Streamlining the Academy Awards

April 21, 2008 at 11:46 am 2 comments

I was watching AMC’s “Shootout” hosted by Hollywood gurus Peter Bart (Variety Magazine) and Peter Guber (film executive), and their opening segment mentioned something interesting. Guber was talking about how this year’s Academy Awards telecast drew 25% fewer votes than last year, prompting the question: How can we get people to watch the show?

He suggested that the show become more ‘streamlined’ in order to keep people tuned in (or to tune in at all). With the plethora of awards shows that lead up to the Oscars, it’s hard to get the general public excited about the big one. What Guber said was that the show needs to be cut form nearly 3 1/2 hours to around 2, and move some of the more technical awards to another night. Then he said that the awards themselves should cater more towards the general audience, like introducing a “viewers’ choice” where the home audience can text in their picks, and create new categories like “Best Comedy” or “Best Action Movie”.

And that’s when I nearly threw something at the TV.

I like Peter Guber, and Peter Bart. I’ve read some of their books. I find “Shootout” very entertaining and I try not to miss an episode. However, I find myself agreeing a little more with Peter Bart than with Peter Guber, even though they share similar backgrounds and experiences in Hollywood.

What the problem with Peter Guber’s suggestion is that there’s already an awards show like that. It’s called the MTV Movie Awards and it’s held during the summer. That’s when Hollywood can let its hair down, relax, and just goof off for an evening. Although the MTV Movie Awards is not a serious awards show, it is voted on by the public and it’s an opportunity for ‘serious’ films to mix it up with ‘not so serious film’ in similar categories. I know there are also other awards shows like the People’s Choice Awards, but the MTV Movie Awards is just more fun. It’s the only venue where a quirky indie comedy can compete with a huge summer blockbuster and a serious Hollywood drama for the Best Movie of the Year category. In the Oscars, usually serious dramas get nominated for the big awards, while summer tentpole movies get relegated to technical wards like Best Visual Effects or Editing or something. Not that there’s anything wrong with those awards, but those aren’t the ones the general audience cares about.

If the Academy follows Guber’s advice, I feel it would demean the Oscars and turn it into a show for the average Joe Sixpack who sees film as less art, more entertainment. I want an awards show that is voted on only by professionals, as a celebration of the medium as an art form rather than just a business or popularity contest. If it was a viewers’ choice show, then I’m sure Ellen Page would have won over Marion Cotillard for Best Actress, thereby picking a movie that everyone saw over a foreign film. I’m not saying that Cotillard didn’t deserve the award, I’m just saying that the general audience would have picked Page because they saw her movie and don’t have any other reference to compare her to the competition. Academy members have more opportunities via screener DVD’s and special showings to watch all the year’s nominees.

What I suggest is this:

1.) Trim the show down to no more than 2 1/2 hours. That means moving some of the awards to a different night. They already hold a separate dinner for the really technical awards that isn’t televised, so they can either expand that dinner or make the Oscars a week-long event and hold the technical awards over a period of nights leading up to the big telecast. These ‘lead up’ dinners could also be televised on a smaller network like Bravo or AMC.

The main telecast should feature the Big 4: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress; while also honoring Best Original or Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design, Music, visual effects, animated, short film, etc. Also, if they really really want to do an audience choice, they can do so, but leave it to just one award, like New Performer or something like that.

2.) The audience should be able to vote on who the host would be. Say, the people like Billy Crystal over Jon Stewart, so hire Crystal to host. I think I like him better as host anyway. The poll could be conducted online or at movie theatres or something.

3.) There needs to be some variety in the Best Original Song category. This year was pretty dull, with Enchanted dominating the category. I remember the year Moulin Rouge! was nominated for some awards, but not for Best Original Song. I thought “Come What May” was a great song and it was the only original song written for the movie. But it wasn’t nominated, and I was a little surprised by that. I’m sure there were other original songs for other movies that could have been nominated. What if there’s a great song written for an action movie, but the song doesn’t get nominated because the movie wasn’t a musical or a drama. Also, they really need to get the actual performers of the song to perform the song. Last year I think they had Beyonce perform all the songs. Nothing against Beyonce or anything, but that was a terrible idea. Why? Because the song wasn’t nominated because she sang it, so why is she performing it? Popular artist or not, I think it’s a little insulting to the original performers.

Off the top of my head, that’s what I can come up with to help change the Oscars for the better. I don’t believe I’ve missed a single Academy Awards show since 1997, and I really do enjoy them. I know there are a lot of elitist film brats that think accepting an award is for sellouts, but I view the Oscars a a time for the professionals to congratulate each other in a more formal setting. I also see the show as a celebration of the art form, a night to say, “Here’s how far we’ve come in these categories as compared to last year.” I don’t see anything wrong with that.

Are there other problems with the Oscars? Absolutely. Getting nominated is as much a political game as it is a talent show. Did the low-budget indie film Juno get nominated for Best Picture because it’s actually worthy, or because it generated a whole lot of buzz? Maybe, maybe not. Is their favoritism in certain categories? Sure, especially of the nominee is a well-liked individual. If a person is nominated in two categories, does he/she win both? Usually no. Ask George Clooney. OK, granted I don’t think he should have won that year for Syriana and Good Night and Good Luck, but it was pretty obvious that they don’t want one person to dominate.

So, I think Peter Guber has his heart in the right place, and I would absolutely hate it if the Academy Awards was stopped being televised. The Academy just needs to find a new way to present the show to the masses, while at the same time preserving the traditions and all the pomp that goes along with it. I just don’t want to see another MTV Movie Awards (we only need one), and I really don’t want to watch a 3 1/2 hour-long award show.

(images from amc.com, oscar.com)

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. kitvancleave  |  April 22, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    I don’t mean to infer that the American public is an unwashed peasantry, but remember when everyone was busy bashing Marion Cotillard for her presumed “unAmerican remarks” and got the story ass backwwrds? The “general public” wrote: “Why did she get an Oscar over a fine American actress like Ellen Page?” Page, of course, is Canadian. Another peson who would be voting for the Best Actress/Actor said, “She got an Oscar and turned around and bashed America.” Her French TV interview was in January 2007, a full year earlier, and she didn’t bash America at all. So frankly I don’t trust the American public to see: 1) films of the highest artistic merit; 2) ANY foreign film, placed in a culture unfamiliar to Americans, 3) any subtitled film about anything,
    4) any film which is not in their time era, 5) any film requiring they know anything about history. This would not only eliminate Cotillard from Best Actress, but also Katharine Hepburn for LION IN WINTER, Helen Merrin for THE QUEEN, and Nicole Kidman for THE HOURS, among others. The Oscars ARE voted on — by people in the film industry, and by people who share the career field of the artist. Who else is better to make these choices? In any case, Marion Cotillard’s Piaf is a performance for the history books — as is her win of the British, French, and American Academy Awards for Best Actress in the same role in the same year.

    Reply
  • 2. littleman00  |  April 22, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    I agree for the most part. That’s why I want the Oscars to be voted on solely by industry professionals, people who are more ‘in the know’ than the average moviegoer, and who have more chances to see the year’s best film, regardless of where they came from.

    Reply

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