Ok, that’s a little harsh, but we have definitely lost some love for The Oscars in recent years. The Motion Picture Academy Awards are the grande dame of all the awards shows, and historically they have carried a cache that has put them head and shoulders above the rest. In the past decade or so, that crown has become tarnished, and it’s become an annual February ritual to talk about how to “fix” both the show and the nomination process. The Oscars were once about quality and excellence in Hollywood, but with the predominant focus on often relatively obscure, artsy films, the Oscars don’t resonate with most moviegoers and often feel more like a rebuke to the Hollywood system. In addition, the process has been accused of being both sexist and racist, and this year they couldn’t even find a host that didn’t have some perceived skeleton in their closet. Can the process and the excruciatingly long show that goes along with it be saved? We aren’t sure, but here are some of our sore spots with the 90-year-old institution.
I love watching the Oscars but over the last few years, it’s been a tough watch as we often try to find other things to do while watching: play cards, board games, etc… The jokes aren’t funny, the speeches can be boring – especially for the technical awards – and it’s a long haul. But I have a few pet peeves about the show that bother me and I think if the Academy actually took advice on how to revamp them the right way they would get people interested again.
Not Enough Celebration of Film History
At some point, The Grammys decided to change up their format. Their show got old and was losing viewership. It slashed the number of awards given out on the air and started to center the show around performances. It does a great job of showcasing the newest popular talent with highlighting musical history. It’s the best award show currently on air today. Now, they can’t have live film performances but what it needs to do is find a way to showcase its history while making it fresh enough for younger viewers. I love when they used to do meaningful film montages from the past – those get me every time. I love when they bring out old Hollywood stars as long as they are healthy enough (see Kirk Douglas). Even when they do the In Memorium section, the big stars that have passed away should get a longer segment. There is clearly a ton of “dead” time during the telecast to add this in. If they are “junking” the host then no need for an opening parody of the current crop of films. Pick a theme and do a master montage. Jim Corden does a great skit on his show where he has an actor act out a ton of their roles in 10 minutes, do something like that during the show. It’s funny and celebrates films and actors. Bring back the Lifetime Achievement Award during the broadcast, so we can hear the great speeches and see the films that were involved. These are meaningful – shouldn’t be hidden at the Governors Awards. The Oscars celebrate film, so celebrate films.
MG: I completely agree that the Grammys gets it right. It’s not perfect, but they do a good job of balancing art with popularity and the show is entertaining. I too love film montages, although some of the ones in recent years just seem random – and always touch on the same films it seems. There should be more thought put in to them. I’m not sure on the Lifetime Achievement, however, as that segment alone can get bloated into a 25-minute snoozefest. If done right, though, it could be good to bring back.
Best Picture Category
A few years ago the Academy decided to expand their Best Picture nominees to up to ten. Their rationale was to give more opportunities since great films often get snubbed with only five nominees. Every other category has a max of five. I hate that they did this. Often what happens is a film that doesn’t deserve a Best Picture nomination gets nominated. This year, in my opinion, it’s Black Panther. I loved the film and understand it’s popularity but it’s just not the best film of the year and not the best superhero film of all time. I think the more nominations skews the voting as well giving voters more options to vote for. It just waters down the category. It’s an easy fix too if the Academy wants more films included. All that needs to be done is to ape the Golden Globes and have two Best Picture categories, one for Best Comedy or Musical and one for the rest. I have often said great comedies are hard to make, there are so many crappy comedies, that when there are good ones they should be recognized. The Academy often overlooks comedy. I wouldn’t expand the other categories like the Globes does but I certainly believe adding another Best Picture category would add to the show. It guarantees ten nominees and gives out another award.
MG: When the Academy said it would add a “Best ‘Popular’ Picture”, that was a bad idea mercifully scrapped. I agree with that adding a Best Comedy/Musical is long overdue, but instead of adding more “popular” films, why not add a Best Independent Picture? That would be a way to honor the small films, and maybe keep a spot for a more well-known film. Like Best Animated or Foreign Picture, if a film was good enough it could still make it to the overall Best Picture category.
Film Viewing Availability
If the Academy wants more viewers for Oscar night then they need to make it easier for people to see the nominated films. A lot of these films have not had a wide release yet, often films are out of the theaters and not yet able to stream or rent. Take the Grammy’s for instance, you can listen to any artist or any song readily. They can be bought, streamed or heard on the radio. I am not just talking about the bigger films, what about the documentaries, long and short, the animated short, or foreign films? We watch that part of the show and it’s pretty ho-hum, we have no stake in that, it’s bathroom time or a food break, and that’s from a film fan, what about a regular viewer? Once a film gets nominated it at the very least should be able to be rented on a streaming service. I know some theaters have viewing days of the films but not everyone lives near some of these venues. I would also really advertise, push these films to the regular movie viewer, get the conversation going about these films. If the Academy wants more viewers they should expand their perception that it’s a stuffy high brow club, get people invested in cinema.
MG: I’ve never understood why film companies don’t capitalize on getting their films out to be viewed at this time of the year. A film like The Favorite is not going to win, so right now it has the best chance of getting people to watch it. Regarding the short docs and animated films, I know it’s nice to honor this work that largely goes unnoticed, but it really needs to be dropped from the television broadcast. There will simply never be enough interest from the masses to make it worthwhile.
Years ago I loved watching the Oscars, but oddly, as I’ve gotten older and actually know more of the nominated films, my excitement about the show has waned considerably. There are many reasons for this, but the length, pretentiousness, and general bloat of the show are a chief reason. The categories themselves have not been meaningfully changed in years, and the few changes, like adding Best Animated Film or increasing the number of Best Picture Nominees, did not help. The lack of a good host since the end of the Billy Crystal days and the focus on the socio-political issue of the moment has really dragged down the entertainment value of the show. A radical overhaul is needed, but the stodginess of the Academy means it will probably not happen soon, and this will only hasten the demise of this institution.
To start with, no televised event should run longer than 3 hours, period. In the early 2000s, the show would regularly run over 4 hours and has only slightly improved in recent years (last years was 3 hours and 43 minutes. The record, by the way, was 2002 at 4 hours and 23 minutes). I do believe this is another sign of the self-centered aspect of The Academy, in that it’s fine for all the beautiful people in California to wrap-up their show at 10:00 pm, but those of us in the rest of the country don’t feel like staying up to 1:00 in the morning on a work night for this show. How would all those actors/actresses like to be starting their aftershow parties at 2:00 am? So to trim the show – move the obscure categories like the shorts (documentary/animated/live action) off of the telecast. I know they try to use the orchestra to cut-off the self-important 20-minute speeches but do this more aggressively for everything but the acting/directing categories. Sorry, viewers are sometimes interested to see Julia Roberts or Denzel Washington do a ten-minute speech, but they don’t give a shit what the sound effects editors have to say. Somehow the Golden Globes manages to keep their show at or under 3 hours, and they do both film and TV.
DJ: The length of the show does not bother me as long as it’s entertaining. If it’s boring, 3 hours or 4 hours it’s still boring. If you can’t make it worth watching then fine go ahead and shorten it please.
Why the hell are there two sound editing categories? This may make sense to the technical people that work on film (and I get the effort that goes into editing – I did do a film school editing internship with Ken Burns years ago [shameless plug]), but almost no one watching the show cares about the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. This is easily consolidated to one category, with those who do both the editing and mixing getting recognized in the nomination (or *gasp* remove it from the telecast all together). Speaking of sound in film, it’s long past due to ditch the Best Song category. There was a time when a lot of original songs were written specifically for movies, but the days of the chart-topping soundtracks are long over. What was the last Best Song that was big on the radio – Titanic’s “My Heart Will Go On”? That was over 20 years ago. Now the Academy struggles to fill this category every year. Sure, most of us have heard “Shallow” from A Star Is Born, but who knows the song “I’ll Fight” from the documentary RBG? Or “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs? (Anyone, even, seen this film? I didn’t think so). In addition, the Academy insists on a separate performance of all the Best Song nominees, adding a nice half hour of fat to the show. Going back to the Golden Globes, with the additional category for Best Picture for Musical/Comedy, they have the corresponding Best Actor/Actress in a Musical/Comedy. Wouldn’t we all rather see another actor and actress getting an award and giving a speech over the winner of Sound Mixing or Live Action Short Film? This is a no-brainer.
DJ: I am ok with combining sound editing, it makes sense, at least from the layman’s perspective. I agree that the song should go just so there is no performance. That’s what lengthens the show. I agree music is important to a movie but most of the time it’s not an “original” song that does it. And does an artist really need to win an Oscar and a Grammy for the same song? Maybe move the movie songs category to the Grammys?
End The Unofficial Lifetime Achievement Awards
Every year there is at least one aging actor/actress that is up for an award and suddenly gains all this momentum because there is this movement to give them an award because they are “due” for one. This year we have Glenn Close for Best Actress in The Wife and Sam Elliot for Supporting Actor in A Star Is Born. I haven’t seen either performance, but what I’ve read is marking them as a “front runner” at least partially because there is a perception that they are overdue for a win. This madness simply needs to stop. Look at Sam Elliot – this is his first nomination ever. He seems like a good dude, and I have nothing against him, but should a younger actor like Adam Driver be deprived of an award if his performance was better? (He was great in BlacKKKlansman, by the way.) If that happens, in 40 years from now will the Academy need to award Driver with a “he’s due” award because he missed out this time? You get what I’m saying – it just perpetuates a cycle. It begets situations like Al Pacino winning Best Actor or Scent of a Woman – a fine film but far from his best work. A win for Godfather Part II in 1975 would have been more appropriate, but 57-year-old Art Carney won that year, arguably a “he was due” award. This whole cycle cheapens the process and robs the process/show of seeing a performer at the height of his/her craft from being duly honored. It’s supposed to be about the “best” in acting right? Not about righting the perceived wrongs from the past, or, worse, honoring someone who has been a longtime member of the Academy over a young upstart performer.
DJ: I don’t like the “make-up” award. Scorcese was another one when he won for The Departed. In the very old days that’s what the real Lifetime Achievement Award was for. Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, and Charlie Chaplin all got one of these. Sometimes the competition is just going to be too strong and a deserved win is going to be had by another deserved nominee. You don’t deprive a better performance for a make-up call, this isn’t football.