The 91st Academy Awards went down Sunday night without a host, and it was… actually really good? Instead of a cavalcade of hit-or-miss jokes and uncomfortable moments, the night focused on the awards and kept the humor brief and palatable. The Oscars may have accidentally found a way to streamline the award show process and make the broadcast much more watchable.
I like a lot of the pageantry that goes with Hollywood’s biggest night. I often enjoy the monologue more than most. I don’t mind the show’s length, as long as it’s funny and entertaining. On Sunday night, however, the Academy found an incredible way to fit all 24 awards into just over three hours, without presenting any during commercial breaks. Needless to say, the host was not missed.
The ceremony was truly able to focus on the nominees and winners. It was a night full of exciting moments. For the first time, a black woman won best costume design, and both supporting role awards went to black actors. A movie starring a minority superhero won Best Animated Feature, and best director went to a Mexican director for the fifth time in six years. Imagine if each of those moments had been interspersed by comments from a comedian, rather than honoring one movie and rolling onto the next.
The nominees’ descriptions and the live performances of nominees’ for original song, while not new to the show’s format, also received more attention this year. Taking extra time for the brief description and showcasing of the best picture nominees allowed those watching to learn more about the movies, especially the ones they hadn’t seen. The live performances felt like a great break in the show’s rhythm, inserting all the pageantry the show needed.
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Even the host-less opening monologue went off without a hitch. The opening set of jokes sets the tone for the rest of the show — if it’s too roast-y and controversial, the show is an awkward mess, but if it’s too safe and nice, the show is boring and unexciting. It’s become increasingly challenging to make everyone happy, and the opening monologue is a tough place to start.
The Oscars instead started with a live performance by Queen. Why hadn’t they done that every year? Hopefully, if Rocketman gets even one nomination next year, Elton John will grace the stage and begin a new tradition. Seeing a legendary rock band, regardless of its age, open the show with some instantly recognizable music, getting a crowd of A-listers to their feet was an incredibly exciting way to start the festivities.
In place of the monologue, three of SNL’s funniest women ever — Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Tina Fey — started the humor while presenting the first award by lampooning monologues themselves, quickly breaking down how the show would have gone if they were the hosts. Their bit was funny and brief, addressing the elephant in the room yet keeping the show moving.
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The award presentations weren’t bogged down by a host’s regular returning to the stage for bits, awkward jokes, check-ins on audience members or superfluous gags like dropping candy from the sky. No costume changes. No rhyme-y parodies of the year’s musical numbers. Just short segments with the presenters, who seemed to decide themselves if they wanted to be serious or funny and how much they wanted to play with the material.
I’m not saying every major award show should go on without a host; it could still be a train wreck. The Oscars simply showed an efficient and enjoyable way to do the show differently. Oscars night is about honoring movies, and Sunday’s show managed to do just that.