Saturday, January 12, 2019

Oscar bait

Here's an article on why nobody wants to host the Oscars, or, rather, nobody that the producers would want. Basically it's because the show gets low ratings (I find that amusing, since it's the only tv special I regularly watch) and because the host usually gets such bad reviews. (Neil Patrick Harris got terrible reviews that I can't at all figure out how he deserved.)

So it looks like this year may be a ceremony without a general host. Frankly, they don't really need one; but the article goes on to recap the last time the Oscars went without one, in 1989, which it calls a legendary disaster of a show. With no host to have a reputation ruined, it ruined the producer's.

I don't remember this show - maybe I skipped it that year - but I watched parts of the embedded clips in the article. Actually I turned off the opening number (Disney's Snow White revisits Hollywood), which was as exquisitely terrible as they usually are, but I did watch the entirety of the number featuring 19 "stars of tomorrow", despite the fact that it was also exquisitely awful, consisting of a song by Marvin Hamlisch and Fred Ebb (perhaps Kander was wise to be unavilable) in which the young hopefuls sing about how they want Oscars and they want them now. To express such shortsighted sentiments (what you should want is not an Oscar, but to do good work that might get you an Oscar) and to address them to an audience full of older people many of whom actually have Oscars fits the definition of chutzpah.

What made it great to watch, though, was that I know the future. I can find out how these bright young things' careers went for the next thirty years.

Before I tell you how they did, let me note that most of them were 18-25 years old at the time. Many had been child performers, and a very large number are the children of stars. (Names like "Tyrone Power, Jr." give a clue.) No fewer than two are the daughters of Eddie Fisher; despite the fact that this makes them half-sisters to Carrie Fisher, I'd never heard of either of them.

I'd never heard of most of the others, either: despite the title, this is not a collection of the stars of tomorrow. However, they weren't complete failures: all but one of them have Wikipedia entries, so I was able to find out a bit.

Most of the ones with long-standing careers have been more successful in television than the movies. If I've counted up their future careers correctly, there are two Emmy winners, one Golden Globe winner (for tv work), and one Tony winner among them, but, unless I've missed something, not a single one has ever been nominated for an Oscar.

Of the 18, for one of them (Matt Lattanzi, one of the oldest at 30) his career was far more behind him than ahead. Others (Corey Feldman, Christian Slater) did OK in the movie biz for a while but then rather fell off the map (though Slater has moved into tv, and has a recent Golden Globe for his efforts). Only one of them (Carrie Hamilton, daughter of Carol Burnett) is dead.

From watching the show, I'd say that not all of them really deserved a place up there. I'll pass over the ones who can't sing but try anyway, and give highest honors to Patrick Dempsey (now best known from Grey's Anatomy, and winner of various less-famous awards) for lively and goofy acting, and to the youngest performer, 15-year old tap-dancer Savion Glover, who's apparently gone on to become a leading performer in that recondite field (he's the Tony winner in the bunch), with honorable mention to that brassy young woman, Ricki Lake, now a talk-show host so famous that even I've vaguely heard of her, a career move that's won her an Emmy. The other Emmy winner is Chad Lowe, who has the misfortune of being the brother of Rob Lowe, who featured in that infamous opening number.

Now I'm going to open the curtain and reveal the actors who were 18-25 years old in March 1989 who did go on to win Oscars up until now, and how well known they were back when they could have been on stage in this Oscar ceremony instead. Brace up, there's 25 of them:

*Nicolas Cage, 25, for ghu's sake had already been in Peggy Sue Got Married, Raising Arizona, and Moonstruck. There's no reason not to have heard of him.

*Helen Hunt, 25, had also been in Peggy Sue Got Married (as Peggy Sue's daughter), as well as some other movies I haven't seen.

*Juliette Binoche, 25, was a major French film actress, and had made a hit as the female lead in her one English-language movie, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

*Russell Crowe, 24, was a stage actor in Australia who'd never been in a movie.

*Sandra Bullock, 24, would soon open in an off-Broadway play for which she'd get the only semi-good notice in a slamming New York Times review.

*Marisa Tomei, 24, had already achieved tv note as Lisa Bonet's white roommate in the first season of A Different World. She'd done little in movies, but had won an award for her off-Broadway debut.

*Viola Davis, 23, had been a theater major in college and was either already or about to go on to study drama at Juilliard.

*Benicio del Toro, 22, an acting student who'd played a few thugs on tv and a circus dog-faced boy in Big Top Pee-wee. It's a wonder he kept on trying.

*Halle Berry, 22, had been a Miss USA runner-up who was pursuing a modeling career, and this year moved to New York to try acting instead, landing her first tv role (playing a model) this fall in a new series that was cancelled by the end of the year.

*Jamie Foxx, 21, made his debut as a stand-up comedian this very year.

*Philip Seymour Hoffman, 21, was a drama student at NYU.

*Cuba Gooding Jr., 21, an up-and-comer who'd appeared as a guest in several tv shows and a tiny part getting a haircut in one movie, Coming to America.

*Julia Roberts, 21, had been in a couple of movies including as one of the three leads in Mystic Pizza, and would this fall release Steel Magnolias, which would get her her first Oscar nomination.

*Nicole Kidman, 21, already a noted young film actress in Australia. Her latest release, Emerald City, would win her Best Supporting Actress from the Australian Film Institute. But international note was still a little ahead of her.

*Mira Sorvino, 21, a senior at Harvard majoring in East Asian Studies with honors, so take that, anyone inclined to dismiss her brains based on her Oscar-winning role.

*Mo'Nique, 21, like Jamie Foxx started her show-biz career doing stand-up comedy, but her Wikipedia article doesn't make clear when that was.

*Javier Bardem, 20, a struggling young actor in Spain still hoping he could be a painter instead.

*Sam Rockwell, 20, had filmed his first major role, in Clownhouse, which premiered at Sundance this year.

*Patricia Arquette, 20, had been in a couple of obscure movies, including Nightmare on Elm Street 3.

*Matthew McConaughey, 19, would this fall enter the University of Texas where he started out in show business doing tv commercials.

*Cate Blanchett, 19, had probably not yet dropped out of college in Australia to travel overseas, where she took her first film job as an extra in an Egyptian boxing movie.

*Catherine Zeta-Jones, 19, then playing the lead in a London West End production of 42nd Street, but hadn't yet made any movies.

*Renée Zellweger, 19, a sophomore at the University of Texas. While there she got her first bit-part movie role, which was cut.

*Rachel Weisz, 19, was taking part in student productions at the University of Cambridge.

*Jennifer Connelly, 18, had been a child actress who'd appeared in several movies, most prominently (but not to good reviews) as the lead in Jim Henson's Labyrinth. She was now back in school trying to get more acting training. It would work out.

There's your actual 1989 "stars of tomorrow." Many of them were still too obscure for anyone to peg as future Oscar laureates, but even at the time, it would have been reasonable for a perspicacious critic to have noticed Nicolas Cage, Helen Hunt, Juliette Binoche, Sam Rockwell, Julia Roberts, and maybe Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Connelly.

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