We make the same jokes every year. I can’t wait for the Dead Carpet preshow. Wait! you didn’t have Andy Wright and Peter Grace to win Sound Editing in your Oscar pool? Oscar Sunday is really Oscar Monday (this one’s best told in the eastern time zone).
But no more! The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the venerably staid group that owns/runs/votes on the Oscars, dropped a bombshell e-mail that reeks of desperation. From shortening the show to setting up a Kiddie Table for Best Picture wannabees, the Oscars are taking serious steps towards becoming more like the Tonys or (gasp!) the People’s Choice Awards!
We’ve thrown back a few shots and are ready to give our Cocktail-Infused thoughts on the changes.
The Popcorn Oscar
This is the most desperate of desperate measures. Most of the announced changes are designed to stem the steep drop off in viewers. While still far and away the most viewed awards show out there, the most recent show suffered a twenty percent drop from the year before.
The obvious solution: Pander!
Academy president John Bailey’s e-mail to members says they “..will create a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film.” What does this mean? He’ll get back to us on the details, but essentially it’s a Best Picture 1-A category. Movies like Black Panther have had a better chance at snagging a nomination since the category was expanded to ten possible nominees. But they don’t often win. Now they’ll have their own category.
But we already have awards to honor popular films. The People’s Choice Awards. The MTV Movie and TV Awards. The Critic’s Choice Awards (to a lesser extent). Even the Golden Globes breaks up movies by Drama and Comedy.
The fact is, in this age of storytelling, the best films are rarely popular. The Hurt Locker was a stronger story than the visually groundbreaking
Pocahontas Avatar. Crash is better than Brokeback Mountain (though not as good as Good Night, and Good Luck, but that’s a debate for another post).
Yes, a popular film winning is rare. The case can be made that The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won as a ‘body of work,’ and was AMAPS’s way of honoring the trilogy. Titanic did Titanic box office and cleaned up at the Oscars. Forrest Gump gave us an iconic cinematic character and rightfully won.
But let’s face it, this is a time when superheroes and sequels rule the box office, and the Oscars honor originality.
This is nothing more than a Dom Perignon show serving up Budweiser.
Less Is More
The rest of the changes won’t be as offensive to critics or as talked about by viewers. AMPAS set the goal of keeping the show to three hours (it usually goes at least 30-40 minutes longer, even when they don’t have to present Best Picture twice.
Some awards (we’re looking at you, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Documentary Short, and Documentary Feature) will be given out during commercials and acceptance speeches edited down on the fly and shown later in the broadcast. If nothing else it cuts down on those long walks to the podium. If you’ve never noticed, A-List actor nominees are in the first couple of rows while technical category nominees are, well, a wee bit further back in the room.
The Academy Board of Governors is dominated by people working in these fields and aren’t thrilled with giving up their annual minute in the spotlight, which is why it took a dramatic drop in viewership for this to gain traction.
The Sooner the Better
Starting in 2020 the show will move from the last Sunday in February to the second, one week after the Super Bowl. Theoretically this will put it in front of a lot of the ceremonies of the major guilds and professional associations and not make it feel like they’re late to the party. But the fact is, Oscar is the party, and should be the last word. Watch for the other ceremonies to start crowding the January calendar.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
The Rose Club Champagne Punch. It’s light, sparkly, and delicious. And hopefully won’t be diluted with an ice-cold Bud.