The Oscars

I Will State Without Qualification That James Franco Is on a Drug

Anne Hathaway

Good morning, Dana—

Let me keep the first installment of this autopsy short. I’m pressed for time. For one thing, I have spent much of the past 10 hours chuckling uncontrollably at Matthew McConaughey, who prepared for a post-Oscars interview with one or another of the moisturized androids from E! News by delicately plucking a wad of chewing gum from his sculpted jaw and tossing it on the red carpet.

For another, I let myself get sucked into a Franco-hole, a zone where, as in those Black Swan mirror shots where Nina’s image regresses forever, one gets trapped in an infinite series of reflections: What is art? What is reality? What the fuck?

My lawyer is discouraging me from speculating about whether James Franco was as baked as his scrunched eyes and distrait manner indicated to some viewers, but I will state without qualification that James Franco is on a drug. It’s called James Franco, and it’s a hallucinogen that produces feelings of restlessness, muscle rigidity, paralyzing self-irony, and impaired comic timing.

His hosting performance was very much a “performance,” with the self-conscious set of his chin helping to maintain the quotation marks. This was a miscalculation: Many of us are skeptical about the Oscars, and his reflection of that skepticism only amplified our alienation. Considered as a master of ceremonies, he deserves a C-minus. The behind-the-scenes, between-the-segments, beyond-the-veil moments to which Franco treated his Twitter followers were vastly more compelling that the show itself. It was as if he were breaking the fourth wall by hanging a self-portrait on it. As a mildly subversive conceptual artist interrogating the natures of celebrity and ceremony, he scored a grade-inflated B. Appearing in Gentleman Prefer Blondes drag, he surely intended to evoke not only Marilyn’s Lorelei Lee but also Duchamp’s Rrose Sélavy. I earlier thought about asking Franco, “What is art?” Forget that noise. He knows what art is. The correction question: “What is entertainment?” As “James Franco,” he earns an incomplete.

But there is so much more to marvel over, beginning with the matter of whether it was cruel and unusual to invite 94-year-old stroke survivor Kirk Douglas to present the supporting actress award, an act encouraging crass jokes in tens of millions of living rooms. The graceless winner to whom he presented an Oscar, Melissa Leo, went on so long that I began to fret that footage of Douglas in The Bad and the Beautiful would be included the In Memoriam tribute.

About paying respects to our elders: What if the telecast had acknowledged that yesterday was Elizabeth Taylor’s 79th birthday and paid tribute accordingly? I thought that the recent Grammy tribute to ailing Aretha Franklin was a fine concept. It reminded me of a remark that Whit Stillman makes on a DVD commentary track, I think: You read all these fascinating obits in the Times, but wouldn’t it great if they instead, like, published profiles of these remarkable people on their 80th birthdays? That way, the fascinated reader would have the chance to call up a fascinating oldster and chat about such issues as “What is Art?” and “What was Anne Hathaway’s hottest look last night?”

Stillman, of course, was nominated for best original screenplay for Metropolitan. He lost to Ghost.

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