Resuscitating Oscars one bad decision at a time


I haven’t watched Oscars in probably twenty years, and looking at the declining TV ratings neither have many other people. The Academy has now come up with proposals to make its annual show more exciting, such as shortening it to three hours and giving out some of the less interesting awards during commercial breaks. But the main proposal is a stinker:

Equally dramatic: the creation of a category designed to salute “outstanding achievement in popular film.” In the past, the Academy has resisted splitting or creating categories to increase the recognition of the kind of films that might draw a larger TV audience — but the 2009 expansion of the Best Picture category from five to 10 nominees didn’t substantially change the kind of films that were being nominated, which is often the determining factor when it comes to Oscar ratings.

This is a terrible mistake, because it gives up on the idea that a great movie can also be a popular movie and vice versa. This simple idea has motivated Hollywood for most of its history, until more recent times, with the effect that the Oscars have now morphing into a more extravagant and self-indulgent Sundance. “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” in 2003 is probably the last time a high-grossing film also received a top gong. Since then, the Best Picture Oscar – as well as the rest of them down the list – have become a way of rewarding supposedly worthy films that no one has actually watched at the movies. “The Wrap” is correct in that expanding the list of nominees from 5 to 10 merely increases the number of the alleged best movies of the year that the audiences were deemed too dumb to appreciate. Having in effect two different best picture Oscars will further entrench the seemingly now insurmountable divide between popularity and quality. Blockbusters like “Black Panther” will likely go on to win the Oscar for Dummies, while the Best Picture will continue to acknowledge niche movies for their eccentricity and wokeness. How many people, after all, have watched “Spotlight”, “Moonlight” or “The Shape of Water?”

Which points to the biggest problem with the movies, the movie industry and therefore the Oscars. Hollywood has decided that half of their potential audience are irredeemable yokels and buck-toothed rednecks who don’t deserve any of the industry’s creative greatness being wasted on them, except perhaps as the objects of ridicule. Movies keep being churned that are relentlessly hostile to the middle America that leans Republican. They usually stink and sink at the box office, but burnish the political credentials of their creators and prove that there is no business like show business because the right political pose trumps making profits. The Oscar ceremonies in turn are unbearable exhibitions of moral vanity and political ear-bashing that automatically turns off half the country.

Want to make the Oscars great again? Go easy on the causes and the preaching and go back to basics – celebrating the magic that is movie-making.