Awards analysis is provided by Sean from @MathTeacherMovies.
Annual Oscars in Trouble Column in 3….2…1…
Now that one week has passed since the Oscars, we have learned that the ratings for the show have continued to decline as they have been for the last several years. This year was the lowest-rated Oscars ever. As the ratings continue to trend downward, pundits continue to argue whether the Oscars are finally dead and I’m SICK OF IT! But the question is extremely nuanced, so my goal with this article is to un-ironically debate whether the Oscars are truly dead. I can’t offer a straight answer, but hopefully my explanations and theories paint a clearer picture.
So, first and foremost, why don’t people watch the Oscars anymore? Or even seem to care about them? The format hasn’t changed much, but the culture surrounding it has: in this post-2016 world, I often hear that viewers are sick of the actors and artists injecting their politics into the show and that Hollywood is promoting a liberal agenda. Now, this isn’t entirely off-base: everything has become political. Sports teams. Cans of beans. Pillows. Everything. But, political platforms are not new to the Oscars. In fact, Marlon Brando refused to accept his Oscar in 1973 to protest Hollywood’s depiction of Native Americans.
Another reason people have stopped watching the awards show is because they feel the best movies and performances don’t win and the awards are given to a movie or actor to satisfy a particular narrative. But, this has been happening less and less every year. Case in point: everyone thought Chadwick Boseman was going to win Best Actor to honor him posthumously. That would have been a great culmination to Boseman’s career and would have further solidified his legacy, but the award went to Anthony Hopkins instead.
Others argue that the Oscars are a pointless, over-the-top, once-glamorous evening that has been reduced to pretentious celebrities patting each other on the back and celebrating themselves. More often than not, I find this leads to Facebook commenters patting themselves on the back for not watching celebrities pat themselves on the back. When did the hatred for celebrities spike so suddenly? I think we truly love to hate them. A lot of us watch movies because of the celebrities in them. Famous actors drive shows and television. Some people go to see a new Brad Pitt movie just because it’s a new Brad Pitt movie! But, for every mega-star that is nominated, we occasionally see a film nominated lead by a lesser-known actor, like Steven Yeun in Minari.
Continuing down my list of Oscars-related grievances, the ceremony has also been described as long and boring. To someone not interested in every aspect of film, they won’t care what movie wins Best Production Design. While some have suggested putting those less popular technical awards on a different night or a non-televised awards show, this will alienate the true fans of the Oscars who love every aspect of film. Removing those smaller awards will make the ceremony feel empty. As such, the Academy needs to get people to care about the little things that make up a film. I’ve said this before in previous columns, but my favorite example of this is if you consider what kind of movie Titanic would have been without its score. The Academy needs to figure out a way to get audiences to care about the smaller details of film-making and get them to love those aspects as they do within their elite club.
In addition to the problems discussed above which I’m sure contributed to this, the eight films nominated for Best Picture did not get enough views from the general viewer. This is likely due to them not being in a theater and with streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu not advertising them enough. It could also be that filmmakers focused on campaigning their movies to members of the Academy rather than pushing for wide advertising. Further, this year’s ceremony aired two months later than it usually does due to Covid and unless you were closely following movie news, you might not have known it was pushed back to April or that it was even airing at all this year. I heard from so many people who were surprised that the show was happening this year. In short, movies were difficult to find and the typical person wasn’t looking for them, either.
Without a doubt, the most important reason for the disinterest in the Oscars is the lack of interest in the films that are nominated. They aren’t always the most popular movies, so no one will tune into a show about movies they have never heard of. What’s perplexing is that the type of movies that get nominated have not changed: there are the political films, the artsy independent movies, the large scale movies that can sometimes be popular, and boring costume dramas. Still, I can’t tell you how many people I know that hadn’t heard of Nomadland or Parasite until after they won Best Picture. To combat this, the Academy recently tried to propose a “Most Popular Movie”-like category, but it was not received well. I struggle with the fact that not all popular movies are good ones. I know how pretentious that statement sounds, but there will always be a gap between “good movies” and “popular movies” and the Academy still needs to navigate this problem to get audiences to tune into the awards show.
So, what’s the solution to the multi-faceted problems that the Academy faces? I am always left scratching my head. What might be the best solution is a difficult one: a Best Picture frontrunner that is also extremely popular. Titanic, The Departed, Gladiator, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King were all movies that got people to watch the Oscars to see if the movie they were all talking about would win.
This is usually the moment of the year where I ask myself, “Do I love the Oscars or are they stupid?” This year, I think it’s both. There was a lot more to be concerned with this year than a bunch of celebrities giving other celebrities awards that half of them don’t deserve. On the other hand, the Oscars still honor the movies that got me through this year. I truly love to watch the movies be explored, dissected, loved, and remembered.
With that, I say, “See you next year, Oscars! I will be back talking about you next week with no plans to stop.”