The Oscars’ Dilemma

There was a time The Oscars meant something. Beneath the sparkling champagne, extravagant fashion, performative bravado, and glamorous self-importance, there was also an identifiable love of movies and celebration of the industry that was impossible to ignore. Bob Hope hosted The Oscars with a record-breaking nineteen appearances; he was controversial and daring, but displayed it all with confidence and style. Billy Crystal hosted nine times with his usual wit and dry comedy. Even though The Oscars is a celebration of cinema just as much as it’s a celebration of themselves, entertainment was always the pivotal focus and they never lost sight of that… until recently. Many make the argument that The Oscars aren’t important, but I’d point to Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, and Chloe Zhao who rode the tides of fame after their initial Oscar victories. The Oscars is a commercial for these celebrities, but it still helps artists be recognized, especially indie artists. For about a decade now, The Oscars has fallen more and more into cynicism, commercialization, and self-deprecation. It’s lost sight of itself and what it’s supposed to be. As a lover of film and a hater of Hollywood, it’s depressing to see.

In the coming days of this statement’s release, ABC will be airing the 94th Annual Academy Awards with all of its glitter and glory. The Best Picture nominations are indeed a step up from last year, but that should be the case after the cinematic drought that was 2020. From hotly-anticipated Dune and Licorice Pizza to possible upsets CODA and Belfast, this is shaping up to be a massive improvement over last year’s shoehorned nominations. Though The Oscars’ ratings have been dwindling over the years, it’s almost guaranteed that this year will at least beat out 2021’s COVID-ridden Oscars, though it’ll likely still fall far under expectations. They’ll mess something up during the show, whether it’d be the predictable and inevitable technical error or changing tradition under our noses (after last year’s bewildering reorganization of Best Picture, failing to do something as simple as giving a post-mortem Oscar as a closer). Then the discussion loops around to how it is every year: The Oscars are irrelevant, The Oscars are out of touch, The Oscars are beyond fixing. Then we go back to our nine-to-five routine and relive the Oscars nightmare next year.

Every year there is a desperate bid to reclaim the viewers it’s once had. 2016 was the year we let a monster take over the country and nobody was prepared less for it than liberal Hollywood and the Academy. Notoriously hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, the show was quick to alienate half of its audience with dunks on Trump and conservatives across the board. With the show now becoming a political circlejerk in the eyes of many, the once-loyal audience tuned out to this very day. It’s hard to say all those people were just butthurt Trump fanatics, but rather film junkies who just wanted a normal entertaining awards show. Those that wanted politics out of their awards show were out of luck and those from any political spectrum were turned off. Since then, the glory of the Oscars has vanished and they were never able to make back their audience.

Now we have this year’s awards show. Lovers of film remained faithful and patient towards all of the Oscars’ over-the-top hubris and cartoonish elitism because it was easy to laugh at the lack of self-awareness. But in another insane bid to “fix” The Oscars, the ones in charge (see: our favorite conglomerate Disney) reached a brain blast when they announced eight of the 23 categories will not be presented live during the awards show. Nominations include Documentary Short Subject, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Score, Production Design, Short Animated Film, Short Live-Action Film, and Sound. Instead, the categories, nominees, and of course the winners, will be announced during the preshow ceremony in order to make room for – what I can only assume – sketches, clip shows, live music performances, and celebrity banter. All of this, of course, is a potentially vain attempt to connect with their begotten audience and make back their long-lost ratings.

This laughable decision is a variation of their proposal a few years ago, though that got warranted backlash and heat from both the public and industry alike and the plan was cast aside. However, they seem to be headstrong with this decision, with Disney refusing to back down this time. Hilariously, this new arrangement means big names could be scuttled to the side; Hans Zimmer – one of the biggest names in Hollywood and the music industry worldwide – is strongly speculated to win Best Score for his mesmerizing work in Dune this year. This wasn’t the only change The Oscars has tried to force onto us but are re-attempting this year. They controversially attempted the Best Popular Movie category in a cynical attempt to award Black Panther just so they can avoid putting an oh-so-rotten superhero blockbuster up for Best Picture. That attempt, too, was met with outcry for being such a patronizing and disingenuous award and just gave Black Panther a slot on the Best Picture category. This year, they’re doing the same thing again but leaving it up to Twitter – a place renowned for its constructive film criticism and media literacy – to vote for their favorite movie, with the winner being announced live. Now No Way Home would seem like a shoo-in, but the polls seem to indicate Cinderella will be taking away the meaningless prize, turning this attempt for audience engagement into a dud. Though technical artists and indie filmmakers will be cast aside as if they’re nothing special, rest assured that the Academy are committed to the chuds of Twitter.

Now, this bears mentioning, but change in itself is not a bad thing. Understandably, something as old as The Oscars needs to modernize and engage with the audience, whether it’d be memes or Twitter polls as they opt to do. The Oscars modernizing itself has led to many more diversified artists and names being recognized. The ten Best Picture nominees are, in my opinion, a welcomed change, as it allows smaller productions to get into the ranks. But in recent years, this need to streamline The Oscars for a casual audience has been steadily leading to their downfall, not-coincidentally like the nominated Don’t Look Up comet. Many of the annual efforts to adjust the program to make it more “popular” or “energetic” for a casual audience have not only been disastrous but have also displayed a clear bitterness and resentment towards the intended audience. They’re not awarding the hard-working artists that bring movies to life. They’ve stopped playing clips and montages of the films they’re awarding. They’re not recognizing the works of actors who have pioneered their craft in the industry. It’s clear that today’s Oscars is less about film as an art-form and now how many ratings they can get. You have to wonder if the heads running the show even like movies.

The Oscars claims to seek audience engagement, but to do so requires them to overhaul the show from scratch. These vain efforts end up just becoming ridiculous and only alienated everyone further. Those that are upset that CODA got nominated for Best Picture over Spider-Man: No Way Home are not folks who like and respect The Oscars. Those that are bored of watching the creative and talented technicians bringing our favorite films to life through visuals and sound are not true fans of cinema. Those that want to switch the channel when a “nobody” director wins an award for a movie they haven’t heard of or don’t care to research can’t look past the mainstream. In catering to this crowd, the Academy is now alienating its own audience; ones that have developed patience for the brutal darkness surrounding the corrupt film industry because they truly love movies.

To be clear, I by no means think people are wrong – and certainly not unintelligent – for preferring a Marvel film over the multitude of other films that have come out; film is film, and film means something else for different people. But it’s not like The Oscars are shy of nominating a blockbuster for Best Picture; there’s the aforementioned Black Panther, as well as other big Hollywood films like Star Wars, Titanic, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Avatar, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Joker that did very well with giving The Oscars ratings. It’s not a debate that The Oscars has been awarding relatively obscure films such as Moonlight and Nomadland more recently, but they’ve been proven to recognize blockbusters just as much. But to begin casually nominating blockbusters is a dangerous line to cross, only reinforcing the industry’s worst habits, corruption, and behaviors. In an industry where superhero movies, sequels, franchises, and intellectual properties reign supreme, Hollywood will continue to obliterate the films that strive to compete in the awards season if The Oscars cater to this business style.

Is the Oscars beyond repair? I don’t think so. It’s not impossible for the Academy to recognize their errors and come up with a fool-proof plan to remain relevant, important, and please both casual audiences and film lovers alike, whether that’d be cutting their deal with Disney and selling it off to another buyer or go fully independent. However, cutting down the awards show’s runtime by a smidge, manipulating categories and winners, breaking tradition, and making room for comedy sketches are not solutions. The Oscars were about seeing celebrities enjoy themselves and see movies are artists be shown on the screen. A dream that I once had, hoping one day I could be up there. But the film aspect of this film show is missing. They’re one desperate attempt away to Nickelodeon slime the winners or compete in game shows if that guarantees audience turn-out. If the Academy keeps up this disrespect for movies, movies will one day become a joke to the eyes of many, an ancient artifact for historians to dig up and see as nothing more than a commodity, much like how The Oscars have become.

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