Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Oscars becoming too predictable

Ratings declined for this year's Oscar ceremony but I don't see that as too big of a deal. It was a year in which a humongous number of like-minded pictures on the Iraq war entered into the theater and it was a little too hard for audiences to differentiate between them. The volume of Oscar contenders was incredibly high: Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Assassination of Jesse James, 3:10 to Yuma, In the Valley of Elah, Gone Baby Gone, Persopolis, Eastern Promises, Hairspray, I'm Not There, Into the Wild, Sweeny Todd, Great Debaters, American Gangster, Charlie Wilson's War and Zodiac all got such great reviews and entered the theaters with such great ambitions behind them, I imagine the average moviegoer thought, "oh screw it, I'm just gonna go watch National Treasure II, Transformers or I Am Legend instead."

That was what I think happened with the Oscars this year and that can be remedied next year if the slate of films becomes more favorable.

But nevertheless, I think another problem with the Oscars these days that I'm sure won't be prevented next year is the growing prevalence of websites dedicated to predicting the outcome of the Oscars.

Few people probably know that once upon a time, the Academy would issue press releases to the newspapers announcing the winners before the Oscars were presented but in 1939 when some of the greatest films ever created up to that date (Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gone with the Wind, and Wizard of Oz) were locked in a tight race and the results got leaked to the press which ruined a considerable amount of the suspense and excitement of the night. In 1940, the Academy decided to go with a policy of complete secrecy which is tightly kept to this very day.

Today, however, the Oscars have reverted to the 1930s where the winners are basically known in advance and that's a good reason why they're considerably less exciting. This past year, according to oscarcentral, 59 out of 63 film critics correctly predicted the best picture winner, 61 of 63 predicted best actor, 61 of 63 picked best supporting actor, 60 of 63 film critics picked best director, 57 of 59 picked best original screenplay, and 47 out of 59 picked best adapted screenplay. Last year, best picture was up in the air and the best supporting actor category was an upset, but Mirren, Whitaker, Scorsesee, William Moynahan (for Departed) and Michael Ardnt (for Little Miss Sunshine) were pretty much locks.

It's true that this is better than in the 1930's because the studios aren't announcing the winners beforehand, but is that really much of an improvement? Today an army of Oscar bloggers and prediction-oriented websites analyze historical trends and trace the momentum of awards season so they can virtually guarantee who will win in some race. Even the Los Angeles Times (theenvelope), Toronto Star (Peter Howell's blog), and the New York Times (carpetbagger) have joined in the phenomenon with highly popular websites dedicated to the Oscars and other awards races that utilize Hollywood connections to enhance what will be voted on. Are these online Oscar trackers perfectly accurate? No, but they are all usually very similar which makes the case that the sheer number of them is excessive. When the Oscar bloggers are wrong, they're usually all wrong together as well, so it's little improvement. For best actress, all but 10 of the Oscar pundits predicted Julie Christie.

The only one of the major races that was truly exciting to follow this year was best supporting actress, because Ruby Dee of American Gangster, Amy Ryan of Gone Baby Gone, Tilda Swenton of Michael Clayton, and Cate Blanchett of I'm Not There all had legitimate chances at winning and when my preferred choice Tilda Swenton won it, that was the highlight of the night for me because there was genuine suspense and subsequent joy. I, Imagine thirty or forty years ago, that existed in every race. I remember loving last year's race much more than this year's because I didn't bother to read the suspiciously accurate Entertainment Weekly Oscar Prediction issue.

I think this excitement-diminishing epidemic is spreading to the casual viewer as well. Your average casual viewer will probably involuntarily come across three or four of these sources telling them who will probably win by the time Oscar time comes around. A special Oscar section will be printed at least two or three times before the ceremony in USA Today and their daily newspaper, they'll probably see the Golden Globe Results on the CNN ticker and their Morning news program will feature the entertainment correspondent telling them who will win. When it all adds up, you're average viewer will already know who won just as much as I am.

Solutions I am proposing?
-Guild awards should not take place or if they do, that should happen after the Oscars. It's a fairly dead giveaway who will win when a great number of the same people are voting in both contests. Revolutionary thought: Just because you have a guild doesn't mean you have to have an awards ceremony. I'm sure other professional organizations like the American Institute of Engineers or the Meatpackers' Union doesn't give annual awards with nominees and a red carpet celebration. Your writing, cinematography, acting, directing and producing professions are already honored through the Golden Globes and Oscars, this is clearly redundant. Especially, the producers guild. You guys own movie studios, you make millions of dollars, you have the town of Hollywood at your hands, do you really need statues and awards to make you feel pretty?

-Critics awards groups, the Golden Globes should make efforts to present different awards: Best family comedy, best breakout performance, best low budget film, best ensemble. The Golden Globe adds suspense to the ceremony because it nominates 10-12 actors, movies, and actresses, and sometimes an additional supporting actors, supporting actress, or director so that they will give you a broad field but narrow enough that you know who is likely to win

-I think we need less Oscar writing out there of the same sort where people have websites that rank the candidates in order of likelihood. It's become too much of a good thing and there are so many different angles you can take on the Oscars that aren't being covered as much. For god's sake, there are so many different things to write and explore about the current state of films that doesn't even have to do with the Oscars.

No comments: