The 82nd Academy Awards were held two weeks ago. Having just finished more than three months of Oscar madness, and feeling absolutely fantastic about it, I'm ready to take stock.
The first question on my mind is: "Do the Oscars really need saving?" The legitimacy of the original question notwithstanding, I'm getting a little tired of people complaining about the Oscars. Sure there are some things about the Oscars we could fix here and there, but it seems to me that most of the stuff people complain about are things you just have to accept about award shows in general. Yes, some categories are more interesting than other. No, your favorite will not win every single time. Yes, the show is long. No, you can't drop the boring speeches, everyone gets to talk. And so on, and so on. Despite this I do think it's reasonable to discuss the Oscars and try to improve the quality of the show. So let's do just that.
Now, what can we do to fix the Oscars, if we assume for a moment that they are in fact broken?
Diversity is the key
We need a better variety of films.
This year was a great example of how it should be done. Avatar was the most successful film of all time, The Hurt Locker was loved by all the critics, Up was loved by everybody, the geeks loved Inglorious Bastards and District 9, the Jews loved A Serious Man and overweight black people loved Precious. There was something for everybody. Almost all the films made money, meaning that people actually saw them.
The previous year The Dark Knight was famously snubbed from the Best Film category, which was more or less the reason 10 nominees were selected this year. That was a good decision, stick with it.
A show comprised of obscure indie yawns, dry dramas, and films with virtually no box office take simply won't work. Don't get me wrong, those films should definitely be there, if they're good, but so should the popular films. Box office success should be something that qualifies a film for the Best Picture race, more that being something that disqualifies it.
The 365 rule
One of my pet peeves is to find a way to make sure that you can release quality films the WHOLE year, and not just the last two months. The release schedule is more polarized than ever, it's hurting the cinemas, it's hurting the audience and it's hurting the Oscars.
Although there are countless examples to suggest it doesn't matter when the hell you release a film (Silence of the Lambs, Crash), studios are still hesitant to put out a serious adult drama during the first 10 months of the year, opting instead to cram them all into a few months, which means that some will inevitably fall by the wayside.
One far out solution that I'd be curious to test, would be to create a sort of semi finale. 10 films would be picked, from EACH quarter of the year, and the 5 or 10 Best Picture nominees would then be found among these 40 titles. This may not be practical, but I'm just racking my brain, trying to find an antidote to the polarized release schedule.
The Oscars are, more than anything else, about glamour. We need famous people. Hot people. Classic actors. Young talents. We need them all. Not just the ones who show up to pimp a new film, or the ones who are there anyway to present an award. The Oscars must once again be a place you go to be seen, if you want to be something in Hollywood.
The show needs to be more fun. It has to be big, it has to be glamorous, but it also has to be fun. Stop bringing out stars who are too nervous or uninvolved. Drop the ones who just read the TelePrompter, or the ones who look like a deer caught in the headlights. Get people up there who'll make it look fun, who connect.
Remember the past
Remember the old Hollywood and the old films. Show us montages of past winners, get previous winners to present the awards, not just those from last year, but from ten years ago, twenty even! The quality of the golden age of Hollywood is unbeatable. Use it!
Fix the categories
Why have two awards for sound? Nobody knows the difference! And we don't have two awards for music, one for writing the score and one for recording it, so why should sound get two categories?
The opposite argument could be made for other categories: It would make a lot more sense to split makeup into two awards. Regular make-up and special effect makeup are two very different jobs, and that way nobody has to consider if The Young Victoria is better that Star Trek. And what about a new category for Contemporary Costume Design, so the big boring dresses don't win every year?
Deal with the length
Yes the show is long. Deal with it. Or not...
A radical idea would be to split the whole thing up into two shows. You could deal with the tech awards in a smaller show the night before the big show. Fewer people would see this, sure, but now everybody uses those categories as bathroom breaks anyway, and they drag the whole show down in ratings. Personally I would prefer one big show. It could last 6 hours for all I care, but I'm sympathetic to those who can't deal such a big chunk of awesomeness.
Drop the short films
Actually I would phrase it like this: Show 'em or drop 'em.
Let's be clear: Short films are calling cards for directors, nobody is making any money off these things, so just show them for free. Very few people vote in these categories, because few people have seen the films and nobody.... NOBODY watching at home have ever heard about any of them, because they are not available to the general public. Furthermore, those years when I've actually managed to track down and see the short films, I'm flabbergasted when the winner is announced. There's no accounting for personal taste, of course, but right now we have a situation where, if you want to predict who's going to win the Best Animated Short Film, you just have to PICK THE UGLIEST ONE! True story.
So get the films out to everybody. Make the selection process more transparent. Make sure more people vote in these categories. Do that, or drop the whole thing.
86 the documentaries
Drop 'em. You heard me, drop 'em completely. They have no place among the stars and the glamour, nobody cares about them, and (again) nobody has seen them. They deserve to be treated with respect and get their dues, so make sure that happens, but on a separate occasion.
Singing and dancing
There should be no singing and dancing. I'm going to say that again. THERE SHOULD BE NO SINGING AND DANCING. Period.
The hostest with the mostest
The host should be the center of the evening. Having the host come out, do a 5 minute stand-up routine, and then disappear for half an hour is not good enough. The host is the glue of the evening, if I don't see him for 10 minutes I'm going to assume that something is wrong, or that I'm the target of a practical joke and the real show is happening elsewhere.
The first year I watched the Oscars was 1990. It was also the first year Billy Crystal was host. He was spectacular. In the following years he did the classic opening montages, he arrived in Hannibal Lector mask, he sang the opening song, which had references to the nominated films, and a few jabs on behalf of the overlooked ones. He had the crowd going crazy before the show had even begun.
Go back to one host. Get somebody good. Get the same host every year. In short: Get Billy back. Whatever it takes.
Find a way and find it quick
I'm all for experimenting and trying new things, but there's a limit. From handing out awards in the middle of the audience, to inviting all nominees on the stage, a wide range of experiments have been conducted in the last couple of years. It's been frustrating.
I understand the need to update the show and keep it current, but why do we - the audience - have to be the guinea pigs? Are you telling me the gigantic organisation behind the Oscar show can't lock themselves in a room and figure out what works and what doesn't? Is it really necessary for them to test their ideas live on a billion viewers?
The producers of the Oscar show must get their act together. Fix the cracks in the foundation. Get the show back on track. Fast.
I belong to a select group of people who adore the Oscars, who think that Oscar Night - or Big O Night as we call it - is the biggest night of the year, easily surpassing Christmas, birthdays and all other important days. I LOVE the Oscars and for the better part of three months they occupy my time and my thoughts to an almost unhealthy level.
So dear Academy, whatever you do to my beloved Oscar, find something that works, find it quick, and stick with it. It shouldn't be this hard. You've got 11 months.
FADE TO WHITE.