ABOLISH THE OSCARS

At some point, it just bears asking: who the hell is this for?

The Academy is not Dick Clark Productions.  It has an actual mandate apart from getting itself the biggest ratings it can.

AMPAS’ website claims, “We recognize and uphold excellence in the motion picture arts and sciences, inspire imagination, and connect the world through the medium of motion pictures.”

Sounds good but we’re not out taking to the airwaves and summoning the world around their television sets so that we can do a live dramatic reading of Masters of Light or plug a month-long Maya Derin retrospective at the Anthology Film Archives.

The Oscars were once a celebration of film – the most vibrant, far-reaching, dream infecting, artistic medium in the history of the human race.

Now, every year we dragoon at gunpoint a glum, discontent group dutifully obliged to appear (the fact that no A-Listers without an official job would be caught dead at an awards show telegraphs to the world all it needs to know)  to dodge an ever-multiplying minefield of social media taboos; to castigate ourselves for our horrific failings of the past year, before honoring a handful of films few in the audience will ever see.

This while, for the first time in a hundred years, the number of studios underwriting this whole shenanigan is shrinking and audiences are threatening to abandon filmgoing forever.

I’m sure mixed in there will be some tributes to the magic of film. But the lead up to this show has now calcified into a death march that projects a couple uplifting lessons:

  • That the Oscar Race Inc has become a very big, cautious, boring business.
  • That Hollywood is in the midst of a nervous breakdown and no longer capable of talking about any topic other than itself.

The WSJ puts its finger on a piece of the problem.

Hollywood was proud of the movies audiences loved. And so Academy voters didn’t feel bad awarding best picture to blockbusters like “Gladiator,” “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Platoon.” Or perhaps it was that audiences were eager to head to the theater and fork over their money for such high-quality pictures.

Either way, the catastrophic decline in DVD sales, the growing importance of foreign markets like China, and moviegoers’ infatuation with cinematic brands like Marvel have brought an end to that era.

The divide between Oscar voters and moviegoers may only grow in the coming years as streaming services become the way more of us watch feature filmsNetflix ’s entry into original motion pictures has been greeted with a mixed response at best in Hollywood, where many believe movies are made to be seen in theaters.

The Mad Men problem has already poisoned the television industry; quality has become a niche product, mainly for people who work in media, distinct from the garbage we feed the hoi polloi; garbage which can be ignored by awards, critics, reporters and executives telling their friends what they did today at dinner parties.

(Game of Thrones being the unicorn exception in TV.)

So if Quality Filmmaking becomes a niche product; if the prestige/awards sector exists to honor a genre catering mainly to media employees and the people who love them, maybe that’s something we should celebrate a little more quietly – like with the Spirit Awards!

Better still, just to prove how relevant Oscar is to today’s cultural conversation, this year’s ceremony will be consecrated in honor of the Academy’s most famous senior moment, complete with a live re-enactment by the original fumblers.  When a bunch of octogenarian movie people get together to make pompous speeches pegged to movies no one has seen, you never know what might happen!  Look at us!  We’re making memes!

The two big questions going into this show – far far bigger than who is going to win:

  • How awkward is it going to be for stars to try to make their points about Harassment Must End to Ryan Seacrest’s bland idiot smirk?
  • What mess will Grandpa and Grandma Facelift get into this year?

At some point, if you’re not helping the cause, you’re hurting it.  The industry, medium, tradition, and religion of filmmaking are hanging in the balance now.  There’s a lot of things that could help that cause: a self-absorbed public nervous breakdown probably isn’t one of them.

If we need to go through this, that’s fine.  It’s certainly deserved. But maybe it’s not something we need to share with the entire world.

ALSO IN TODAY’S EDITION!

  • THE SEACREST EXCEPTION!
  • ANKLER AWARDS SEASON TECHNICAL AWARDS!
  • SAG WARNS OF WEINSTEIN!
  • OSCAR’S SCORE LOSERS!

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