Why the Oscars No Longer Matter

Written by Doug Strassler on . Posted in Film, NY Press Exclusive.


It’s that time of year! Welcome to my pre-Oscar haze. As the world’s self-proclaimed Biggest Oscar Fan, the week running up to Hollywood’s golden night has historically filled me with sheer glee. But even I will acknowledge that in recent years, the ceremony has come to feel like more of a formality than a thrill. Here are, as I see it, a couple of reasons why:

There are Too Many Other Award Shows. A fairly obvious statement, I know, but even if you’re an award show junkie like me, the proliferation of ceremonies during the Oscar build-up has a deleterious effect. It was one thing when the Golden Globes were a second-rate pre-cursor to the Academy Awards, enough to create frontrunners and dark horses. But with the Critics’ Choice Awards, the Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards (whose voting membership often overlaps with that of the Academy’s acting branch), Oscar winners have become easy to forecast and irrelevant. We have heard their speeches before, know who they are going to thank and whether they will behave graciously, awkwardly, or arrogantly. Watchers now pray for an upset like Adrien Brody nine years ago to spice things up. All that talk over the last decade and a half about who’s wearing what? That’s a toxic sign.

 

Celebrity Overload.  The Oscars used to be the only place fans could turn to see the stars. For a year, fans would wait for the ceremony because all the stars in the Hollywood galaxy would turn out, and it was the only night to see them all together. The only night to see who they would show up with, as well. But thanks to tabloid culture, social media, and aggressive personal publicity, the mystique has evaporated. Fans have 24-7 access to A-, B- C- and D-list celebrities, and the whole game has shifted. Fans no longer feel the need to leave their house to catch a star in his or her latest movie; actors and their work is now a commodity to be downloaded in the palm of their hand to watch in their own TV room or car. At best, the Oscars provide a few sound bites to be quoted and tweeted for the next day or so, and then are forgotten.

 

The new Best Picture arithmetic has got to go. It’s hard enough for the average person to catch the five Best Picture nominees in a traditional year, but the new rubric allowing for as many as 10 movies per year to be nominated? In simple terms, it sucks. It’s way too long a list for non-obsessed moviegoers to care about. And it dilutes the honor for those that do make the cut, whether you like them or not. I may not always agree with every movie that received a Best Picture nomination during the 5-only era, but I respected that they hit enough of a chord with the majority to earn their place in a historically elite field. Now it just feels like they’re giving them away. It’s a craven attempt on the part of those televising the awards to pressure the Academy membership to squeeze more commercial movies in to desperately salvage what used to be record-high ratings. Face it, fellas. Commercial movies don’t get nominated because they are often terrible and if younger audiences are uninterested in the awards due to oversaturation, then even nominating Twilight and Transformers every year ain’t gonna bring you a higher share.

 

How does the Academy vote? Not as one collective body, that’s for sure. The idea of saying “the Academy will vote for her because” or “the Academy thinks this” is erroneous. The Academy is comprised of several thousand industry insiders of varying talent and with various friends throughout the industry. Each individual has their own reason why they may or may not vote for someone – and they usually do so because someone is already the popular choice or because someone is a good friend. Many voting members are not artisans but executives, producers and publicists who have a vested interest in using the Academy for its primary purpose as a marketing tool, rather than seeing it as a way to commemorate and preserve outstanding creative work. Many, like Denzel Washington recently admitted (place link here http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2103904/Denzel-Washington-admits-lets-wife-vote-behalf-Oscars–figures-Academy-94-white.html), let their significant others vote for them, making it even easier for the races to become contests governed by current public sentiment. Suddenly, a prestigious institution starts looking an awful lot like high school.

 

Having said all that, check in tomorrow when I play devil’s advocate against myself and offer reasons why the Oscars do matter!

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