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.