London. But all collective breath will be none-more-bated than for the mother of them all, the Oscars, on Sunday night.

The Academy Awards, like every other awards ceremony, is not about films but about awards. The Oscars could easily exist without the movies. People don’t care if the notoriously conservative judging committee prefer the schmaltzy over the sharp and the Hollywood ending over the creatively brave. They know that the committee is a room of old geezers, expert in opportunity-missing, being late to acknowledge the talents of creative titans and not liking anything over an hour and a half long because it means two trips to the restroom.

People do care, however, about famous people looking good, but especially looking bad in tuxedos and ball gowns. They turn up with their new squeezes and their unsuitable Oscars night hair-dos so that space-fillers in the dailies can write about how male film stars are so wittily deconstructing the wearing of black tie, or how one daring young actress has worn a piece of string – how long’s a piece of string? Not very. And how another’s surprised everyone by sporting a dress made entirely of recycled umbrellas or teeth or pencil sharpenings and one’s wearing the same dress as someone else – “CRINGE!,” you might say if you were writing for one of the thinner magazines.

From the Golden Globes to the Emmys, the Grammys, the Oscars, the Baftas and the Brits – the dishing-out of weighty baubles of polished bronze, phallic stone, messed-around-with glass and tortuous metal is guaranteed ratings gold. One night a year the motherlode of fame (talent’s different but let’s not be mean) is packed into the former Kodak Theatre to hope against hope that they will walk away bearing that bronze gnome.

Popular winners are good for the industry and good for us all. Adele at the Brits just worked, didn’t it? And the moments when critical acclaim and box office popularity and good dress sense and a speech that sounds more like a “thank you” than a hagiography to everyone they ever met all help, too. But we all know it’s better when it’s a bit off. The sets will never creak and the red carpet will never be less than spotless but human error is rife under the spotlight.

We might not get hellraisers like a suited and full-booted Peter O’Toole or Richard Harris tottering up the red carpet, but we still see the human beneath the actor and the animal beneath the human. There’s a wonderful clip of Samuel L Jackson not winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Pulp Fiction back in 1994. It began with an “f”, anyway.

For what is the greatest test for an actor? Hamlet? King Lear? Perfecting Pinter’s pauses? Kabuki, maybe? Of course not – it’s being glad that someone else has won. So tune in on Sunday night and Monday morning wherever you are in the world to make sure you see the world’s greatest actors, the rictus grins and wild-eyed happiness of… the losers.


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