Oi Gevalt AMPAS

Now, it’s great news that AMPAS is walking away from an ill-conceived idea which would’ve undermined their entire existence, so let’s not look a gift horse and all.

But on the other hand . . . Oy gevalt!

If say, you saw the Midwest regional division of some insurance conglomerate having a very public nervous breakdown about the speakers and presentations lineup for its quarterly sales meeting, you’d shrug your shoulders and say, well, Midwestern regional divisions of insurance conglomerates aren’t in show biz. They’re not used to this kind of attention, so let’s cut them some slack.

But the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is in show business. By all rights, it should have a very good idea how attractive it is to stage a multi-year nervous breakdown on a public stage. Yet this keeps happening!

Thankfully, the NYT story explains how it’s all the fault of these darn governors and their last minute nitpicks

Some board members, including John Bailey, the organization’s president, voiced support for the category at the meeting, while others, including the actress Laura Dern, were adamantly opposed, according to two board members, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

Those people also said the director Steven Spielberg, who sits on the board and has enormous influence, was uncomfortable with plans to introduce the category at the coming Oscars, which will be held on Feb. 24.

The Oscars are not in an enviable position, no one disputes.  The studios stopped making the big heart, big-budget dramas that the organization was created to salute. Stumbling for what we’re going to do here is not easy. Particularly when the membership fits firmly in the demographic of “Media Professionals” to whom prestige culture is now exclusively made and marketed. Having walked away from any ambitions for general entertainment, those films have now been liberated to become as relentlessly gloomy, minaturized, twee and self-absorbed as . . . well, the Academy’s membership itself.

Add to that, having to deal with the Me Too Elephant in the multiplex, all the myriad representational issues, and the very question of what is a movie. It’s a lot to expect venerable overpaid grandees to take on and grapple with.

To put it another way, why should they do any better a job grappling with these issues in their ceremonial bodies than they do in their very own studios?

But if you’re going to get through this, without just being whiplashed in hair-trigger attempts not to get bulldozed by the latest hashtag, then it helps to have some perspective, some notion of what the Oscars should be–heck, what the film business should be. On top of that: What is film and why does it matter?

John Bailey’s comments to THR give little cause for optimism.

But, says Bailey of the proposed pop Oscar, “it wasn’t some knee-jerk reaction to falling ratings or to ABC or to anything like that. It was real clear on the part of the board and the Academy that we needed somehow to make certain kinds of films eligible for new awards.” He cites comedies as one type of movie the Academy has consistently overlooked, proffering the example of Groundhog Day, which he also shot: “It’s a film that’s become iconic, but if it had been made today, it probably never would have been considered for best picture in terms of the type of pictures that are considered today, but it certainly would have been a prime candidate for this new award.”

That quote kinda sums everything up! If the membership no longer see the value in a big, intelligent, but broad and warm-hearted film like Groundhog Day, then maybe the answer isn’t to jerry-rig some rule changes to work around the membership’s biases, but to have a little talk with the membership. Is there anyone who can stand up and speak for what this industry is supposed to be about at its best–creating bigger-than-life experiences that lift the entire planet out of their individual stupors into something beyond themselves.

The irony is that there are candidates for Best Picture this year just waiting for an Academy that was looking to further the cause of moviegoing as something more than a boutique nostalgia diversion. There’s the discussed-within-an-inch-of-its-life Black PantherA Star is Born may yet make a fortune and is such obvious awards bait that it’s been nominated for 17 Oscars for the past 90 years. First Man could play on all levels. If the membership turns its back on films like these, than the problem isn’t that the rules need some tinkering; the problem is that no one’s done the paperwork to formally hand the keys over to the Spirit Awards.

While we’re on the subject of Mr. Bailey, to be sure he’s a great man of the cinema with a Hall of Fame distinguished career. But the Academy is filled with people who have overseen vast organizations that have faced all kinds of challenges. If there were ever a time when AMPAS needed a wartime consigliere, this is it. Instead they’ve got a DP trying to keep things together? How many debacles will it take before someone steps up and takes this thing by the scruff of the neck and whips it into shape?

Then there’s the show itself. It was supposedly at ABC’s behest that something be done about the ratings, fast! that the popular category was created (with nothing at all to do with ABC’s relationship to its parent company).  How are they feeling about that now?  In the end, what is the magic formula that gets 30 or 40 mlillion people to watch a show saluting movies seen by 1 or 2 million people?

AMPAS announced Thursday that as many as eight of the 24 categories are going to go off-camera. That leaves 16 categories over three hours. Assuming some of them are still paired, you’ll have what? Three awards an hour in a three-hour show? Four?

For years now, Oscar producers have bemoaned the lack of time to do other stuff besides speeches. Well, be careful what you wish for. What are they going to do now to fill up these three hours? More funny memeable Fallonesque bits? More montages? More musical tributes to the magic of filmmaking?

Maybe there’s a real method to the madness here. Perhaps the secret plan is to turn the Oscars into a Behind the Scenes at the Academy reality show. A Vanderpump Rules companion piece, set at a Board of Governors meeting. Give the people what they want after all . . . .