Tuesday, February 26, 2019

5 Changes The Oscars Can Take to Improve Next Year's Ceremony

Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler Oscars 2019 Craig Sjodin
photograph by Craig Sjodin / People Magazine
The road leading up to the 2019 Academy Awards ceremony has been anything less than unexciting. In an effort to limit its air time to three hours, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made a scroll's-worth of decisions that drew backlash and criticism from the movie-going community as well as the industry's biggest names. From difficulties landing a host to attempting to break tradition with presenting all of the categories, there are a lot of elements the show got wrong and right this year. Let's keep my unsolicited advice column going, and talk about which steps the Oscars can take to improve next year's ceremony. What did you think about this year's Oscars? Feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments!

To Host Or Not To Host

Learning who will host the Oscars is akin to finding out who will be the musical guest for the Super Bowl's Halftime Show - it's fun to see who will take on the most sought-out gig of the award show season, but there's also a big risk that the hosts won't stand out or flail under the pressure. After comedian and actor Kevin Hart stepped down from hosting after backlash he received from remarks  towards the black LGBTQ community, the show had to go on without a host. This year mixed in a variety of actors taking over the presenting duties, and everyone did a fine job. The atmosphere was laid-back and informal, feeling like an authentic appreciation for celebrating film. But the show missed having someone keeping the timing grounded and focused. Next year’s ceremony is far-off, but there’s no time like the present to start figuring out who will host the Oscars in 2020.

Cut Best Original Song Performances

I've touched on how the Oscars can fix the ceremony before, and I still think it's okay to cut Best Original Song performances. While the performances by Jennifer Hudson, Bette Midler, Adam Lambert with Queen, and Gillian Welch with David Rawlings were respectably entertaining, this segment rarely gives a jolt of energy to the show and also starts lagging the running time between speeches. It's extraordinarily rare for performances like Shallow from A Star Is Born to make everyone wait on the edge of their seat, and the chemistry as well as intimacy between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga will easily go down as one of the most memorable moments in Oscars history. More often than not, the music sequences are easy to overlook. Let's either do a montage of the Best Original Songs and get it over with in one go, or vacate this part of the ceremony to nominees in less recognized categories and give them the spotlight they deserve too.

Don't Cut The Thank You Speeches

Presenting all of the categories is a no-brainer to everyone but The Academy. In a surprising move this year, AMPAS initially planned on following the Tonys by cutting four categories from the live broadcast to splice them into a montage presented later in the evening. The pushback from moviegoers starting a #PresentAll24 movement and industry leaders' outrage forced The Academy to reverse another decision. Sometimes it's good to stick with tradition, however, keeping everybody on-air came at a cost of winners being forced off the stage. More than once throughout the evening, pairings or groups of winners were drowned out by music or the microphones cutting out. Not even the Best Picture winner for Green Book was safe. Emotions often catch up with winners, so it's no surprise if they take their time or try to remember who they want to shout-out. The ceremony could be more graceful with how they treat the winners during their rare moment of glory.

Be Creative

The biggest element this year’s Oscars got right was the actual presenter. Without a host, the actors joined in on having fun. Some went for a full-blown skit while others cut to the chase and delivered awards. The evening's mood wasn’t overly preachy or obnoxious, and felt like the guests were genuinely trying to make the best of not having a host. Perhaps it's by the grace of luck that past ceremonies have occasionally had good writers, but there are plenty actors who make the best with the limited amount of time they have. If the show decides to not have a host next year, which is my personal choice, the Academy could easily look to the brand of humor Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Maya Rudolph, or the creativity of Melissa McCarthy and Bryan Tyree Henry for ideas.

Think About The Future

One mistake is reasonable enough, but week after week of silly announcements and reverting decisions twisted the ceremony into a publicity stunt. In an attempt to blame low viewership on the long running time, every decision The Academy made caused a click-bait ruckus for nothing. And to the surprise of no one, there is no real correlation between a lack of viewers and if the show goes over three hours.

The Academy Awards has issues to deal with other than running time. For one, it's time to ensure that the members watch the films they are voting for so nominees win on merit. Also, instead of patting themselves on the back for diversity both behind and in front of the camera, or lack thereof, they could be more inclusive in their nominee selection. There were a record number of groundbreaking winners this year, and The Academy would be far better off opening their process up to the idea that popular flicks are just as good as their limited selection of auteur movies. It's mind-boggling that The Academy focused so much on what they could do to be in the news, they overlooked their own members and a film community's continual call for change. The AMPAS needs to figure out the future of their industry and where it's going. Because there's no point in applauding themselves for a lack of evolution and dangling a carrot in front of people who will never take the bait.

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