Perhaps it’s because I’ve watched the Academy Awards for as long as I can remember,perhaps it comes from working in television and being in the center of Hollywood or it could just be that I’m a liberal elitist from California, but I think the Oscars have got to change to get better and probably not in the way you would think.
Over the past ten years, following a remarkable telecast in 2002, in the wake of September 11th, the Academy Awards have struggled to stay relevant in a world full of TMZ, Golden Globes and reality ‘stars.’ Unfortunately, the Academy continues to look at the telecast as a barometer of the Oscars’ social relevance rather than focusing on the actual institution itself.The Oscars have a few key problems here, which I have honed in on with simple solutions that will never actually be implemented.
The Academy started this slow period by constantly changing out hosts and while some have been better than others, there is no denying that each was chosen for their current popularity, rather than whether or not they would actually make a good Oscar host. Basically, they tried to broaden the appeal from the top down, instead of staying consistent with what had been successful. Billy Crystal is a great choice for this year’s host and not because he has done it before. But, because he will do what he has always done, what he’s known for and what he’s comfortable with. He won’t need to take a co-host, dress in drag, pre-record goofy sketches or make that uncomfortable “Oprah-Uma” joke. Billy sticks with what he thinks works, whether or not anybody else does and that should set the tone for the whole show. The Academy needs to remain the stuffy closed-off institution that’s its been accused of being and not be bothered by what anyone else thinks. These are the Oscars!
The Academy continued the downward trend by expanding its field to ten nominees, in order to get big movies and stars on the show, while highlighting smaller films. This paid off immediately with The Hurt Locker in 2009. When it seemed the Academy had balanced the commercial with the artistic and truly find the Best Picture, it took a step back with The King’s Speech. If they are only going to award smaller films, why nominate bigger ones? Is the audience who tunes in every year to watch the blockbusters lose comprised of the same people who keep voting Republican? It’s difficult for me NOT to make the obvious connection there, but I can’t imagine tuning in to watch Batman get nominated and lose to another movie about English royalty.
The Oscar telecast has a core audience that will always watch no matter what. It’s like the World Series. True fans will always watch no matter whose involved and then you’ll also get the people who will watch for the flavor of the month, like Avatar or the Tampa Bay Rays. Those nominees not be especially outstanding, but it’s familiar and safe enough to last three and a half hours/seven games. Movies have always been ahead of television, so they should be smart enough to realize that ratings do not matter anymore. Thousands of channels and different media outlets will not stop people who want to watch the Oscars from watching the Oscars. To make a better show, things need to be removed, no added. The bloat of the show starts with too many categories. Right away, shorts (live action and animated) should be moved to the technical ceremony. It is impossible to hide behind the excuse of bringing the popular films to a wide audience, as they have never had a chance to see these shorts in the first place (along with most voting Academy members). And as much as I enjoy documentaries, they should also be moved to the week prior. There was a good run of documentary winners in the past, but strict voting regulations means that some of the best films are ineligible and again, Capturing the Friedmans is not exactly lining them up at the Regal 16 in Springfield, Missouri. By limiting the number of awards handed out, there is easily more time for acceptance speeches from the major awards winners.
Also, if Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are nominated for Moneyball, how many clips of Moneyball do I need to see throughout the show? I’ve seen the movie about half a dozen times now and I’m pretty sure that 95% of Jonah’s scenes are with Brad. Instead of three different clips, how about one clip for all nominated categories and hoping the audience is smart enough to catch on? Does this glaring example of redundancy bother anyone else?
Finally, my last point is almost a social rant, rather than a constructive criticism. When I was younger, I watched the Academy awards to see glimpses of movies I had never watched, actors I had never heard of and directors had never seen outside of a picture in a book. Now, with being constantly inundated with the pictures, videos and sound bites of celebrities, it seems the Oscars are just the end of a long row of awards shows, each more boring than the last. The Oscars must reclaim its mystique and uniqueness, by taking a cue from one time nominee Jerry Maguire. Fewer clients, less money. No need for flash, when you have substance. No need for blockbusters when you have classic films. If you strip away the fluff of the Oscars, you still have the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. There is no need for the cast of “Glee” or Justin Bieber to be at the awards. There have been talks about moving the Oscars out of Hollywood and into downtown Los Angeles. An ill advised move from the Kodak Theatre to the Nokia Theatre would expand the capacity for the show, at the exact time that it needs to be smaller and more intimate. The Oscars should be more exclusive, rather than more inclusive. It might be in contrast with the mood of the nation, but we should continue to look up at the stars rather than trying to bring them down to our level.
Imagine an Oscar telecast that begins thirty minutes before the show starts. Making their way down the red carpet are the most beautiful actors in Hollywood. It’s Charlize Theron, followed by Matt Damon, followed by Penelope Cruz, followed by Ryan Gosling. As they stop and chat and pose for photographs, behind them are even more stars like Tom Hanks, Cate Blanchett, Morgan Freeman and Catherine Zeta Jones. There’s hardly time to catch all of them, as the show is about to begin. As the lights go down and the audience settles in, the overture swells, featuring the nominated scores for the year and here is this year’s host, Robert Downey Jr. He walks out to thunderous applause, acknowledges the stars in attendance, and makes a few cracks about the industry in general, the lack of a major Robert Downey Jr. release in that year and he is effortlessly charming and funny in his whole manner. The show moves quickly into its best supporting categories, followed by make up, art direction and costumes. The next two hours are a blur of high profile presenters, excellent clips of the nominated films and performances, acceptance speeches that elicit genuine affection for the winners, death montage and a few quick musical numbers. Before you know it, RDJ is thanking you for watching and have a safe ride home, wink, nudge. The 2013 Oscar telecast was short, memorable and simply about the films it was celebrating after all.