The Oscars: The Good, Bad, and Fixable

I’m a bigger fan of the Academy Awards than anyone else I know.

That’s not all on my end—I don’t view the Oscars as some flawless representation of entertainment or anything.  No, I make that statement in part because the Oscars—coming up this Sunday night—are one of the easiest punchlines in the world. No one, it seems, is willing to admit to liking them—despite the fact that, you know, everyone likes movies.  Because of the show’s often-questionable selections, our growing distaste of millionaires fêting themselves, poor production choices, and a nauseating level of sanctimonious sensitivity whenever a host tries to push the envelope (see MacFarlane, Seth), the Oscars don’t seem to draw too much anticipation from most people anymore.

On the other hand, I love them. That doesn’t mean I’m blind to their flaws, but rather that I enjoy being able to relish my love for movies with other people for one night a year.  I still hope that my favorite stars and movies will win, even though I recognize that the awards are hardly the ultimate measure of talent.  It’s meaningful that we still have a ceremony that draws in every major player in Hollywood, and when I lived in LA, there was legitimate buzz over it.  The Oscars’ problems annoy me so much because I want the show to be better—for the awards to feel more accurate, for the boredom to be reduced, and for the entire night to be more prominent within our culture.

To that end, here are a few changes I think would dramatically improve the experience:

Eliminate Some Awards

This idea probably has the least chance of ever happening, but it’s the one I feel strongest about. 24 awards are handed out on Oscar night, and too many of them draw blank stares and “So, who needs more food?” inquiries from fans at home.  That being said, I’m not advocating a show that’s exclusively limited to the most elite categories—that show would be forty-five minutes long, and this night is supposed to be inclusive and a little excessive.

Culling a handful of the least inspiring awards from the telecast, however, shouldn’t be difficult.  There are many possibilities among that lower-rung of categories, but I’d suggest slicing off the two animated categories, the foreign language category, and the two other “shorts”—effectively saying that the ceremony is here to only recognize full-length, live-action, American-made movies. (Naturally, if a foreign or animated movie merited inclusion in a category like Best Picture, that would be acceptable.) We’d lose nothing with this, other than about thirty glorious minutes of running time, and would be down to 19 awards without breaking a sweat.

Change the Order of Awards

In tandem with the number of awards, their sequencing should be addressed. The show’s producers repeatedly back-load the ceremony so heavily that the stuff everyone cares about is crammed in after 11:00, leaving the prime-time hours to wallow in a marsh of Documentary Short and Makeup & Hairstyling.

This makes no sense to me. Would anyone turn off the show, satisfied that they’d seen all they needed to see, if Best Actor/Actress was the fifth award given?  Wouldn’t we avoid the inevitable letdown after the opening monologue if the first three or four awards were reasonably-significant ones like Cinematography or Screenplay?

Naturally, you need to save Director for second-to-last, since that usually portends the big winner, but nothing else should be set in stone. Just imagine how much more entertaining the show would be with only 19-20 awards and the possibility that you might see one of the major categories announced before the wine has worn off.

Lose the Song & Dance Numbers. And the Songs. Anything With Singing or Dancing, Really.

This one baffles me. Every year, the producers vow to shorten the much-mocked running time…and every year, we have to sit through Anne Hathaway or MacFarlane acting out a desultory song & dance routine, and a category no one particularly cares about (Best Original Song) gobbling up half an hour thanks to endless song performances.

Kill the musical stuff, and you’d open up time for something more interesting and relevant, such as those montages of great movie/Oscar moments in history—one of the show’s best components that seems to have dropped off recently—or longer highlights from the year’s Best Picture nominees. (I’m not sure why eschewing music to focus on movies at the Oscars is such a bold idea, but here we are.) Most years, one video clip is shown to encapsulate each nominated movie, but each is over after about 8 seconds and two shots of brooding stares in the film. Why not beef these up a little bit to give people a reminder—or teaser, if they haven’t seen it—of what’s in store for the last award?

Variable Numbers of Nominees

The change in 2009 to allow between five and ten Best Picture candidates—depending on how many deserved it—was an inspired move. First of all, there are exponentially more movies produced per year than there were decades ago, so it seems reasonable to allow more than five to make the cut. Secondly, loosening the number requirement is a perfect admission that quality can vary year to year.

All of that should apply to the other major categories, especially the two leading acting ones. Why not allow Best Actor/Actress nominations to fluctuate between, say, three and seven depending on the quality of that year?  It seems a bit unfair to penalize an actor for his movie dropping in a strong year—and, on the other hand, if you’re struggling to come up with five deserving candidates, why force it? (This move would likely have kept Tom Hanks from being snubbed for Captain Phillips this year—although, of course, that exclusion doesn’t make sense no matter how many slots there are.  If there’s anyone out there who really thinks Christian Bale (American Hustle) deserves that spot over Hanks, I’d like to find them.)

Winners’ Speeches

A brief tangent to highlight the cringe-worthy atrocities that are many winners’ speeches. Seriously, anyone who walks on stage utterly unprepared to say anything—you know, as if he/she wasn’t one of five candidates to win—should never be allowed to attend again.  It’s particularly baffling when actors, for God’s sake, look so dazed and confused by having cameras aimed their way.  Nominations drop six weeks before the show; so I don’t care if you’re (somehow) up against Daniel Day-Lewis, Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg, and a cute 10-year old everyone knows is a lock—if you’re nominated, jot a few thoughts down.

Hosts

Here’s all you need to know about the Oscars’ ability to select hosts: their idea of going ‘young and hip’ was choosing Anne Hathaway and James Franco in 2011.  You know, an actress everyone loves to hate and an actor whom (my appreciation for him notwithstanding) isn’t exactly known for his, shall we say, unrestrained exuberance.

Why do the Oscars let the Golden Globes steal all the best hosts (Ricky Gervais, Amy Poehler & Tina Fey, etc) while always appearing to be three steps behind the curve themselves?  This year’s selection is telling: nothing against Ellen DeGeneres, but it’s hard not to see her as the fallback, safe option as over-compensation for the feathers MacFarlane ruffled last year.  There are countless appealing, funny people out there (and Billy Crystal is always available), so repeat hosting should be reserved for the elites.

Conclusion

I’m not going to bother addressing the merit of the actual winners.  That’s an impossible argument to win, even though it’s the most crucial one.  For all the talk about running time and production decisions, the ceremony’s long-term standing within our society ultimately depends upon the actual names in the envelopes.

And whether it’s Tom Hanks’s miss this year, or Christopher Nolan’s shocking director snub for Inception, or the awards’ predictable exclusion of comedies and movies about young people and inclusion of melodramas, or The King’s Speech over The Social Network, the awards do tend to bring the criticism on themselves.  In fact, despite the groundswell of criticism about the awards’ predictable, safe, edginess-free leanings, the recent selections (King’s Speech, Argo over Silver Linings Playbook) have unfortunately hammered the narrative home.  Let’s hope that, in the future, everything—from the event itself to the names the presenters read out—starts to fall into its proper place, so that we can fully enjoy a night dedicated to great movies.

Grant J.

Grant J.

Grant co-founded Earn This in 2009 and is a regular contributor. His music taste makes him seem a lot weirder and sadder than he really is.

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