I love to hate the Oscars, but I also hate that I love them.
For the past several years I’ve had a tradition where I try to see as many Oscar Best Picture nominees as I can. I want to see which movies were considered the best of their respective year and fill out my personal Oscar ballot so that I can watch along with some friends. Some people go nuts for the Super Bowl, but I go nuts for the Oscars. And why wouldn’t I? It’s a night dedicated to honoring the best of the best, seeing truly remarkable films get the spotlight, having people make speeches that are emotionally powerful and can even spark social progress. Sure, the awards ceremony is nothing but a victory lap for people that don’t need a victory lap, but I can’t help but enjoy it when a movie I love like The Shape of Water or La La Land get the recognition that they deserve.
And yet, this year’s Academy Awards will probably go down in history not for the quality of the movies honored, but for the sheer amount of stupidity and bad-decision-making that the Academy has achieved. After months of controversies and laughable mistakes, the chickens have finally come home to roost and what we’re going to watch is a glorious catastrophe that will be more underwhelming and more dead than this year’s Super Bowl.
To untangle this mass of confusion and ineptitude, we need to step back and look at where everything started to go wrong for the Academy. The Academy Awards have been struggling to draw in viewers year after year for the better part of a decade for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s because the movies that are nominated for that year had small releases, resulting in few people seeing them. Sometimes no popular movies are nominated, so people don’t bother watching a ceremony of unfamiliar pictures. Other times the ceremony is overshadowed by controversy, such as back in 2015 when #OscarsSoWhite was created to bring awareness to how every acting nominee was white, regardless of the quality of their role.
I’m not one to get into social politics, especially online, but it’s not hard to see that the Academy has had a tough time trying to cater to the constant demands of an evolving society. Whenever they find themselves embroiled in a controversy their first, knee-jerk reaction is to completely overhaul their guidelines and qualifications for membership, apologize for whatever the controversy of the day is, then promise that they’ll do better next year. This has been a cycle for the past several years with last year’s big issue being the #MeToo movement that grew out of Hollywood itself and perennial Oscar favorite, Harvey Weinstein.
The Awards weren’t just under fire last year, they were the fire, and so the cycle was ramped up even more. Like always, they vowed to change. We’d like to think it was because they care, but last year’s Academy Awards were the lowest rated in the past decade and that seems like a far more likely reason. So the Academy announced that they would be making several changes for this year’s show, some of which I actually agreed with, like the idea of cutting the awards to three hours max without going over. And then things went out of control.
When the Academy announced back in August that they would make significant changes to their ceremony, the one change that got under everyone’s feathers was that they would be creating a “Best Popular Film” category to honor blockbusters that wouldn’t normally get recognition at the Oscars. Most people hated the idea, though I was actually fine with it. However, even I conceded that they shouldn’t have announced a new category six months before the awards and that they never classified what a “Popular Film” was. Was it a movie that grossed over a certain amount? Was it an action movie? Did it star The Rock? No one knew, so the Academy quickly withdrew their plans for it and postponed it to a later year. And that was just the beginning.
Fast forward to December where the Academy was steeped in controversy yet again over their would be Oscar host, stand-up comedian Kevin Hart. Hart made several inappropriate jokes towards the LGBT community back in the late 2000s, which he half-apologized for, but after the Academy realized “Oh shit, this Kevin Hart guy told a few jokes that didn’t age well. He needs to apologize for them instantly or else we’ll fire him!” So they told Kevin Hart that he would either apologize for the jokes, which he has done multiple times, or they would fire him. To his credit, Hart stood his ground and left in a respectfully and adult way.
The Academy was already struggling to find a host, so it’s absolutely moronic of them to even risk losing Kevin Hart. And even after Hart left, he appeared briefly on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show and mused the possibility of returning to host with Ellen saying that she’ll talk to the Academy, only for them to violently refute her. The Academy had a way out. They could use one of TV’s most beloved entertainers and former Oscar host, Ellen DeGeneres, to bridge the gap between the two, but instead they continued to dig their own grave and ruin any chances of Hart returning or gaining any sympathy from Ellen or her massive fanbase.
The only thing that is stopping the Academy from apologizing over their action is their own pride. They want to appear cutting edge. They want to seem like they’re averting all potential controversy and nipping it in the bed, completely ignoring the fact that they created the controversy themselves. Even GLAAD, one of the largest LGBT advocacy groups in North America, believed that Hart should continue to host the Academy Awards to prove how much a person can change. Instead, the Academy dug their heels and refused to make the smart, mature decision, leaving us with the first hostless Academy Awards since 1989.
Next in our narrative of destruction are the actual nominees for the Oscars, specifically, Best Picture, which, let’s be honest here, is the award with the most nominees this year that are… fine? I guess? They’re not the worst nominees in the world, but I can’t exactly say I’m jumping for joy over them. Most of the nominees, like Vice, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Green Book, probably wouldn’t have been nominated in a better, year, but there you go. Black Panther is unique for being the first superhero movie, let alone Marvel movie, nominated for Best Picture, but outside of that honor I don’t think there’s any real chance at winning the grand prize.
We’ve thankfully moved on from the #OscarsSoWhite controversy with Rami Malek, Mahershala Ali, and Yalitzia Aparicio, all of whom are in fact, not white, getting nominations, though there are still no female directors nominated, but Spike Lee did get his first directing nomination ever at the Oscars for BlacKkKlansman. But other than those points, it’s a surprisingly low-interest event.
And that should have been the end of it all. We would have had an Oscars with decent nominees under the specter of the Academy’s stubbornness and staving off controversy dampening what would have been yet another disappointing and smug Hollywood jerk-off. At the very least, most Hollywood actors and celebrities have shut up about the Academy’s poor decision and haven’t damaged the reputation of the awards, right?
Well, remember how I said that the Academy was going to try and cut down the ceremony to be a cool three hours? It was announced on February 12th exactly what those plans were. Instead of cutting down of the worthless shticks, sketches, and showboating that the Academy normally puts on, they’re going to relegate several awards to the commercial break, then air parts of the acceptance speeches back into the broadcast at a later time. The four cut categories are Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Live-Action Short Film, and Best Hair & Make-up.
In response to this, directors Guillermo del Toro, who won Best Director last year for his work on eventual Best Picture winner The Shape of Water, and Alfonso Cuaron, the current front runner for Best Director for Roma, vehemently spoke out against the Academy’s decision. Del Toro, in particular, was outraged, saying in a now deleted tweet that “Cinematography and Editing are at the very heart of our craft. They are not inherited from a theatrical tradition or a literary tradition: they are cinema itself.” Cuaron, on the other hand, stated that the decision was “disrespectful to filmmakers efforts and creativity.” When two of the biggest names associated with the Academy Awards aren’t pleased with the decision and are publically, not privately, speaking out, you know you fucked up.
The Academy’s response to this was quick and, as expected, limp. They said that they were trying to model their awards based on the Tony’s since they also have awards relegated to commercial breaks, so that justifies the Academy’s behavior! Except people were outraged when the Tony’s made that decision too. I remember when one of my set designer friends was livid how they pushed the set design awards to the commercial breaks, giving no credit to the people that slaved for weeks and months to actually make the damn set the actors have to perform on. If you were going to cut something, why would you stop us from watching the awards that we tuned in to watch?
What I find personally galling about this decision is that they’re relegating Best Live-Action Short to commercial break land. I know that barely anyone saw these movies unless you actively seek them out or read our coverage of the multiple Oscar shorts, but I’ll always remember what a presenter said about the various short categories honored at the 2016 Oscars. They said that the people who won those awards aren’t massive Hollywood celebrities. They’re people that were passionate enough to make these projects and this is probably the highlight of their life, so we should give them the attention that they deserve. They most likely wouldn’t become Hollywood elites. They would go back to their regular lives and that would be that. This is a once in a lifetime experience for the nominees and winners, but the Academy is essentially putting their moment of joy and fulfillment into a fucking commercial break. We don’t need to see their heartfelt speeches. We need to see Neil Patrick Harris talk to us about a box.
The attitude of the Academy over the past year has been, for lack of a better word, arrogant. They can remove categories because it’s running too long but still have time for worthless segues that no one wants to see. It can deny a host who has already apologized for his actions and rage against Ellen for daring to call sympathy to him. It can make poor decisions then squirrel away when they get called out that their poor decisions are poor decisions, never apologizing for them. They can try their best to appear as the moral compass of the world, but they don’t know what that even means.
Disregard the fact that most of the nominees this year are safe and wouldn’t have been nominated in any other year. The inevitable failure of the 91st Academy Awards is because the Academy has been digging their own grave for the past several years, always trying to chase high ratings and being the center of social change. They want to be taken seriously, but it’s hard not to view them as a laughing stock. Most articles I read about the Academy Awards aren’t predicting who will win or who will lose. They’re asking how bad of a disaster it will be. Not questioning IF it will be a disaster, but of what magnitude it’ll be.
Am I still going to watch it? Oh, hell yeah. I’m going to love watching everything fall apart. It’ll be three hours of people tiptoeing around why the Oscars are a mess and try to focus on the movies, but we all know where the focus will be. This year’s Academy Awards won’t be about the movies. It’ll be about the Academy’s hubris. And you know what the saddest part of this will be? The Oscars will probably have an increase in ratings because people want to see how badly the ceremony will be. They’ll probably get the ratings they want, but for all of the wrong reasons and will 100% learn the wrong lesson from this chaotic mess.