It’s no secret that the ceremony itself followed an unsettling trajectory. Oscar broadcast ratings have dropped 70% over the past five years. A string of high-profile fouls have undermined the glittering facade the Oscars are supposed to present. And worst of all, the voters of these awards continue to make decisions that seem to undermine their reputation as arbiters of taste.
To a certain extent, it is not the fault of the voters. Ratings have fallen around the same time as the average box office count of Best Picture nominees, as noted by entertainment journalist Richard Rushfield in his newsletter, The Ankler., last week. .
The rise of superhero films and mega-franchises such as the “Fast & Furious” series has put pressure on the types of original blockbusters such as “Titanic” or more recently “The Martian”, which once competed for the best movie. The industry’s growing reliance on foreign box office has eliminated much of what was once distinctive in American films. And the covid-19 pandemic has kept the target audience for Oscar films out of theaters. Best Picture nominees such as “King Richard” and “West Side Story” are both accessible and very good. But since no one went to see them, there’s no rooting in the constituency for these movies to win big on Oscar night.
As a result, the Academy cannot win either. Anointing Best Picture winners such as “Crash” and “Green Book” have called the Academy alumni. When they recognized movies like “Moonlight” and “Parasite,” they were accused of ignoring what audiences love in favor of their own esoteric preferences. Giving Best Picture honors to a Marvel movie would all but guarantee claims that the Academy sold out Big Superhero.
Yet while reversing the ceremony’s decline may seem daunting, the Oscars are one of the few forces keeping alive a certain kind of small-scale, but rich in ideas and artistic detail, film. It would be a shame to see the Oscars set themselves on fire and bring down non-superhero movies with them. The Academy’s role in the film industry ecosystem is less about ensuring the success of a few movies and more about helping more of them get made.
For starters, viewership for a Netflix film such as “Mank” can reach 702% after a Best Picture nomination, according to the service’s proprietary metrics – although 702% of that isn’t exactly clear. More broadly and more importantly, the Oscars define a genre that includes everything from sober adaptations of classic sci-fi novels to micro-budget independent films on the fringes of America’s gig economy. Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon now consider “Oscar movies” as a genre viewers expect to find on their platforms, alongside reality shows, epic fantasy dramas and blockbusters. The Arms Race in streaming has been a grant to Oscar films. But those special good times may not last forever.
The Academy struggled to find a solution, ping-ponging between an expanded pool of best films, a quickly scrapped proposal for a “best popular film” and this year’s “fan favourite” that will be surely annoying. prize awarded via Twitter.
A more elegant answer might just be a new mindset. Rather than trying to inject youth or stand out through host choice, the Academy should choose someone who can keep the focus on the eventual winners. Enough effort to design viral moments. Do not to say the public why they should go to the movies when the implied answer is “because a lot of rich celebrities want to”; remind them what cinema was like before.
Above all, voters should not behave as if honoring popular films is a compromise or even an outright defeat. If the Oscars were to recognize a wider range of films, not out of desperation or a reluctant nod to popularity, but simply because there’s grandeur everywhere, the ceremony could spark new interest. And if moviegoers start to trust the tastes of Oscar voters again, they might be more inclined to try out some of the darker or darker films that get deserved recognition at the ceremony each year.
The family drama of Disney’s delightful animated film “Encanto” couldn’t be more different from that of Jane Campion’s grim Best Picture nominee “The Power of the Dog,” but it’s still heartwarming. It’s possible to feel the dominance of superhero movies and still be thrilled to see Tony Leung elevate the genre simply with the elegance of his presence in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”
Too often, the Oscars feel less like a celebration of the movies than the cinematic equivalent of a prep colony warding off the day that American culture will enter terminal decline. It is a mistake. If cinema is truly what unites us, the Oscars should put the people who make films and those who watch them on the same team.