By: Tyler Schwartz
The month of September is one of beginnings, with schools, football, and fall TV, all officially starting in month nine. However, September also unofficially marks the beginning of the notorious “Oscar Season”. Prestigious film festivals such as Venice, Toronto, and Telluride (the three most predictive of Hollywood’s taste), all have hosted recent premieres for this year’s lineup of cinematic Academy catnip.
It’s always exciting to read about the new films that we’ll be following up to the big day, but it’s important to remember that currently the Academy Awards are in a dire place. Last year’s broadcast received it’s lowest Nielsen rating ever and the Academy’s recent announcement (and almost immediate retraction) of a “Most Popular Film” category received fierce backlash from both in and outside the industry. Put simply, The Oscars as we know it are dying a slow death, and the present Academy leadership has shown no signs of knowing how to stop the bleeding.
Hence, here are my three humble recommendations for fixing the Academy Awards.
1. Create an Academy Membership for the General Public
The Short of it – The Academy should create a membership for the at-large movie-going public that allows them to access screeners of potential Oscar films and the opportunity to nominate one film each year for Best Picture.
The Long of it – Being the Oscars and all you’d think the Academy would know this simple truth of storytelling: to best capture an audience’s interest, you need them to invest in your narrative. By opening their hallowed doors, The Oscars could access an entire new generation of filmmakers and moviegoers alike, all united under the larger Academy umbrella.
Furthermore, this idea is a profitable one for the Academy! The proposition is this: Every year the Academy will open an online submission period for new “At-Large” members. This submission process will require a monthly subscription to the Academy’s Streaming Service (ala Netflix or Hulu) where the members from the general public will have access to that year’s crop of Oscar bait. Over the calendar year they’ll be required to watch a certain percentage of movies in order to submit a vote for the actual awards. Come nomination time, the eligible at-large members will each submit a Best Picture ballot with the final winning film automatically receiving a Best Picture nomination. If this happens, think of the millions of everyday people who would tune into watch the nominations alone, hoping to see the film they voted for announced (side note, if the NBA Lottery deserves a primetime slot so do the Oscar nominations, enough of this crack of dawn crap). This would also solve the Academy’s quest for showcasing “popular films” without appearing trite or condescending. The People’s Nominee for Best Picture each year is just as official as the other nominees and will be viewed as such by the rest of the “Selected Academy”. If the goal is to guarantee phenomenons like Black Panther and The Dark Knight are rewarded with Best Picture nominations, this is the most fun and logical way to do it.
2. Release The Final Vote Counts
The Short of it – When the winners for each category are announced, release the percentage of votes received for each respective nominee.
The Long of it – This one’s pretty simple, wouldn’t you like to know how many votes Moonlight beat La La Land by in the most infamous Best Picture race ever? You’re telling me we publish the vote counts for every single government election and we won’t do it for what’s basically a glamorous reality television show? We’re talking about the same awards show that once featured host Seth MacFarlane singing a song called “We Saw Your Boobs”? I’m all for honoring the (sometimes) dignified history of the movie industry, but let’s not pretend the Oscars have always been a goddamn cotillion of classiness either.
And once again, this idea could financially benefit the Academy! Imagine the money to be made if they created a Academy-sponsored betting service (ala FanDuel or MyBookie) to wager on the Awards. Just like a horse race, you could bet on nominees in each category to Win, Place, or Show. Or like a Super Bowl prop bet, you could wager on how many 2nd place finishes a film will receive. The options are endless. Once again, it allows the general public to truly invest in the outcomes of the awards, and with the advent of releasing vote tallies, not simply on who wins them either. With it’s recent legalization, gambling has started to shed the shady and degenerate stigmas often attached to it. That’s why it’s time for the Academy to follow suit and embrace a principle that’s woven into the very fabric of the Awards, predicting the winners and losers.
3. Let the Hosts Pick the Hosts
The Short of it – Hire two hosts. After the first year, one host will leave and choose their replacement for the following year. Rinse and Repeat.
The Long of it – The idea of two Oscars hosts is nothing new, with Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin as one recent example and James Franco sleepwalking next to Anne Hathaway for four hours as another. Despite the varying results, having co-hosts offers some real distinct advantages, giving each comedian a partner to riff with and allowing opportunities for fun celebrity pairings of Host and Presenter.
My proposition is thus, starting this year we pick two hosts, one man and one woman (since they have a new movie together, for this exercise, let’s go with Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish). Hart and Haddish (Can’t you see the Oscar Poster already?) host the 2018 Oscars. Then the following year, Kevin Hart (losing a coin flip) leaves his Host position and selects the male host for next year (since they have history together and it’s a no-brainer ratings wise, Hart chooses Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). Then in 2019, Tiffany and The Rock (the poster – both of them covered in diamond studded suits – c’mon you know you see it!) host the 2019 ceremony and then Tiffany leaves and chooses her replacement (Haddish first asks Beyonce, but she’s too pregnant with her future 4th child. Kate McKinnon, Tiff’s 2nd choice, graciously accepts). The following year the process happens again. Rinse and repeat.
This idea promotes both familiarity and freshness. Imagine the Twitter campaigns that will be launched in attempts to sway hosts to pick their rightful heirs. Imagine the first time a new host completely BOMBS (ala Franco or MacFarlane) and we have an entire year of news and articles in anticipation of the sequel performance. Like the previously suggested ideas, this proposed co-hosting system creates buzz around the event, capturing the zeitgeist each year and sparking country-wide conversation.
The SUM of it – By the age of thirteen, I had memorized in order every Best Picture winner ever, like a little cinephiliac Rain Man. It feels silly to say, but I feel personally invested in the Oscars. Over the years, some of that obsession has faded as I’ve grown more cynical and jaded, less impressed with the sight of seeing movie stars dressed to the nines while trying not to sweat. However, despite its many flaws I still love every second of it. No night of the year is more likely to have me in a puddle of tears as I watch artists, both famous and unknown, reach the pinnacle of their craft and acknowledge the many other shoulders that help carry them to this moment.
Similar to the NFL, the Oscars will never die. There’s too much history, too much established infrastructure, and too many die-hard fans like myself for either enterprise to every truly disappear. Yet, like the NFL, if they keep going in the same direction, the Oscars can and will diminish. They could diminish to the point where a future thirteen year old never thinks to even watch them (“I mean, like, what’s the point if it’s not on Twitch?”) That to me is the real danger. For most filmmakers, watching the Oscars as children is their first initiation point into a future of moviemaking. I fear if the Oscars diminish to the point where it’s viewership numbers are trounced by reruns of NCIS, the trickle down effect will be felt when the next generation of great filmmakers are raised on Logan Paul instead of Paul Thomas Anderson.
The ideas for improvement I’ve suggested are only a few of the many the Academy should consider. They don’t need to reinvent the wheel here, they just need new tires because the tread on their current ones is running dangerously thin. So please, Academy members, heed this advice: Open Membership, Oscar Streaming Channel, Online Betting, Rotating Co-Hosts. You know what they call that in “the biz”? That’s entertainment.