As someone who writes film reviews, hosts a movie podcast and has been doing this movie blog for eight years, I have to chime in on the idiotic moves that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced today. In their efforts to curtail the declining ratings of their Academy Awards telecasts over the last few years, AMPAS president John Bailey and CEO Dawn Hudson announced three decisions today that sadly, will not do the trick. In fact, one is barely a half measure, while the other two are new tacts that will do egregious harm.
For starters, the Academy leadership is determined to get the show down to a three-hour running time. One could argue that Hollywood's biggest night is worthy of a three to four-hour presentation. Nonetheless, if the Academy hierarchy seems to believe that the length of the broadcast is a major issue, they are wholly wrong. It isn't the time of the show, it's the time wasted during it. Run a smarter ship, and it automatically becomes tighter.
The Academy also announced today that they will be taking a page from CBS’s telecast of the Tony Awards each year and relegate some awards to be given out during commercial breaks. Most likely, this would be categories deemed of lesser interest to the public like the documentary, live action, and animated shorts. The idea would be that those awards, and perhaps a technical one or two like sound editing and sound mixing, would be taken out of the main program and edited down to then be shown sometime during the telecast. A truncated version of the winners’ speeches would be all the viewing public at home would see. If you’ve seen how these awards are handled at the Tony’s, you know that it means TV audiences would likely hear but a single line from a winner’s speech. That seems like quite an insult, no?
Oh, and just wait until the unions come to understand their below-the-line winners’ time in the sun will be relegated to a single “thank you” line in a montage with other winners deemed less worthy. Why would the Academy want to alienate so many of their branches? But folks, that's exactly what they'd be doing. It's called cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Third, and sure to be the most controversial, is the announcement this AM that the Academy will hand out a new Oscar, one that honors “outstanding achievement in popular filmmaking” as they described it. Of course, in the typically half-baked way that the Academy has approached trying to fix their broadcast for decades, the leadership hasn’t determined exactly how this award will be determined yet. It could be via some sort of popular vote from movie audiences, or perhaps the voting Academy membership itself. How the list of potential nominees will be determined or what exactly constitutes “outstanding achievement in popular filmmaking" will likely be as tricky to discern as judging a Best Director or Best Actress. The fact is, it’s all a popularity contest in one way or another, so what does that award do to add to the Academy's credibility?
This new award sounds like something from the insipid People’s Choice Awards, where more often than not, they honor mediocrity over merit. It's average, but at least it's popular, seems to be that award show's motto. No matter how you slice it, this new Academy prize comes off as nothing more than a consolation prize, akin to the kind of trophies every kid gets for participating in soccer on a Saturday afternoon. Just as Syndrome in THE INCREDIBLES said, "When everyone's super, no one will be."
The Academy continues to fear backlash for ignoring box office bonanzas when it comes to their trophies. They worry that megahits like BLACK PANTHER or AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR will be overlooked as Best Picture nominees and they're overcompensating. But who would want such a low-tiered Oscar? The awards may be often way too political, or even outrageously wrong in some of their selections, but at least the categories aren't an utter sham. This category of a favorite pop entertainment is not about artistic merit, and therefore should be bagged before another week goes by.
And what would determine the criteria for a nominee in such a category anyway? What would decide it? The studios? The box office? (Great, now a movie like TRANSFORMERS can win an Oscar!) Would the award be determined by RottenTomatoes.com scores? Imagine hearing that as a determining factor in the intro on the telecast. Or a poll, or call-in voting like on DANCING WITH THE STARS? Is that what the Academy really wants? If the AMPAS thinks they have a PR problem now, just wait till that occurs at a ceremony.
The ludicrous thing about all this is that the Oscars are the grand master of all awards shows, and don't need to be so damned insecure. Yet, here they are chasing their tales, acting like they are pretenders to the throne. Why imitate lesser awards shows? The Oscars can be both modern and increasingly relevant without resorting to such insipid measures as creating frivolous awards or truncating their honors and honorees. In fact, there are easily 10 rather savvy solutions to better the whole shebang. (And yes, I’m sending this to the Academy as well.)
ELIMINATE THE CLIP MONTAGES
If the Academy wants to trim the show, they could quickly get it under three hours, and perhaps even down to two, by excising all the wasted time the show fritters away. Start by cutting the clip montages, usually a hodgepodge of an effort to salute the history of film. Why? The Academy should be merely honoring the best of a single year and not 100 years of historical motion pictures. It's irrelevant and takes way too much time.
ELIMINATE THE DANCE NUMBERS
At almost every Oscars telecast for the last 20 years, there has been some version of an interpretative dance that strains to represent the year in movies. They are almost always laughably awful and have nothing to do with those films nominated. Eliminate those numbers as well because they aren't particularly entertaining anyway. Doing so will easily lop another 10-15 minutes off the running time.
ELIMINATE THE BEST SONG CATEGORY
It’s still embarrassing that the Academy continues to have a Best Song category. Most of the nominees tend to be songs played over a film’s end credits and that is not technically a song from a movie as the award is supposed to honor. And while it made sense that LA LA LAND scored three of the five best song nominations two years back, the fact is there are not enough musically-inclined movies with such integrated songs to warrant the award. So dump it, Academy, or at the very least, drop the performances on the show of the nominated songs if you keep that category. That will trim at least another 20 minutes from the show as well.
CUT THE BEST PICTURE NOMINEES BACK TO FIVE
When THE DARK KNIGHT and WALL-E failed to secure Best Picture nominations in the Oscar nominations of 2009, the Academy overcompensated by pushing the amount of films that could be nominated for Best Picture up to 10 the following year. Since that time, the Academy has voted between 7-10 nominees for the top category, but the number is never consistent, and a lot of popular entertainments still are overlooked. The fact is, five films are plenty. Plus, the movies that score a Best Picture nomination and a Best Director nomination are the only ones in the running for the top prize anyway, so what do 7-10 nominees really add to the equation? The Oscars should mean more by honoring less, so they should return to the list of five superior films. That will up their prestige factor, make the contest easier to contain, and cut oodles of time needed to show that many clips of all those movies.
STOP THE LONG INTRO'S AND WRETCHED REPARTEE
The host introduces presenters for an award. They take a long walk out to present. All that is meaningless and takes a ton of time. If you’re presenting on the Oscars, you should be a big enough name to just have your name announced. And the forced banter between the celebs is usually awkward and amateurish. Shuck it all.
STOP PLAYING OFF THE WINNERS
The dumbest thing the Academy has done for decades is play off winners during their speeches or threaten to if they go on too long. Good God, what are we watching the show for if not to see those called exalt in their time in the winner’s circle? And who thought that 45 seconds was time enough? Yet, that's why so many winners race through their acceptance speeches and that makes the entirety of the affair look classless and haphazard. Let the winners speak. Believe me, if the band doesn't cut them off, most winners won't go beyond two minutes of "Thank you's" anyway.
STOP BEING OVERLY P.C. ABOUT OVERSIGHTS
Should THE DARK KNIGHT have gotten more Academy due? Probably. Should comedies get as much recognition as dramas? Of course, every actor will tell you comedy is harder to do. Why didn’t Amy Adams get a Best Actress nomination for ARRIVAL? Who knows? The point is the Academy is going to overlook a lot of those worthy of recognition, but that’s how awards go. Why should the Academy feel the need to keep apologizing for their oversights? No one else does. The AMPAS has already added a ton of younger members, so that's a great help. Stop while you're ahead, Oscar.
GIVE OUT AN OSCAR FOR BEST STUNT WORK
Want to honor the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or those action films that rake in the dough at home and abroad? Don't give out a popularity award. Simply honor such films with an incredibly worthy Academy Award for Best Stunt Work. SAG gives out a Stunt Ensemble Award for both film and TV each year, so why not the Academy? And if you want to see five superb nominees every year, don't look to the Best Song category. Look to a Best Stunt Work category. Why this year alone, the Academy could easily nominate the incredible stunt work evident in films like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, BLACK PANTHER, TOMB RAIDER, ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, ADRIFT, REVENGE, and DEADPOOL 2. An award for stunt coordination is long overdue.
HIRE MORE OF-THE-MOMENT HOSTS
The Academy is too timid when it comes to picking hosts. How many times have they relied on the Jimmy’s, Billy’s, Ellen’s, Steve's, and Whoopi’s? Over and over again. They all did fine, but wouldn't it behoove the show to pick someone new to keep things fresher? The host needs to be more of the moment, on that cutting edge, a person who leads the trend rather than follow it. At the last Oscars, Tiffany Haddish and Mya Rudolph killed it when they presented. So, why can’t the Academy seize on such moments and let them host? The Oscars should have invited the utterly hilarious Ryan Reynolds to host two years ago when DEADPOOL became a phenomenon. They could’ve and should've invited Jack Black or Will Ferrell to host any time in the last 15 years too. Look, when the Golden Globes are savvier in picking inspired and edgier hosts like Ricky Gervais, or Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, you know the Academy needs to break out of its comfort zone.
CUT THE PRE-SHOW & ADD THAT TIME TO THE REAL SHOW
If viewers want to watch all the red carpet pre-show, they can turn on E! or the TV Guide Channel. ABC need not waste time with their truncated and painfully shallow version of the fashion analysis. Give that 30 minutes to the main show, and this thing could start at 7 and be done by 9.
These are not huge challenges for the Academy to implement. They're smart, long overdue, painfully obvious, and they could help dial up the show's cool factor as well as the Academy's credibility. Does the AMPAS even know their brand anymore? Sometimes I wonder. The leadership needs to get out of its bubble. If not, they'll continue to screw things up, and boy, did they step in it this morning with these awful "solutions."