Are you as sick and tired as I am of hearing about how this year’s Oscars skewed so old? You know: the host was old, the winners were old, the classic movie were old…
The New York Times (that arbiter of all things hip and snappy) opined that the proceedings resembled “an AARP pep rally.”
Well, yeah. Sorry, kids, but you’ll just have to get used to the fact that Billy Crystal is funnier than anyone you’ve got; actors, directors, and composers only get better with age—and incidentally, by definition classic movie clips are going to be old.
I suspect the Times writer will next head up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and dismiss the Egyptian collection as resembling “King Tut’s high school reunion.”
Really? You want to slam Crystal as a host? Have you forgotten last year, when amidst the steaming, fetid wreckage left by oh-so-young-and-froofy Oscar co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco, Billy came ambling onstage as a presenter—and was greeted with rapturous applause from the audience, young and old alike? “Save us, Billy!” they screamed. “Save us from the Children from Hell!”
This year did we see some of Billy’s punchlines coming all the way down Hollywood Boulevard? Of course. Was the opening fake movies sequence a continuation of a running joke that Billy’s been telling for two decades? Sure. But at least we laugh, and maybe even more than before, because by now virtually every joke Billy tells is an inside joke, between him and us. We’re laughing with Billy before he even opens his mouth.
“This is great,” he says halfway through the show, “We’ve had puppets, we’ve had acrobats—we’re one pony short of a bar mitzvah!” That’s a joke you spout to a table full of friends. We laugh because it’s funny, and we also laugh because it’s Billy.
There’s funny, you see, and there’s edgy. Young comics are primarily edgy—even Billy Crystal once was. So were Jerry Seinfeld, David Letterman, and Don Rickles. And Burns and Allen and Wayne and Schuster. That edge, the uneasy sense of not knowing what’s going to come next, is the tool that gets a young comic noticed. It’s also what you want to hear from some guy in jeans under hot lights against a brick wall in a downtown comedy club. Chris Rock still manages to be both familiar and edgy, but the edge ain’t what it used to be, and maybe that’s why he’s been one of the better recent Oscars hosts.
Old actors? You got a problem with that? I personally hoped Glenn Close would win for Albert Nobbs, but don’t for one second think Meryl Streep’s selection for The Iron Lady was a lifetime achievement honor. She and Close—and George Clooney and Gary Oldman—are doing the best work of their careers precisely because they are older actors. Young actors excel at energy and emotion—think of Brando screaming “Stella!” or Katharine Hepburn mooning about calla lillies in Stage Door. It’s only when they grow up that the best actors draw on a lifetime of experience to give truly nuanced, fully realized performances—now think of Brando as the self-destructive businessman in Last Tango in Paris or Hepburn, teary-eyed and mourning the impending loss of her beloved Spencer Tracy, in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
Well, fine, you say. Older actors have honed their chops, and Billy will do as host. But come on—how can Oscar keep honoring movies with such limited appeal? That’s why the TV ratings have leveled off—if there’s no chance a Titanic or Avatar will win, why bother?
Yep. Add all nine of this year’s Best Movie nominees together and they took in $600 million at the box office. Transformers: Dark of the Moon and The Hangover Part II alone combined for more than that. Still, when they sink a time capsule containing the highest cultural achievements of our era, would you rather see Martin Scorsese’s soaring tribute to the wonder of childhood and the magic of the cinema in Hugo…or Hangover’s smoking capuchin monkey?
And don’t even bother answering that question if you’re under 45. Young people think they’re making history, but it’s old people like us who write it.