So, the Oscars are over. I am not going to discuss the winners, or the losers. That’s for people who don’t care. I address the Oscars as someone who likes film, enjoys going out to the movies, and thinks the Academy Awards are for people with giants sticks… well, you get the idea. There is a reason that rather than just watching it, I DVR’d it so I could skip ahead to the good stuff. Thankfully, my DVR works perfectly (outside of when it wouldn’t let me skip over John Travolta’s speech (Scientology conspiracy?)), so I enjoyed the ceremony… largely because I was able to ignore a majority of it, which leads me to my first point.
The Academy Awards have seen a serious slide in television ratings over the past ten years, and the Academy seemed to not understand why for a while; what the Academy has finally realized is that such a pompous ceremony, in which Hollywood royalty celebrates the achievements of Hollywood royalty, with a few notable exceptions that Hollywood royalty loves to point out time after time, does not appeal to young people who feel self-entitled and would rather play Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds on their smart phones.
Think about it: if your favorite film is a popcorn flick, that will win no Oscars, or your favorite actor is not up for an award (all of which is not that unlikely, let’s face it), why bother? I hadn’t seen a supermajority of Oscar nominees when I watched, and quite frankly, I didn’t feel like it was worth it. The only times I truly felt something were when Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress (I am a fan of hers), “Skyfall” won best song (I love that song!), Ang Lee thanked Taiwan in his acceptance speech for Best Director (anyway to stick it to China, right?), and when Grant Heslov subtly chastised the academy for snubbing Ben Affleck for Best Director when Argo won Best Picture.
For starters, one year the Academy snubbed two films for Best Picture; they overreacted. Most years it is only one film that is left out, freezing in the cold wondering “why?”, but after seeing two, they overreacted and expanded the field from just five, to five to ten. They have not had a consistent way of introducing the nominees for the acting categories, seemingly changing formulas year after year, which although small to some bothers me a lot; personally, I thought bringing out people who knew the actors, and who spoke on their behalf to introduce them, often times through moving words or a humorous story, worked best, allowing us to see the actors from the perspective of someone who knew them.
The Academy’s attempts to liven up the awards often times seem to fall flat. Surprising performances, sketches, and hosts aimed at a younger audience all work great in theory, but it’s been the execution that has failed them. Seth MacFarlane’s delivery at the 2013 awards was perfect, but the writing of the jokes is what didn’t work; of course, he takes the bulk of the blame for it. This contrasts with James Franco, who didn’t work as a host at all, especially when compared with Anne Hathaway, who was funny, intelligent, and dynamic (and earned the right to host on her own eventually if the Academy has any brains).
The 2013 awards also wasted an opportunity to do something the Academy Awards are supposed to do: celebrate Hollywood history. For the 50th anniversary of James Bond, they brought out… Halle Barry? Sorry, but if you want to do a Bond tribute, bring out Honor Blackman, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, someone more publicly connected with the Bond legacy. Seriously, I was expecting Sean Connery or Roger Moore, or both; and all due respect to Dame Shirley Bassey, but I thought the surprise “Goldfinger” performance was underwhelming. The montage they showed was too short by about a minute, and should have had tributes to each actor and their respective eras (speaking of which, I noticed that George Lazenby got a disproportional amount of screen time in it). Now, normally this would have just been a Bond fan going off and ranting, but considering that the Bond tribute was an active part of their promotional campaign, I have the right to complain; it was one reason, a big reason, I bothered to DVR it.
However, back to the show. Okay, so the jokes didn’t always work; MacFarlene worked as a host, working tirelessly to get a cheap laugh, even at his own expense. His one attempted comeback, “150 years, and still ‘too soon?'” made me laugh, especially in context of the upright political correctness that so painfully permeated the ceremony. Thankfully, the show didn’t underuse him, and his ability to sing and dance was on full display. The show delivered on its continued tradition of stiff presentations, obviously read from cue cards by famous actors given generous introductions, with the only one that felt remotely organic being the awards presented by The Avengers cast, probably because Samuel L. Jackson subtly poked fun at Jeremy Renner’s attempt to keep a straight face, underneath the actual dialogue of course.
Finally, for a show that is supposed to celebrate the best of film, I found myself wondering, again, as I do every year, “who actually votes on this?” The Oscars, in a strictly Hollywood context, can make a legacy, yet the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences feels like a shadowy organization (fittingly enough, akin to Quantum or SPECTRE from the Bond franchise, or a comic book villain), who hands out awards on what feels like an arbitrary basis. Obviously, for those involved, this isn’t the case, but from the outside looking in, it feels like it.
The 2013 Oscars were successful in celebrating Hollywood royalty. If their goal is to increase ratings for 2014, they need to hire better writers, who can balance Oscar tradition and youthful humor, and bring in a host (not unlike MacFarlane) who can walk that tight rope. It would be wise not go to a fall back host, like they did with Billy Crystal a few years ago, but to try to engage the youth again, which could work better than going conservative. I know it sounds crazy, but it just may work; it’s certainly never been tried.