With a shrinking viewership and even smaller relevance to the annual awards season shuffle, how will the Oscars save itself?
We're two weeks past the 2015 Oscars and already most movie lovers have forgotten who won Best Picture (it was Birdman, by the way), who got robbed (it was a tie between Michael Keaton and non-nominee The LEGO Movie) and perhaps, even the name of the host (it was Neil Patrick Harris, FYI). Now, as the festival circuit starts introducing new titles into the pre-pre-pre Awards Season lookout for 2016, it's time to reflect on a sad, singular fact: the Academy Awards is on life support and, if something doesn't change soon, it may become nothing more than a novelty in the near future.
It's not necessarily the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) fault. It has everything it can within its arcane rules and equally antiquated TV show to save itself. Its gone from five Best Picture nominees to a possible ten, revamped the way in which documentaries and Best Song are handled, and yet, each year, more and more viewers abandon the near four-hour industry backslap as the pointless exercise in self promotion that it is. Additionally, around this time every year, pundits like yours truly also sit down and try to figure out how to "fix" the supposedly broken broadcast. Some figure editing down the show would save it. Others aren't convinced that there's anything left to salvage.
However, there is a letter in the alphabet, and two words connected to it, that could go a long way toward putting the Academy Awards back on the yearly "must see" map. Granted, neither will ever happen, but in this literary attempt at argumentation, it's nice to play "What if?" Of course, if cooler and more conscious heads prevail, looking at the way these two concepts could reinvigorate the Oscars might spur some kind of discussion, and any talk that sets about approving the ceremony and its selection process might lead to improvements. Lord knows, nothing needs improving more than those overlong backslapping overtures.
So what are these words, these ideas connected to the 13th letter in the alphabet? Let's break it down:
"M" #1. Moratorium
Now this is, perhaps, the most radical, and therefore, most unlikely cure for what ails the Oscars. In essence, it comes down to too many awards shows with too many predictors. Back in the early part of the 20th century, there were only three major accolades: the Golden Globes (72 years and counting), the Directors Guild Awards (67 years) and the Writers Guild of America Awards (66 years). They were the main bellwether, the indicators, but not necessarily the consensus, on who would win what at each year's Oscars. While the Directors Guild Awards used to more or less accurately predict the winner of Best Director, everything else was up for grabs.
That created a sense of suspense, a question mark that has long since been lost in a sea of additional awards shows. Aside from such non-starters as The People's Choice and The Critics Choice, the real culprits were the Producers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Both are less than 30 years old (25 and 21 years, respectively) and both have become reasonably reliable indicators as to who will win an Oscar every year. Add in the numerous critic groups, the various print and online publications and their wave of Top Tens, and those people who make their living predicting award season winners and the Academy has now lost the one thing that made the show an annual ritual: surprise.
Instead, everything is more or less set once the MC du jour takes the stage to tell a bunch of stale fame whore jokes. The Screen Actors Guild has decided all four acting Oscars, the Directors Guild Awards has settled on the director to be honored, and the Producers Guild of America has picked Best Picture -- and that's the big six, the main gold statues handed out every year. But what if we didn't know who picked up their prizes at those individual events? What if there was a "moratorium" on publicizing said winners until the night of the Oscars? Of course, given the revenue streams involved and the PR perks of having your own televised showcase, something like this happening is a long shot at best.
It could actually function like this: in the two week run-up to Oscars, all the other guilds hand out their awards. But they are not publicized. No results are officially released. Then, on the night of the Academy Awards, each category gives out its trophies, and during the pre-acceptance speech narration, along with "this is so-and-so's first Oscar win", it could also say "so-and-so also won The Screen Actors Guild award and... (whatever)." Again, this takes away the fanfare from the Screen Actors Guild ceremony, but it reinserts the excitement back into the Academy Awards.
Now, such a moratorium couldn't control the hundreds of critics and critics group's announcements, but they rarely function as 100 percent accurate. Institutions like the Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild Awards are seldom wrong, and as such, need to find a way to work within the AMPAS synergy. Bring back the suspense, and you bring back the audience.
"M" #2. MTV
Last week, most movie critics and film writers' email inboxes were inundated with the news that MTV, the network that used to show something called "m-u-s-i-c-v-i-d-e-o-s" and The Real World, and its questionably relevant Movie Awards had announced it nominees. The difference between the music channel and its Oscar competitor couldn't be greater. Aside from its oddball categories that would never find their way into an Academy telecast (Best Shirtless Performance, Best Scared as Shit Performance), MTV offers more acting awards (along with the aforementioned, there's Best Villain, Best Duo, Best Comedic Performance, and Best Onscreen Transformation), and with them, more potential Oscar nominees.
Indeed, what the MTV model offers is more; more chances to be recognized, more chances to win, and more reasons for viewers to tune in. Not only that, but it tends to celebrate something the Oscars rarely revel in: commercial success. For example, MTV has nominated The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Guardians of the Galaxy, Gone Girl, and The Fault in Our Stars. Birdman is nowhere to be found. Nor is The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, or The Grand Budapest Hotel (for your information, the rest of the network's nominees include Selma, Boyhood, Whiplash, and American Sniper). Instead voting for those same old awards season givens (biopics, disease of the week dramas), MTV thinks a bit outside the box, which in turn, intrigues the potential viewership.
MTV's Male and Female Performance also lean heavily towards a younger, hipper demo. In the former, Miles Teller, Channing Tatum, Chris Pratt, and Ansel Elgort stand alongside sole Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper, while Shailene Woodley, Scarlett Johannson, and Jennifer Lawrence join Academy nominees Emma Stone and Reese Witherspoon. It's interesting to see what's missing. No Eddie Redmayne. No Michael Keaton. No Julianne Moore or Felicity Jones.
Sure, some of the Oscar winners are in other categories (Redmayne in Tranformation, J.K. Simmons in Villain), but this is why the MTV Awards are so much more compelling: in its seeming randomness, it creates an atmosphere where anyone can (and will) win. Just look at how many trophies the terrible Twilight movies have taken home over the years.
Again, the MTV model is not flawless and, as stated before, its choices can be Razzie level lame. Still, if the Oscars understood that there is more to a movie year beyond Sundance, Toronto, Telluride, Cannes and November through December, we might see a renewed interest. If not, we might see another "M" word attached to the Academy Awards, or at least, to its gravestone: in memorium.