Monday, June 29, 2009

And The Oscar For Best Re-Tooled Award Show Goes To...

Sometime during the sad events of last week (that is, unless celebrity death pools are your thing) it was announced that, in an effort to boost ratings, the Oscars are retooling category rules for their most coveted prize, the Best Picture Oscar.

Oh, like making sure the Academy members see every nominated film in an actual (gasp) movie theater???

No such luck. The Academy, in their infinite wisdom, is actually adding more nominees to the Best Picture category - 10 to be exact.

No exact reason was given but it can assumed that more people will tune in to watch the broadcast if their favorite blockbuster is nominated. Yes, folks, the show that is perennially penalized by audiences and critics alike for being crashingly dull is trying to make up for it by making the list of nominations for the top prize twice as long. I guess THE DARK KNIGHT might have stood a chance if these rules applied to last year's show, but then again, isn't being the best out of ten half as impressive as being the best out of five?

You might be asking yourself: will there be clips for all ten nominated films and won't that eat up a lot of broadcast time?

Well, fret not, Oscar lovers, because, in an effort to shave the show's usually interminable running time, the Academy announced this week a couple more changes to the grandaddy of award shows. You know those lifetime achievement awards that Joe Q. Oscarwatcher uses as an excuse to refill his nacho bowl? Gone. Well, gone from the telecast anyway. The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Awards, whose winners have included such dullards as Jerry Lewis, Paul Newman, and Audrey Hepburn, and the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Awards, given to hacks such as Warren Beatty, Clint Eastwood, and Steven Speilberg, will now be handed out in a private ceremony attended by people who make way more money than you and I put together.

Also, the Best Original Song category, which has given us memorable moments such as Eminem's surprise win over U2, Three Six Mafia beating out Dolly Parton's transvestite song, and Rob Lowe serenading Snow White, is being given stricter guidelines to follow. Normally, Best Song nominees are vetted by a process in which voters rate on clips sent out to them by artists' representatives. The voters rate the songs on a scale from 1 to 10. The songs that get votes of 6 or higher are usually shoo-ins for a nomination. Now the Academy is requiring that songs get a vote of at least 8.25 to even be considered for a spot on the short list. And to prove that they mean business, the Academy announced that if not enough songs reach the hallowed 8.25 mark (not 8.15 or 8.03, mind you) then the Best Song category will be eliminated that year altogether. Okay...

I guess I can kind of see where the Academy is coming from. If none of the songs in contention aren't that good, then why bother having the category at all. The question is: why the stricter rules for just the Best Song category and not the others? Can you imagine if none of the Best Picture nominees made it to, say, a 12.16 mark (the numbers signify my birthday, plenty of shopping time left, folks) and they had to forego the Holy Grail of award show hardware? What about all the years critics bemoan the lack of substantial roles for women - why not prove their point by not having a Supporting Actress, or dare I say, Best Actress category that year? I'm sure that would go over like Sacheen Littlefeather, but you get my point.

I can appreciate the Academy wanting to make a leaner Oscars ceremony for the sake of ratings - it is show BUSINESS after all - but why change it by taking away the grandeur that some of the Thalberg/Hersholt recipients give the show? How else could Jerry Lewis be rewarded by the industry he gave so much to? Aren't the lifetime achievement awards the ones that all nominees should be trying to emulate?

If they're going to trim anything, maybe it should be the annual death crawl, which is also known as the " He Died??? Montage." Maybe they should just highlight the most popular of the dead celebrities. How about this - all Academy members have to vote on each of the deceased in terms of likability. If the deceased actor/director/screenwriter/agent in question doesn't rate an 8.25, then they don't make the cut.

Ok, I'm reaching here. It just seems like all these changes reek of desperation and I don't like to see an institution such as The Academy Awards pander to the masses. And you know what? I love my big, fat, overlong, Oscar telecasts. Why else do we tune in each year (other than to have a few laughs at the expense of the rich and famous) but to have something to complain about while we fill out our Xeroxed ballots during the Oscar party? Let's face it, if the Academy Awards came in at exactly two hours including commercial breaks we wouldn't know what to do with ourselves.

Here's my 5 point sure-fire plan to trim the Oscars without losing all the yummy excess we love to hate:

1. Only nominate foreign films that the Academy liked. Who cares what movie Istanbul thinks is the one that best represents their country? If the Academy nominates films the viewing audience has heard of, then maybe they won't switch the channel during that category. And, taking a cue from the Best Song category, if there are only three foreign films that year worth talking about, then only have three in that category. Why LET THE RIGHT ONE IN wasn't nominated last year will remain one of the great mysteries of all-time.

2. Get rid of the documentary short category altogether (we're never going to see them ever) and use the time to show the nominated animated shorts. I would say the same for the Live Action Shorts, but they often are anything but short. Plus, who doesn't love a good cartoon?

3. Apply the rules from #1 to the Best Documentary category. Don't punish films such as this year's surefire not-to-be nominated doc ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL for being too entertaining. Again, if people have heard of the film, they'll likely be more interested in the outcome of the contest.

4. Discourage, nay, forbid the winners from thanking people we've never heard of. Make these creative people actually be creative with their speeches and we might actually listen to them. If they go over their time limit, don't bother with turning up the band's volume - just give them the ol' trap-door. Now that would be something!

5. Ok, I thought I had 5 points to make but I don't. See? Always prepare what you're going to say, people.

If I had one piece of advice to the Academy it would be this: just be yourself. The Grammys and The Super Bowl might very well trounce you in the ratings each year but, frankly, who gives a damn? There is only one movie award show worth watching each year and it ain't the MTV one. People, like my parents, who don't even go to movies still watch your show just to have a little dose of glamor on a Sunday evening. We like you, Oscar, we really, really, like you!

Just give us a show worth at least an 8.25 and then we'll love you.

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