Be prepared - there's a lot of 'em folks!
Every year The Hubby and I travel to the Los Angeles area to attend a very casual Oscar party that has been occurring since 1984.
Its important to note why this is relevant to my rather long column today. You see, in 1983 a group of us from high school went to see The Big Chill and became enamored with the film. We still are. The film struck a definite chord with us. We're still all very close and we quote the film all the time.
While the film was nominated for Best Picture in 1984 it lost to Terms of Endearment, a movie which was at least in my 18-year-old opinion, an over-the-top, overacted rehashing of an ABC-disease-of-week-movie. I was furious. It was my first real lesson in what the Academy looks for in its Best Pictures. (Its usually a drama that will rip your guts out and leave them to rot on the side of the road.)
But even at the age of 18, I already was hooked on the Oscars. Some 26 years later, we still love reconnecting with our friends who are all still big movie and entertainment buffs. The Oscars are as close as we have to a Super Bowl of sorts; and just like the Super Bowl, in some years the game is just better than in others.
This years telecast was jam-packed with disappointments. Even the high points seemed to be marred by insipid and insulting production choices that made me long for the days when Rob Lowe danced with Snow White.
The brightest spot of the Oscar telecast? Neil Patrick Harrisopening song.
Everything went downhill from there.
Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin spent the next five minutes on stage pointing out celebrities in the audience and hurling loving insults at them when they could have been touting why the Academy Awards are (or were) so special - or maybe, just giving out an award and why that award was so special.
It was just so pathetic. When did the awards ceremony become all about the celebrities and not the actual films? Even when Billy Crystal hosted, his opening song was always about the movies that were nominated. Sure he dinged a few celebs, but the shows werent built as virtual altars to them. They at least featured the freaking films!
Months ago, when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced that it was expanding the Best Picture category from five to 10 nominees, I was more than just skeptical, I was downright pessimistic of the moves overall meaningfulness to the public and fans and worse, how the move simply seemed to water down what the Academy was supposedly all about. (Mind you, I said this as a response to a lot of people who thought that Star Trek would actually have a shot at being nominated for Best Picture : )
The Academy's Web site states that the membership is dedicated to the advancement of the arts and sciences of motion pictures : While thats a nice sentiment, it was totally lost in this years Academy Awards, or Oscars show.
In an obvious, and in my opinion, completely misguided attempt to lure a younger audience to view the show, the Academy Board widened the Best Picture category to 10 films knowing that more popular (read = box office successes) films would be nominated and therefore, they could bank on fans of those more popular films tuning in with hope against hope their favorite would win. "Avatar" kind of screwed things up, I think. With such power in the Best Picture category (The Hurt Locker vs. Avatar) even five nominees were too many this year.
My biggest pet-peeve? Moments after director Kathryn Bigelow accepted her award for Best Director, (she just happened to be the first person with a vagina to win it) the producers thought that the appropriate song to play as she walked off stage was I Am Woman. My friend turned to me and said, Oh no theyre not. Theyre not actually playing that are they?
I was mortified. Somehow Bigelows achievement was made into a cheesy feminist statement made by a bunch of people who probably thought, Ooh, if Bigelow wins, we can celebrate the fact that she did something no other woman could do until now. Or worse, Ooh, look what we did - we gave a directing award to a woman! Were so special! How quaint. How thoughtful and :
: seriously, how insulting.
Bigelows accomplishment had nothing to do with her genitalia. Shes a director - - just like the other four directors who were nominated in the same category. To be respectful to her would have been to do the same as they would have if it had been any of the men who won. They likely would have played a snippet from his movies score as he walked victoriously off the stage.
Geoffrey Fletcher became the first person of African-American descent to win an Oscar in a writing category, yet I dont recall the Academy making a fuss over the color of his skin (and they shouldnt have) as he walked up to - or off of - the stage. He was treated as an equal from the moment he was nominated.
By using that song, Bigelows win was turned into a statement about how the Academy was taking credit in giving an award to a female director instead of simply honoring the director for her achievement. If she wanted to make a statement about having a vagina, that should have been completely up to her.
Backstage, Bigelow was very professional and stated that she hoped her win would inspire all youth (not just girls) to give moviemaking or storytelling a try. Even she knows that gender (and race) has nothing to do with talent. I appreciated her statement very much.
Pet peeve No. 2: After researching what the hell happened, I was shocked to find out that there appears to have been a conscious decision to leave Farrah Fawcett, Bea Arthur, Edward Woodward, Gene Barry (GENE BARRY!), among others from the In Memoriam tribute due to time constraints. (Was Ricardo Montalban in last year's or did they miss him, too?)
No : seriously. Time constraints.
Its my understanding that it was felt that because these fine actors (and Academy members) were more well-known for their television work than for their film credits that the public would understand. Someone felt the In Memoriam reel was running too long and that seeing as though these people were more television stars than movie stars, they were summarily cut from the reel.
Well, they were wrong. I was incensed to find out that they were left out of the memorial and yet, somehow, Michael Jackson made it in. To my knowledge, Jackson was more well-known for his music than for his one film role in The Wiz.
The Academys flawed rationale is even more amazing when you consider that while they couldnt find the time to pay tribute to Farrah Fawcett, Gene Barry, Edward Woodward or Bea Arthur, they somehow found the time for:
Pet peeve No. 3: The well-meaning and still totally ridiculous tribute to horror films. It just seemed so oddly placed within the telecast. It appeared as though it was an afterthought by the production team and they couldnt think of any other place to stick it.
It was yet another poorly executed attempt to appeal to the younger viewership.
I have to say chances are most younger viewers had likely turned off the telecast long before this reel made it to the screen. If youre going to pay tribute to horror films, they should have just themed the telecast that way. That might have been more fun.
Finally, pet peeve No. 4: The dance number that was purportedly meant to introduce the viewers to the music nominated for Best Original Score. It was a dance number featuring a trendy young troupe that was, in my opinion, simply ill-conceived.
I felt it was an insult to the composers whose work was supposedly being featured. Each choreographed bit did nothing to exemplify what it was about each nominated score or what had garnered them such favor - an honor that was to reflect how their work added value to their respective films. If the Academy wanted to highlight how those scores helped advance the art and science of motion pictures, a dance segment that lacked any reference to the actual films whose music was being played was not the way to do it.
Come to find out the segment was merely a choice to use a fairly popular dance troupe (The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers aka; LXD" ) to appeal to the younger generation in the hopes they would stay tuned to the show.
Mind you, these are very talented kids. I just think their talent would have better showcased at the Tonys, not the Oscars. (Or they should have had a choreographer that had seen the movies and made some small attempt to pay tribute to the film music instead of ignoring the nominated composers and making themselves the center of attention.) My friends and I really started the rotten tomato tossing when they were on, asking each other what does this dance have to do with the score of the film?
If the Academy wants to trigger passion in todays youth, how about sticking to its core ideal? Why not show young people (and the general public on the whole) why music can be an integral part of a film and why the wrong music can ruin an entire film and why the best music is rarely even remembered by the film viewer?
The score can be a films heartbeat and when used well it can connect a viewer to the film more powerfully than most would think is possible.
Going back to the widened field for Best Picture, Im not surprised that "The Hurt Locker" seemed to be on a roll. I felt that it was either going to be that film or Avatar and the other eight nominees had very little chance.
Lets face it, when it come down to brass tacks, the Academy members will always go with the film that advances the art of storytelling. In this case, they could have easily gone with "Avatar," whose effects have forever altered the future of popular filmmaking. Yet they decided to go with "The Hurt Locker," whose timely story about the Iraq War was reportedly the better of the two.
Both of these films advance the art and science of the motion pictures and both were deserving of recognition. I just dont think we needed five more nominees to lure viewers in. It smacks of pandering, and while the Academy isnt above slipping into that terrain on occasion, it has come close to losing its dignity outright only on a few occasions.
The telecast on Sunday was actually quite sad for me and my friends to watch. We sat there, stupefied, and wondered : when did the Oscars stop being about movies?
As usual, I will turn my attention directly to my target. To the Academy Board:
You seem lost.
You appear convinced you need to appeal to youth to survive. Well - youre right. You do need youth in order to survive. Why not use your three-and-a-half hours of television time to show the public what the Academy members do?
They make movies right? Show us how and why. Give us a reason to understand why the actors and actresses are more than celebrities, theyre artists. While they are the face of the film industry and its most exposed ambassadors, show us why they are more than just racks for designer clothes and jewelry. Show us why an actors outstanding portrayal of a character can make an indelible connection with a viewer and why thats so important.
Show us the freaking movies! A lot of people who watch the awards show have never seen the films that are nominated. Why not show that audience why they should go out and rent the DVD? Make people interested in the films! You know what those are right? They're those things youre supposedly trying to advance the art and science of?!
They help in the community, right? Show us how filmmaking can improve a community. Why is filmmaking so important to you and why should it be so important to us? Remind us why films and documentaries can act as communication tools to other members of our society thereby strengthening community on the whole.
They help preserve history, right? Show us why films are history and why preserving them is just as important as preserving books or papers or memorabilia. Show us why movies and documentaries preserve time, place and history in a peculiarly effective way. Anyone who has seen Shoah would certainly understand the power a film can have to the preservation of history.
They help educate, right? Show us why making movies can help trigger creative passion in youth and why storytelling in all its forms is such a cohesive part of our human existence that to lose it would undermine that very existence. (Yes, I really do believe its that important to our species.)
Instead of allowing your organization to be seen as the National Enquirer, shrug off the in-ceremony pandering to the celebrities, take a big dose of self-esteem and remind yourselves that youre supposed to be the Smithsonian of filmmaking organizations and grow-the-hell-up!
Instead of seeking out youth using insulting tactics like meaningless dance numbers, oddly placed tributes and expanding categories in the hopes that more popular films will draw in younger viewers, why dont you just act your age and be the role model youve been? Portray yourselves as the dignified-yet-cool organization youth should aspire to join.
No, of course it doesnt mean you have to be stuffy, but theres a difference between the life-loving exuberant older person that knows his/her limitations and the fool that goes around looking for raves so they can pretend to be young again. One is loved and admired by youth, the other just creeps them out.
Your own Web site shows the Student Academy Awards as well as the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. Why are they on your website but not in your telecast? If more kids found out you hold a competition for amateur filmmakers and writers, we might see more kids out with video cameras making the next "Avatar" or writing the next To Kill a Mockingbird.
Why not showcase an extraordinary amateur film in your telecast? Why not show youth that theyre an integral part of the advancement of the art and science of filmmaking and not just a silly group of people whose market share youre bleeding to get at.
Next year, do us all a favor and appeal to youth by telling them why that movie they love really is important to you and your membership. Celebrate popular movies, yes, but help youth understand why Miley Cyrus and Jonas Brothers movies wont win Best Picture but movies like "The Hurt Locker" do and, most significantly, why that is so important to our society.
And while youre at it, maybe you can help me understand why Terms of Endearment won over The Big Chill. Im still bitter about that.
Can you tell?
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