Five Ways to Improve the Oscars for Cinephiles & General Audiences
by Ethan Anderton
February 25, 2013
The Oscars are boring. It's pretty much a fact by now. Yes, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tries to spice up their live telecast of the annual awards ceremony with comedians, celebrities and musical numbers, but turning a few hours of backslapping and self-congratulations to and from Hollywood into true entertainment is hard in this age of YouTube and DVR's. So how do you turn something like the Academy Awards into a truly fun and entertaining event without pandering to a certain audience? I've got a list of five ideas that AMPAS might want to consider for the Oscars next year, and things might get better.
1. More Super Bowl Style Movie Trailers - It's hard to believe, but the Super Bowl has turned new commercials into an event that people clamor for when the big game arrives. Movie studios jump through hoops and spend millions of dollars to get eyes on their big films in any given year. And yet, when the time comes for Hollywood's biggest night, there are barely any movie trailers to be seen, even though most of the other commercials try to use some sort of cinema centric concept to sell their product. This is the perfect time to get people talking about the summer's releases.
If you want to turn the Oscars into an exciting event again, make it the hot spot to premiere a brand new trailer. The advertising space costs less than the Super Bowl, and likely the stars of these films are at the ceremony, so have them introduce a trailer before going to commercial break. Did you notice how the news of Quvenzhané Wallis starring in a new take on Annie hit before the Oscars? That's because Sony wanted people to ask the young starlet about that project, and knew all eyes would be on her, thus raising awareness for a film that's still a year or two down the road. Hugh Jackman sang with the cast of Les Miserables last night, and wouldn't it have been great to have a Wolverine trailer premiere after that?
2. Stop Trying to Appeal to a Certain Audience - Simply getting a face that certain audiences will recognize is not enough to get them interested in your awards show. By gearing a show towards young audiences with a host like Seth MacFarlane, you start excluding the older audiences who actually have the money to spend on buying and seeing movies in theaters. But when you bring someone like Billy Crystal in to do a bunch of impressions and musical numbers, it's amusing, but young people barely know who he is anymore, and don't care about that song and dance unless it's on MTV with One Direction or Lady Gaga, or whoever the kids care about these days. You don't see the Super Bowl trying to get Paul Thomas Anderson to direct segments for the game in order to pull in a more artsy crowd, so why bother pandering to any specific audience? The Academy Awards are for anyone who loves movies whether they're 18-35 or not.
3. More Montages and Fewer Musical Numbers - It's not hard to be relevant without pandering to a certain audience and one of the best ways to do that would be to cut back on the amount of musical numbers throughout the show. Most of the time, since they're live performances on stage, they're a weak tribute to the film musicals they're trying to emulate. On last night's show, the only performance that was worth watching was Les Miserables, and that's because the entire cast of the Best Picture nominated musical was there to belt out the marathon song from the film. The other number that included Catherine Zeta-Jones singing All That Jazz featured a bunch of nameless dancers and was "honoring" a film that wasn't relevant at all this year (or even the year it won Best Picture) and it served no purpose.
Musicals are not as prominent as they were decades ago, and that's proven by the fact that only one musical (not counting animated films) gets nominated in major categories in any given year (and that's not every year). Many years ago, there were times when most of the Best Picture nominees were musicals, but that's not the case anymore. We can remember and honor musicals without dedicating an entire awards ceremony to them in an effort to fill time. What really works better is remembering films from the past in the form of montages. They're quick, usually exciting or moving, and cheap. And then those who are highlighted in these montages can be brought out to introduce the next award. Some can even be like cool featurettes about Oscar history or tales from cinema's past. Plus, in the age of YouTube, these kind of supercuts would be watched over and over, and likely used by sites just like yours truly for years to come.
4. Grow Up - People get so easily bent out of shape when anyone gets remotely close to edgy comedy that it trumps any real memorable moments that might have happened at the Oscars. It's the bitching after every joke that gets close to being controversial which makes Oscar producers back off and take fewer chances, making for the boring show that many have come to expect. If we start dictating what's appropriate to joke about, then it's a slippery slope that begins to affect our freedom of speech, and that's just not cool. Jokes made by comedians in these shows are never meant to be genuinely disparaging to individuals or groups of people, so stop taking them to heart. They don't cry at roasts, so why not have some fun and grow up a little?
5. Make The Oscars About Filmmaking Again - The Oscars have become about celebrity, fashion and gossip. Hours of red carpet coverage precede the Oscars on various networks where questions are less about the films and more about dresses and bullshit. Go ahead and ask a question about their dress, but then take some cues from James Lipton for how to talk about filmmaking, whether it's writing, directing or acting. Can we get back to talking about the films and people who make them possible every year? Take some time to show a featurette on visual effects, even if that means having a comedian conduct a funny interview a la "The Daily Show" or "The Colbert Report." Or they could even go the more serious route and focus on a charity or school making film a priority. Anything that has to do with the the process of filmmaking.
Plus, while the Oscars are honoring films for their special achievements, why not just pay tribute to films in general every year. The films nominated are already getting plenty of screentime because they're up for several awards. But how fun would it be to at least have one video clip honoring the entire year of film including the good, the bad and the ugly. Fans online do their own tributes every year (and many are better than the kind of montages that show up at awards ceremonies anyway) and people love them. Why not give the lesser celebrated but enjoyable films some time in the spotlight. It was awesome seeing the cast of The Avengers together again, so how about a superhero film montage with a tease of some of the films coming in that genre later this year? It's not that hard.
That's all I really have to say about that. As a hardcore cinephile and entertainment journalist, I enjoy the Oscars no matter what. But they can be difficult to endure for such a long period of time, and it would be nice if general audiences were just as excited to watch them. These are easy suggestions to at least try out in order to get more people interested not just in the Oscars themselves, but also the movies which are nominated. In the end, the Academy Awards should be about getting people to love film more than they already do, and reminding those who already love film, why they do in the first place. Your move, AMPAS.
Reader Feedback - 19 Comments
I extremely agree with number 5. Number 1 is kind of lame, nothing should ever be about advertising, especially as most of the people who care about the Oscars don't care about big budget blockbusters. Number 3 i guess yea; the musical numbers made for a long show. As for number 2 and 4, I feel like those two points contradict each other; Seth MacFarlane was edgy as fuck and I thought he did a great job, plus I feel like he didnt give a shit about any demographic, he was going in on everyone. But i understand not everyone liked him. I thought he was going to be brutal, but he turned out to be the highlight of the show, or maybe it was when JLaw fell, that shit was hilarious; I can't even believe she got that award.
Hazedmind on Feb 25, 2013
You realize the theme for this year's Oscar's was music in movies, right? it's the only reason they paid tribute to the last two big musicals. and that was instead of performing all the nominated songs. I think the real problem was the show opening. It would've been better if the "monolog" was cut in half (it was bad and boring) and award recipients weren't cut off, especially when saying something important about VFX studios going broke (that felt like a political cut off too, which was wrong, the politics of the academy should be on the other side, the filmmakers side) A good funny opening is usually the highlight of the show, Conan's emmy awards opening (showing up in different TV shows) was great, jokes from someone who is actually funny (and Seth isn't really that funny, not as a stand up comedian at least) would work too, just shorter, a 5 minute set and yes, the obsession on who wore what was even more troubling in the crappy post show (worst produced live broadcast I've ever seen, it was so bad, it was hard to take my eyes off it). Instead of interviewing winners or just showing their post win press conferences they kept going on and on about dresses and trends, ignoring the fact that it was the Oscars and not fashion week
Ran on Feb 25, 2013
Yes, I'm well aware of that. But there's always tons of musical numbers, no matter what year. And I even pointed out in the Oscar highlights post that the theme of the show this year focusing on musicals felt forced and irrelevant.
Ethan Anderton on Feb 25, 2013
Forced and irrelevant in a year that included Les Mis, Pitch Perfect and Rock of Ages? I'm not trying to defend the theme per se, it's about as far from my cup of tea as you could possibly get, but you can't say it's irrelevant. Between those movies and TV shows like Glee that pump out commercials every 5 minutes, the entertainment industry is in musical overload.
Wafffles on Feb 25, 2013
Two of which weren't nominated for any awards. And for almost ten years, only one musical gets recognized by the major categories every few years. Hardly enough to dedicate an entire show to them, especially since they didn't reach back into history to honor musicals and only highlighted Chicago, Dreamgirls and Les Mis. If you're going to honor movie musicals, reach into history and respect the whole genre. Not just the ones audiences have seen in the past 7 years.
Ethan Anderton on Feb 26, 2013
Totally agree with you there, just pointing out that the musical genre is nowhere near irrelevant even if it did lack Oscar nominations. This really goes back to #2, and #2 to the heart of the problem: what's relevant isn't always what's best for film, and what's best for film isn't always what's relevant. A musical theme was surely an attempt to pull in young women on the Glee bandwagon, but 80% would turn the channel back to Real Housewives as soon as a Music Man honor came on. Incidentally these Oscars did well in the ratings, surely due in large part to that theme and the very modern Seth M. I'm willing to bet they ride this strategy out, for better or worse.
Wafffles on Feb 26, 2013
have to agree with your No. 5: make the Oscars about film-making again. not wishing to make it super dry, but you could replace some of the current segments. celebrate not only who but also why, for example, the cinematography nominees were put forward. highlight the varied production design or make up approaches of the nominees, so you can understand the differences, and their contributions. how can you differentiate between editing nominees? what's the difference between sound editing and sound mixing? what is it that all these people *do*? a brief clip before announcing the winner tells you nothing about why they won. all the areas given awards - from Director down to make up - contribute significantly to the final product. it's supposed a celebration of cinema, so let's do just that.
son_et_lumiere on Feb 25, 2013
nha on Feb 25, 2013
Bringing the mummies on stage was a disaster, the woman singing GoldFinger song and Barbara Streisand...people were either laughing at how ridiculous they were, or facepalming themselves and listening to Duck Sauce...I sure did.
David Darida on Feb 25, 2013
Agree with the whole list.
Xerxexx on Feb 25, 2013
How ridiculous was the homage to Bond? One of the saddest things I've seen....to think thee were rumours that all Bond would be on stage :p
Ricaro_PT on Feb 25, 2013
Last night it wasn't! The best one I've ever watched. Screw the idiots that take it so serious. I don't remember ever laughing so hard while watching the Oscars. Seth took what is normally boring and made it watchable. I did record it so that I could fast forward the winners thanking everyone in the world. The Jaws music might have seemed rude if it weren't for it being so damn brilliantly funny!
Shannon T. Long on Feb 25, 2013
I don't get why these award shows are even broadcasted. They aren't supposed to be entertainment for the masses, they're supposed to be a celebration of achievement for those involved in the business. Why are we trying to shape it into what WE want it to be when it has nothing to do with us?
racquetman on Feb 25, 2013
specifically about #5: the whole time while i was watching the Oscars i was thinking about all the annual retrospectives, filmographies, and cinemageddon's. just one of those right in the middle to honor all the non-nominees; hell, you could even mash up all the excerpts from the best picture chunks into one segment so as to save some time (one of their expressed goals this year around)
Eric Odenheimer on Feb 25, 2013
The oscars will always be commercial now and to some extent that's fine and honestly its not the oscar ceremony that matter the most but the nominees themselves...the oscars have to move away from the predictable and trite and start giving awards to filmmakers who both earn/ need it because the oscars are the platform for filmmakers to grow, if they keep putting Spielberg on the ballot young, talented filmmakers loose the opportunity to show their work and are put down by films that will always get recognition
look the guy on Feb 26, 2013
I agree with most of your list. I thought Seth was great BTW. Two bones to pick: 1. Why is everyone obsessed with how long the show is? If it's too long for you, record it and watch it at your leisure. It's never gonna be shorter (think advertising). 2. Most importantly, my biggest problem with the Oscars is that THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO SUSPENSE anymore. We pretty much know who's getting the awards before they are handed out. With the Peoples Choice awards, SAG awards, Golden Globes awards preceeding the Oscars, the Oscars have been relegated to sloppy seconds. Seems we've seen it all before instead of the announcements carrying any suspense. Being the "headliner" is great for bands, but not for awards shows, IMO.
Doug Hart on Feb 26, 2013
not a surprise that almost all of the comments agree with you and surprise surprise ... almost entirely all male respondents. seth is a funny guy (and jokes are definitely required to get through boring events), but almost every joke he made was gender specific - targeting women. if he tried making more jokes about more groups of people, then maybe people wouldn't be upset about it.
Lindsey on Feb 26, 2013
No Oscars for Kubrick or Hitchcock - Oscars are a joke. You couldn't may me to watch that feces.
Jason on Feb 26, 2013
I didn't watch this year. I just looked up the winners results later on. Seth MacFarlane or his shows or movies do nothing for me, so his hosting didn't register. It was fairly obvious who would win again this year. And those musical numbers are generally embarrassing.
castingcouch on Feb 27, 2013
Sorry, no commenting is allowed at this time.