Is It Possible to Fix The Oscars?
Is this just a lost cause at this point? I think it might be. We might be too far down the rabbit hole to save The Oscars, but at least The Academy is trying a few ideas. Are they ideas that will end in higher ratings and a return for The Oscars as a major event in the culture-sphere every year? Almost certainly not.
The Oscars recently announced a new fan poll award given to the film with the highest Twitter buzz during the official awards season. With people generating waves of support for meme-able, ridiculous films, it seems like the winner could be…… Cinderella? I won’t sit here and lie to you that I care to see what film twitter thinks the best picture is because I can already tell you, they aren’t taking it seriously. Also, I don’t want The Oscars to glorify film twitter. I want them to recognize what filmmakers and those within the industry believe are the best films of the year.
I can’t blame their choices for this year’s nominees. Many of them are excellent films and performances that landed high on my personal “Best of 2021” list. But at some point we have to ask ourselves, does anyone truly care?
The Academy seems bent on awarding capital “C” Craft over moneymakers at The Oscars. Films like CODA and Belfast are receiving more attention than blockbuster juggernauts like Spiderman: No Way Home, No Time To Die and The Suicide Squad. I’m not calling for The Oscar nominees to have some sort of box office threshold, but there needs to be a healthy blend.
With all this being said, let’s get to the first task in fixing The Oscars.
Nominate Films that People Watched
The Academy has run into a problem where they don’t like fun anymore. If they added chaos into their categories, people would tune in. General audiences want to see No Way Home, Dune and House of Gucci clash in categories. The stars would come out and people would be invested.
I loved CODA and I was so happy when it got nominated for Best Picture, but people haven’t seen CODA. General audiences haven’t gone out of their way to subscribe to Apple TV to see CODA. Audiences didn’t go in large crowds to see Belfast. Even The Power of the Dog (who’s popularity largely exists within the film twitter and cinephile/academic corners of the art) sits 18th (!) in Letterboxd’s popularity list of 2021 – a platform specifically made for the crowd that The Power of the Dog is supposed to appeal to.
We’re heading into an Oscars night prepared to be dominated by films that the everyday person does not care about. If The Academy started to mix it up and nominate films based on cultural relevance in the world, people would care and the ratings would start to slowly climb back up.
The other major change to the broadcast this year is that the live show will cut a handful of awards and hand them out before the beginning of the celebration. Instead, they’ll be inserting more comedic acts and musical numbers. Yayyy. This would make more sense if the hosts were big names and if they were more culturally relevant at this instance in time, but they aren’t.
Instead of adding in this window dressing, why not add more awards? Let’s add in a Best Blockbuster (which would help satisfy fix no. 1 above) or MVP award. We could theoretically pit Andrew Garfield vs Ridley Scott vs Benedict Cumberbatch vs Timothee Chalamet! That would be fun! They can add in new categories, they’ve done it before.
Stop Anointing Frontrunners So Early
This one is on all of us, and it mostly ties into the first fix that I listed out. Why was Belfast and The Power of the Dog instantly penciled in as favorites the moment they were released either to the public or during festivals. Film groups spread the word like wildfire and before we had a change to relegate this, it was too late.
This clearly isn’t working and it isn’t drawing interest in the films listed above. Honestly, it starts to draw disinterest from those seeing that their favorite films don’t even stand a chance. Now, we all just have to sit around and act like The Power of the Dog is the best film of the last fifteen years because it’s going to walk away with some of the most important awards of the telecast.
This isn’t a one-year fix. Once The Academy stops alienating general film audiences and prestigious film fans, the ratings will improve. The only reason I really care about this is because film should be the center of culture. Many have been saying that The Oscars should stop reaching for an audience that doesn’t care, but I’m going the other way. Reach for that audience and make The Oscars a relevant event again, but do it in a creative, fun and quirky way. Make The Oscars fun and enticing! Then, people will watch.