Everyone has a line from a movie or TV show that they always repeat, despite no one around them getting the reference, right? For me, it’s a statement by a young Timothy Olyphant, whose wood was not yet dead, in the quasi-cult-classic film Go. Olyphant explains to a young Katie Holmes, who had yet to Cruise a Tom, why he is compelled to tear the Family Circus out of the cartoon section of the newspaper. “I hate it, yet I’m uncontrollably drawn to it,” the future Raylan Givens says.
Forgive the long preamble, but does that not perfectly explain our collective relationship with the Academy Awards? We could, as Holmes suggests in that scene, just ignore the Oscars. We have no problem doing that with the Golden Globes. Despite protestations otherwise, we do (by and large) care about this other stupid, frustrating, nearly-always-wrong, self-celebrating nonsense.
Instead of pretending we don’t, here are five simple ways to fix both the ceremony itself and the quality of the awards doled out. I’m not saying the Academy has to listen to me, but to paraphrase a Matthew McConaughey who had yet to all right his all rights, “It’d be a lot cooler if they did.”
Step 1: Quota Pounders
The first problem is the Oscars already has its very own branded hashtag. April Reign introduced #OscarsSoWhite six years ago, before President Obama’s racism-ending tenure was even up. At that time, the Academy membership was 92% white and 75% male. That’s a far cry from the 84% white and 68% male it is now. Of course, by “far cry,” I mean that minor shift should make everyone weep in frustration.
Not that any other event has stormed the capitol of our minds, but it’s pretty obvious that white dudes kinda have a thing about surrendering positions of power. Unless the Academy actually does follow through on banning every Harvey, Donald and Joss who deserves a booting, the bulk of folks voting on nominations are still going to reward folks who look like themselves.
So make a new rule that says if all nominees are white men, the highest vote-receiving non-white man gets the nod over the lowest of the five vote-receiving white men. Don’t like it? Tough. If you weren’t racist, quotas would only be how Ben Affleck pronounces “quoters.” The rule can be written to specify that all the candidates can’t be from one race or the same chosen gender, depending on the category. We’d never have to know whether the rule kicked in or not, as Hollywood is pretty fantastic about keeping secrets.
Is this ideal? No. Is this the best way to guarantee the bare minimum amount of diversity? Short of Hollywood suddenly being filled with better people, yes.
Step 2: Stunt Some Growth
The second problem with the Oscars everyone points to bothers me slightly less. Complaints that “popular movies don’t win awards” are silly because those movies win the only awards that matter in this country: monies! Still, if you want people to care if something wins, they have to either really love or really hate the things nominated, am I right American electorate?
Instead of “Best Popular Movie” or whatever nonsense token award was going to be used to bait normies into watching rich Hollywoodians metaphorically French kiss each other for four hours, add some long overdue categories that people would love: Best Stunt Work, Best Comedy and Best Comedic Performance. That last one should not be split into gender-based subcategories but follow the rule from that suggestion above (meaning it can’t be five folks of the same gender/race).
Not only would this capture more popular films, these absolutely should have been awards already since forever. Inviting more funny people to be in your ceremony is just smart, and comedy is harder than drama. Don’t believe me, imagine Jared Leto trying to make you laugh on purpose. Stunts have long been an art form that people have literally died doing to further the field. To my knowledge, the Academy has yet to lose a costume designer in a tragic hemming accident. These categories fix the popularity problem, and they represent doing the right thing, which is probably why they haven’t gotten awards yet, right Spike Lee?
Step 3: Murder the Montages
Now that we’ve fixed the diversity and popularity issues in just two steps, let’s solve the ceremony’s issues with the next two. First up, kill the montages. At least two or three times during every Oscars broadcast, they roll out a long series of film clips about some random theme. I don’t know what brainiac watched YouTube once and thought “supercuts” were the key to the Academy’s salvation, but stop it. Don’t. Don’t do this anymore. It’s dumb and bad.
While we’re at it, murder everything that doesn’t work. Hire a director who is talented enough to read the room (and Twitter) when a winner is speaking. If they suck, wrap ‘em up, Maestro. If they are killing it, have the conductor bury that baton. It’s less about the weight of the award and more about the flow of the show, ya dig? We’ve seen rambling Best Actor acceptance speeches that deserved to be shorter than that winner’s on-set patience. We’ve seen funny, moving reflections cut short because someone pre-decided that nothing the Best Live-Action Short Film winner says could possibly be cool.
Ultimately, it’s not about trying to make the ceremony shorter. People love to bitch about how long it takes, but nobody would be complaining if they were having a good time. Just like the movies they celebrate, a shitty film can be 90 minutes and feel like the director’s cut of Das Boot. A good one can be four hours and feel like the director’s cut of Das Boot. Sorry, I liked the director’s cut of Das Boot. The point is, ignore the clock-watching and start trimming the stuff that’s lame and giving more time to what isn’t. Speaking of what isn’t…
Step 4: Make a Spectacle
The big problem with the ceremony is that you can really get the same general effect by being disappointed while reading the list of winners the next day. Not having a host at all is so dumb that I’m confident someone in the 84%/64% came up with it. Find someone funny, smart and talented and let them actually do entertaining shit.
Don’t just have famous people read typical award show patter. Put them in interesting, unusual positions. Have them sing. Have them do sketches. Something, anything, that actually uses the talent that is getting more wasted than the talent will be immediately after the show.
Instead of that boring thing where someone super famous comes out and reads a boring synopsis of the Best Picture nominee, have folks not already in the cast act out a scene. When the Best Stunt Work category is added, have stunt people do something on stage. Look, I shouldn’t have to come up with all these ideas. I’m a local film critic in Omaha, Nebraska. You have access to people so creative that they don’t have to have other jobs to supplement the job where they get to be creative.
The point is, stop thinking of the show as being about what gets awarded. That is important, but we can get that information on the Internet or via a newspaper with the Family Circus removed from it. See how I tied it back in there. Maybe the Academy should call me…
Step 5: Actually Do the Work
Now that the ceremony and nominees are fixed, here’s a solution for the Oscars as a whole. And I’m going to take off my flippant, sarcastic hat and put on my serious, no jokesies hat. I have and will continue to argue for the Academy’s potential. Film is the dominant artistic medium of this era. Imagine an organization that takes that responsibility seriously. Imagine a group that fights for underheard voices, that celebrates new artists, that spreads the gospel of cinema all year round.
I am aware that the Academy has events and outreach. Can you name what those are? I can’t without looking them up. The biggest and best way to improve the awards that they give out is to make the Academy itself something more noble and commendable than it currently is. I joked earlier about kicking out abusive monsters, but why not make members adhere to a high moral standard? Why not find a way to screen movies for underprivileged communities? Why not stage high-profile events for the winning films after the awards are over?
If these things are currently being done, it isn’t on a level that rises to national attention or structured enough to make a difference. If the first four suggestions are simple steps, this final one is an overall call to arms. Get angry that “The Academy” is said in a derisive, mocking way. Become the champions for this special, important form of art that it deserves.
If you need more details, have one of your people get a hold of my people. And by “your people” I mean a famous movie director like Taika Waititi or performer like Tatiana Maslany, and by “my people,” I mean me. You’re welcome in advance.