The Real Problem with the 80th Academy Awards
by Ken Evans
March 2, 2008
A little less then a year ago, I wrote my first article for FirstShowing.net, an editorial titled The Paris Hilton Effect. It was all about mediocrity and the decline of appreciation for the examples of truly great filmmaking. Unfortunately not much has changed in the past year and this issue must once again be revisited. This time we will specifically be taking a look at the recent Academy Awards and the negative comments that have surfaced in the weeks following.
The morning after the Academy Awards I was driving and listening to a morning talk show on the radio. The radio hosts were discussing the events from the weekend like updates on Britney Spears and her sister Jamie Lynn. Unable to bear any more news about Britney, I was about to change it when they brought up the previous night's Oscars awards show. Hoping to hear their opinions on the winners, I turned up the volume and to my dismay, heard only negative remarks about the whole show. After bashing the awards ceremony they turned their comments to the films themselves. This is where I started to get agitated. The female host asked the male host, "Have you seen any of the Best Picture films?" with his response being, "No." Then she asked another question, "Now, knowing which films were nominated and the winners, would you go see any of them?" to which he responded, "No, not really."
Since that morning I have noticed magazine articles, news clips, and internet blogs all discussing the lack of interest in this year's Academy Awards. Everyone seems to be focusing on the show itself, calling it boring and uninteresting. It had the worst viewer rating in the history of televised Oscar ceremonies, with only 32 million viewers compared to last year's 40.2 million (Hollywood Reporter). What is the real reason behind the lack of interest in this year's show? Did people tune in and then tune out due to lack of entertainment value? I don't think the problem was the show itself, but more of a detachment by the general public from the films that were nominated. It goes back to the radio host's comments of never having seen any of the best-picture nominated films.
In my opinion, the 80th Academy Awards had more exceptional films nominated than the last decade of Oscars. On top of that, this year's films included No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, which were two of the best movies I have ever seen. Although there were a few upsets, this was the first time that I felt that the majority of movies nominated were a perfect sampling of the greatest films of the year. If I were asked to give someone some recommendations of films to see from 2007, I would just tell them to look at the films nominated for Oscars. You can't really go wrong with any of them.
The problem with the Oscars this year wasn't the show. The problem was that not many people had seen the films nominated for the major categories. I relate this to a film and the character development it should have. If you know nothing about a character and don't care about them, then you won't feel anything when they die. The same is true with the nominated films. If no one sees them and isn't given time to think about them and fall in love with them, then no one cares if they win or lose the Oscars.
Just ask your friends if they have seen No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Michael Clayton, The Assassination of Jesse James, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, La Vie en Rose, Juno, Once, The Savages or Sweeney Todd. I'm sure you might find a few friends that have seen one or two, but most people didn't see any of those.
Most people when given the choice saw Rush Hour 3, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Bee Movie, Saw IV, The Game Plan, Resident Evil: Extinction, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, 30 Days of Night, Good Luck Chuck, Mr. Woodcock or Hitman. Almost all of these films were number one in the box office when they came out. So what does all of this tell us about awards and Oscars and the general public?
There isn't just one problem, but more a combination of problems that lead to the majority of moviegoers choosing to watch National Treasure: Book of Secrets over any of the films nominated for Best Picture. Besides Juno, the Best Picture films were horribly marketed. They were advertised very little. The trailers, although appealing to me, gave no indication as to what the plots were about. The studios didn't give anyone a reason to see the amazing films that got nominated. It's almost like they don't even give people a chance to see them, especially when they open in so few theaters on their opening weekends. Juno opened in 7 theaters, No Country for Old Men opened in 28, Michael Clayton opened in 15, Atonement opened in 32, and There Will Be Blood opened in 2. Compare that to Ghost Rider, Norbit, and The Game Plan which all opened in over 3,000 theaters.
As much as I would love to only blame the studios, I can't. They are interested in making money so that is what they spend most of their effort on. The blockbusters are what they spend most of their time on. Films like Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. These are the top 5 money makers of 2007 and to be honest I have nothing against them. The problem is that the average audience has equated entertainment and personal pleasure with quality. These top 5 films were a ton of fun, but that doesn't make them the best movies of the year.
This concept is best explained by using Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List as an example. Schindler's List is an exceptionally made film, a masterpiece of filmmaking. While I would say that I enjoyed the quality of the filmmaking, I wouldn't say that I enjoyed it like I enjoyed Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. That is a movie I might watch over and over again, but Schindler's List is far and above a superior film, although I could only watch it once or twice every few years.
The Oscars are not about awarding the film that had the most viewers or made the most money. It is about a group of experts in the many different categories, voting for what they thought was the best example from their area of expertise. This isn't "American Idol" where the American public votes for who should win. To be honest, that would be terrible! Most people don't know what art direction or sound editing entails, so how could they vote for what was best that year?
There needs to be a re-education of the movie going public. I understand the desire to see a film that doesn't require any thought. Most people want to escape reality and watch a bunch of eye-candy for an hour and a half. I love doing that too, but if that's all I watched, I would be missing out on the great artistic side of cinema.
For those who love film as much as I do and know how to watch a movie and appreciate the different aspects of it, I present you with a challenge. Take the nominated films from this last year and educate your friends. Sit down and watch them and then discuss them afterward. Figure out how to distinguish good film editing from bad film editing. What made these films stand out enough that they were nominated for Oscars?
Then as 2008 progresses, stay on top of the buzz from critics. Watch the ones they suggest as the truly great ones and see if you can see the greatness they saw. Film is fun and enjoyable, but it is also an art form that is supposed to be appreciated for its quality and detail. Hopefully this year the standout films will be more widely seen and interest in honoring the individuals who made those films will be better realized.