It seems subversively un-American to suggest that the Academy Awards have almost outlived themselves, become superfluous and are even a bit of a drag. The original purpose was mainly to provide a forum for hosts like Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal to zing the nominees and Hollywood, for the film industry to prime the post-holiday box office pump, and for the actors to congratulate themselves for their gift to mankind.
When Hope, Carson and Crystal were in charge, they gave the show an anchor, but the revolving door of hosts, from David Letterman on down to this year’s decidedly un-amusing, not to say blah, co-hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway, is a desperate attempt to grab the young demographic–people who actually go to movies.
I watch the awards each year more out of habit than curiosity. I have no rooting interest in the films, almost none of which I’ve seen yet because I plan to rent them. I’ve never had an urgent need to dash out to see the next hot film, even if it means having no opinions at Oscar time except what I’ve picked up from reviews and friends. Even the latest Woody Allen movie has long since stopped being a must-see-right-now event.
By the time I finally get to a nominated movie, maybe six months later, the dust, reviews and talk-show hype has settled, making it easier to more clearly judge the movie for what it is, or is not. By then, the fad factor has evaporated and the bloom is well off the rose. Movies like “Milk,” “The Ghost Writer” and “Inglourious Basterds” that caused such excitement upon their release eventually assume their rightful place in film history as just OK or mediocre movies.
It looks as if even the Academy itself realizes that the public is slowly losing interest –viewers are declining each year for the broadcast; most of the water cooler talk the next day is about the pre-ceremony Red Carpet winners and losers. To broaden and increase viewer interest in the Oscars, the Academy now feels compelled to have 10 nominees in the major categories instead of five, diluting the competition, the focus and the interest. More horses in the race doesn’t make it a more exciting race, it just clutters the field.
These are all indications that nobody much cares anymore who wins or who loses. Indeed, at lunch a month ago, nobody among the four of us could remember which film won last year’s Oscar. Quick, can you? I doubt it. (“The Hurt Locker,” a film almost instantly lost in time). I would guess that maybe two people in 10 can now name who won any of last year’s Best Actor/Actress or Supporting Actor/Actress trophies.
Part of the reason for the lack of interest in the Oscars is that they’re forced to compete with the Golden Globes, a movie industry joke until TV decided to inflate their importance with a gaudy broadcast, after which the GGs became crucial indicators of likely Oscar winners, giving the Globes importance well beyond their actual significance. As one Academy voter confessed, the Golden Globes fill a great need for voters who haven’t seen all of the movies or actors or directors. So lazy, laid-up or elderly Academy members figure that if a movie, performer or director won a Golden Globe it’s probably safe to vote for it sight unseen.
In lesser categories, like Best Short Subject or Best Costume, many (maybe most) Oscar voters just rubber-stamp the Golden Globe winners. And each year the political and sentimental factor looms larger and larger among the actor nominees, further diminishing the awards’ intrinsic value. Then there are all of those lesser pop awards shows, like the People’s Choice Awards, whatever they measure - mainly, I suspect, the number of People magazine cover appearances.
The media, of course, has eagerly played along with the Academy Awards for decades, helping to keep it breathing and crucial, as newspapers now begin their breathless Oscar doping long before the nominations, at the end of the old year, often before Christmas.
Also, the Balkanization of the movie-going audience has contributed to the Oscars’ unspoken so-what? factor. There is no more mass movie demographic like there once was. Most movies are made for, indeed pander to, younger audience under 35, if not 25. The mass audience is much more diverse now that niche marketing governs everything in Hollywood. Independent filmmakers have shoved aside the major studios that used to dominate the industry–and the awards. Many of the nominees are unknown to viewers.
This has left a giant mush of nominees: big films vs. small films, major studio blockbusters vs. small independent releases, animated vs. non-animated hits, foreign films vs. American films. They’re all competing against each other and creating a wildly uneven, diffuse and confusing array of choices for voters and viewers.
So who actually wins an Oscar is almost an afterthought, maybe even beside the point, something of lasting interest only to movie trivia buffs. It seems ever so important at the moment, amid the yelps and sobs, but as the music fades at the end of the Oscar telecast, you’ve already forgotten who won the Best Supporting Actress award four hours earlier.
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