MCN Commentary & Analysis

The State of Oscar. 011119. The Fast & The Furious

People adjust.

People with multimillion budgets adjust easily.

The February 9 date of this year’s Oscars have led to whining beyond all whining. “People don’t have time to see all the movies!” “It’s all happening too quick!” “All the other shows are bunched up!”

And here is the issue for The Academy.

Who cares?

The Academy is not in the business of maintaining the Oscar Industrial Complex. It is not in the business of adding another 10% or so to the annual take of the trades. It is not there to make sure that 80something little known writers who work for obscure foreign outlets and are only as important as their show’s ratings on NBC are comfy.

People shout about wanting The Academy to be more representative of the slowly improving state of culture, yet somehow they are still deeply invested in the idea of awards for the previous year being given out two months after the end of the year and the world giving a damn.

You know how a show comes on TV these days and if you aren’t able to discuss it in that first two weeks or so, you feel left behind, perhaps even apologizing for being late to the party?

What is truly amazing is not that The Academy Awards rating numbers have slowly dropped over the last decade. What is amazing is that so many people still watch, year in and year out. The Emmys (10 million) and Grammys (20 million) bend over backwards to try to amuse potential viewers and they still can’t hold a ratings candle to Oscar. (Grammys had a moment… then regressed.)

Is there anything that can actually make Oscar grow, after all these years?

I have argued and will argue that pushing them earlier is the serious move on the table. (I am not committed to the results this year, as one year of changing it is not enough for it to make a real impression on the potential TV audience… this year, if it were to continue early, would by the year of experiment.)

This achieves two goals. First, it significantly lessens award fatigue. Yes, The Globes still exist. But the media attention paid to show after show after show is not going to feel the same when Oscar is just around the corner. Second, relevance.

Do your friends ask you what you’ve seen at the movies two months ago?

It is as likely as not that Monday morning’s Oscar nominations will feature two films (1917, Little Women) that opened theatrically in December and a third, The Two Popes, that hit theaters in late November — the last of this year’s Netflix entries to do so — and hit the service in mid-December.

So wah-wah-wah… tell me again how there are too many movies to see.

Here’s another simple fact. The Academy nominations voting started later this year, in the shorter season, than it used to. Part of that is that the move to all-online voting. But still, nomination voting started before Christmas before 2016.

Even in the categories that have special rules and schedules (Documentaries and International), complaining about the deadline is almost less legitimate, as the nominating process starts months earlier, the shortlist narrowed weeks before arriving at five nominees.

For people who don’t have enough time to see all the films in play… here is the reality. You are never likely to have enough time to see all the films in play. Three weeks more. Three weeks less. The difference may be a title or two… but the truth is, The Academy is an organization of hardworking people and time is precious. Yes. Absolutely. But there are a grand total of no movies that will Oscar nominated on Monday that have not been readily available to Academy voters for over a month. And there are, maybe, five or six titles amongst those seriously in play that have not been available for at least two months.

But let’s get back to the benefits of an early Oscars, as opposed to berating those who claim they can’t see the movies in time. (I know that I am in an unusual position, but I have seen every one of the Top 20 candidates for BP at this point at least twice and I’ve seen all but four of the International shortlist and Doc shortlist films, because of access issues.)

Why the rush? What are the likely benefits of an early date?

How we consume content has changed. There is enormous value placed on events that are live and offer immediacy that also capture the public imagination.

Why have The Grammys ratings faded since they hit their last peak in 2012? That year, Whitney Houston’s and Adele’s return to the stage took the show to an Oscar-competitive 39 million domestic viewers. Since, it has stabilized at about half of that, around 20 million viewers.

I would argue that, without an unexpected passing of a living legend, the show is just a concert, floating with no clear rhyme or reason. Why is it in February? Like Oscar, it is, in theory, a year-end show. But unlike Oscar, there isn’t really a sense of “Grammy season.” Music isn’t as seasonal as it once was. And the genius of making the Grammy show into a unique concert event has lost steam, as the number of moments that are meant to be special on the show have become greater than the number of moments that are truly memorable.

So why would a January/Early February date help Oscar?

  1. Even the late release movies have weeks in wide release would be of the moment. Some movies would be in their post-theatrical window. Others would be easily accessible by DVD or cable/satellite/streaming.
  2. While there is a structure to the season, an earlier date connects the celebration of the previous year’s movies to the previous years. What was America talking about more on the week of the the 2018 Oscars on March 4, 2018, Black Panther or The Shape of Water? Last year, the February movies were weak, but when did Green Book have its strongest weekend? January 25-27. And it was only the #6 film that weekend… and five other Best Picture nominees (#14, #15, #17, #19, #23) had over $900k that weekend. So would the week after that be the best time for Oscar movies to be on the minds of the public or a month later, when there were only two Best Picture films with as much as $900k that weekend, two more between $500k and $899k, and one more in release with $218k?
  3. The two main reasons why Oscars have been in late February is ABC’s preference, back when sweeps months were a thing, and because Oscar producers felt it took at least a month to produce a show after nominations. Sweeps still exist, although honestly, I can’t imagine why. But this year’s “early” Oscars are still in sweeps. And the idea that you need months to produce an award show has, in my view, changed dramatically as well. Look, they can’t even get the host situation straight and they have all year to put it together. But more so, there is enormous pressure to book talent for the show… and that pressure is the same whether it’s six weeks or eight weeks or four weeks. This is an industry of deadlines and Barbra Streisand is going to make up her mind or not when she wants… but she isn’t dumb and she understands there is a drop-dead date on all decisions. Weeks and weeks of rehearsing musical numbers that are going to be savaged by everyone are happily replaced by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper throwing it together themselves in a few rehearsals.
  4. Speed puts the other shows — the precursors — in proper perspective. Mostly. God bless the many groups, mostly not on TV, that give out year-end movie awards. For a long time, these awards have been seen as extensions of the Oscar season. A shorter season disrupts this notion and can inspire more individuality. People who are honored will still be honored and show up. And the industry would be better off with a wider variety of voices expressed by all these groups.
  5. The Oscar voting itself will be positively affected by a shorter window. Should the season be about marketing or the movies? It is a trick question because there can be no season short enough not to be influenced by marketing. But anything that pushes the work ahead of how it is sold is good by me… even if it costs me money personally, which it would. I am not against consultants and discussion and strategy. But the primary group that is truly feeling the pressure of a shorter window is the group that has to sell these films to the 8500+ members of The Academy. Their journey started last June and July (some longer) and every month they work is more money coming into their businesses. The field for Oscar is mostly set before October 15… including the films that won’t be shown until November or released until December. It’s not that complex. By mid-October, there are five-to-seven films still in play and they will all be seen by Thanksgiving. But even taking them into consideration, the group of titles with a serious shot is well under 20 by mid-October, no matter how many titles Oscar writers keep on their lists in the attempt to be generous and to expand the base of ad sales for their outlets. If we don’t like this fact, there are rules to be changed. But the date of the show is not really an issue when it comes to this.

Sorry, but the reality remains… if you haven’t seen Jojo Rabbit, you can’t blame the short season. If you haven’t seen 1917, you might be waiting to see it on a big screen — you should — but it’s not like the disc hasn’t been sitting in the pile for a month already. Same with Little Women. Unless you don’t have Netflix, The Two Popes has been sitting on your TV, waiting for you, since before Christmas.

You know what’s been hard to see? The Painted Bird. Unless your Academy stream is working, there is a very good chance that you haven’t seen the film. They had a lot of early screenings, but without discs going to International voters, it has been a challenge. But that is the exception that demonstrates the overall truth.

The Academy needs a three-year experiment in the early dating of the show. Before Super Bowl is even better. (Not sure if ABC will go for that.) But three shows in a row will give the industry and the audience a chance to find balance in the change. And if I am wrong, I will happily say so.

I don’t think that there is a future for Oscar where the viewership goes over 50 million again, except in some exceptional moment (or if Netflix measures the audience… mwahhaha). But maintaining or even building a little on the 40 million they linger near may be possible.

The irony is there are so many people in the industry who want/wanted to narrow the DVD window from theatrical because they didn’t want to have to sell the same movie a second time at great cost. So what do we cling to with Oscar? Waiting so long into the next year that ABC has to sell the world on watching a show honoring a bunch of movies that stopped spending on their own marketing weeks or months earlier outside of the Oscar markets. Make a choice!!!

Getting back to the beginning of this piece… everyone whines and everyone adjusts. This is an industry of resourceful, highly paid, brilliant salespeople. Maybe the short schedule would make a December release with awards intentions harder… maybe easier. Maybe it would make it easier for a film to front-run from September to January… maybe not.

But what I know is that there is never enough time… it is never easy… consequences are as often unexpected as expected… and that we were done talking about Game of Thrones by the end of the summer and Star Wars IX will pass $500 million in less than a month and we now live in a media culture — and Oscar is a media event — where waiting two months to do a show is arrogant and self-defeating.

Now… will the last Luddite ask Alexa to turn of the lights and lock the door?

23 Responses to “The State of Oscar. 011119. The Fast & The Furious”

  1. Bob Burns says:

    I like point #4. The guild awards have been diminished by becoming precursors. Also, if the guild awards are de-linked from the Oscars, the Oscars have a shot at becoming a mystery again. The Oscars aren’t really worth talking about anymore; we go look at the predictions, which are airless, claustrophobic.

  2. amblinman says:

    Today is why I gave up caring about the Oscars years ago. Maybe stop virtue signaling and display some actual goddam virtue.

    Joker and Hollywood aren’t great movies. The former is pretty terrible, the latter is perfectly okay but give me break. I can’t believe people are still all in on Tarantino.

  3. amblinman says:

    The director catagory. Jesus Christ guys. How many women got snubbed for Todd Phillips? How fucking insane are academy voters?

  4. Stella's Boy says:

    Wholeheartedly agree amblinman. Joker is downright terrible and I think OUATIH is mediocre at best. I saw so many movies that are much better than both. But yes it’s just a reminder to not invest in awards and not care about the Oscars. This year’s nominations are typical.

  5. Aaron says:

    OUATIH is #1 on MCN’s Gurus of Gold. Joker was a phenomenon and has been gobbling up nominations and awards since it’s release. The Academy’s view isn’t the outlier here.

  6. Stella's Boy says:

    And the Academy is boring. A long history of nominating overrated and undeserving movies. Just add them to the list.

  7. amblinman says:

    “OUATIH is #1 on MCN’s Gurus of Gold. Joker was a phenomenon and has been gobbling up nominations and awards since it’s release. The Academy’s view isn’t the outlier here.”

    The Acadamy always runs behind culturally and in terms of quality with its oscar noms. You’re right tho: this isn’t new, nor is it out of their norm.

  8. YancySkancy says:

    amblinman: The only woman director who had a snowball’s chance was Greta Gerwig, who did get a screenplay nomination. She had a chance because of a few things: previous nominations; major studio release and the promotion that comes with it; various “Oscar bait” elements (literary pedigree, period piece, high-profile cast full of previous nominees/winners). It’s very hard for independent films without similar advantages to get in the voters’ radar in a meaningful way. Precursor awards help, but I think one of the biggest stumbling blocks to diversity in the Oscars is the preferential ballot. Seems highly likely to me that Gerwig got a lot of votes for Best Director. Her film made it into Best Picture and, as I said before, she’s nominated for writing it, so it’s hard to say the Academy has some kind of animosity toward her. But if I understand the voting procedure correctly, if she were everyone’s fourth or fifth choice for Best Director, it wouldn’t give her a leg up on those who got more first- and second-place votes. These are subjective, secret ballots. So we can never know exactly what’s going on. But do we really think there are that many Oscar voters going “I liked Little Women more than Joker, 1917, Parasite, The Irishman and OUATIH, but I just can’t see including Gerwig on my ballot for Best Director”? Isn’t it far more likely that they simply considered Little Women a top 10 movie rather than a top 5, and voted accordingly (I’m assuming that the vast majority of voters pull their directing nominees from the upper reaches of their top 10 lists)? If Little Women was only your 8th favorite movie of the year, you might not give Gerwig one of your five director votes. Is that a “snub”? Would voting for her instead of the director of a film in your top 5 be “snubbing” that director?

    I do think some voters have an almost subconscious preference for stories they can relate to more because they’re white or male or both or whatever, but most years there is proof in the nominations that those voters can’t always carry the day. Does anyone really think Jennifer Lopez’s lack of a nomination this year is because she’s Latino? If so, how did Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira manage to get nominated last year? I loved Awkafina in The Farewell, but am I racist for putting at least five other performances ahead of her in the Best Actress category? Do I get any credit for having her in my top 10?

  9. amblinman says:

    ” so it’s hard to say the Academy has some kind of animosity toward her.”

    It’s not Greta Gerwig I think the academy has any animosity towards but rather her vagina.

    And no offense to you, Yancy, I’m not lumpin you in here but: I’m over having conversations in which it’s observable that there are biases but then folks work overtime trying to explain away those biases. “Oh, I believe sexism exists just not in this instance because…”

    And no, voting for non-white/women previously doesn’t change the calculus. We were told the same thing about Obama-Trump voters. We know that racism actually fueled their choice rather than not.

  10. movieman says:

    My overall takeaway from the Oscar nominations:

    I was happy Leo got nominated (too bad about DeNiro, though); sad that Gerwig didn’t receive a Best Director nod (although it might have made home life a tad uncomfortable since Baumbach wasn’t nominated either); glad godawful “Frozen 2” didn’t get cited for Best Animated Feature and “Klaus” did (the other Netflix ‘toon, “I Lost My Body,” was hugely overrated and didn’t deserve its nomination); think Robbie was recognized for the wrong performance (thought she was dreadful in “Bombshell”
    and fantastic in “Hollywood”); thought the two acting nods for “Two Popes” made Oscar 2019 look more like Oscar 1993; and was puzzled that “1917” didn’t earn a Best Editing citation (and disappointed that it wasn’t recognized for the performances of either MacKay or Chapman).

    Happy this whole shebang will be over and done on February 9th.

  11. Glamourboy says:

    Amblinman…so Once Upon A Time is mediocre and Joker is terrible (not according to most people and most critics..but ok)…its easy to just trash something. What or who deserved to be there instead? And are you really that big of a fan of Little Women? Personally, it bored me to tears. Gerwig gets away with a lot because of her ‘adorable’ personality…but I look at my stack of screeners and unlike most of the other BP nominees, it is a movie I can’t imagine ever wanting to see again.

  12. Glamourboy says:

    I’ve also never really understood all of the complaining about the Oscars….if you aren’t into them…don’t watch them, don’t write about them. I’m not into the Super Bowl and I don’t spend two minutes going on to sports boards and complain about which teams are playing…bad calls…anything. If you have given up on the Oscars then just shut the fuck up and write about something else. Its not like it used to be more inclusive…or even right about what was the best picture of the year.

  13. leahnz says:

    terry gilliam to host

  14. Amblinman says:

    ”I’ve also never really understood all of the complaining about the Oscars….if you aren’t into them…don’t watch them, don’t write about them. I’m not into the Super Bowl and I don’t spend two minutes going on to sports boards and complain about which teams are playing…bad calls…anything. If you have given up on the Oscars then just shut the fuck up and write about something else.”

    …like whining about people who think nominating movies like Joker make the Oscars trash.

  15. Amblinman says:

    Gerwig gets away with a lot due to an “adorable” personality? Maybe in her next life “Coked up Video Store Dickhead” will be available so morons like you can swoon for two decades.

  16. Stella's Boy says:

    If you don’t like something, just shut the fuck up about it and say nothing. That makes zero sense. Stop being such an asshole dude. If you like the Oscars just say so. Make your case. But telling people to shut up is very uncool. Don’t be like that.

  17. Glamourboy says:

    Amblinman….yes, nominating Joker, a film that received an eight minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival and won the Golden Lion Award….was listed by AFI as one of the top ten films of the year, was nominated for 11 Bafta Awards, has consistently been on critic’s top ten lists, made over a billion dollars world wide and caused a slew of social commentary….nominating that film makes the Oscars trash. Dude, every time you open your mouth you just prove my point. Maybe you don’t like the film yourself (you obviously don’t)…but to not even understand how well-liked this film is shows that you put your own personal bias over understanding what the Oscars are even about.

  18. Stella's Boy says:

    I read all those supposed accolades and shrug. You could say the exact same about a whole lot of mediocre, overrated movies. Nominating Joker seems par for the course for the Oscars. Business as usual.

  19. Glamourboy says:

    Stella’s Boy….so, your beef isn’t necessarily with the Oscars….but with the general positive critical assessment of the film….many people loved this movie, you didn’t. The Oscars are reflecting the general accolades that the film has received…it is not creating them. It is not like they gave Cats a BP nomination. They are in line with the popular opinion that Joker is a great film. So why blame the Oscars? You are saying it is par for the course that they nominate a film that was well-received by critics and the public? Also, remember, this is in the super hero genre…the number of nominated films was raised mostly because the Nolan Batman film didn’t receive a BP nomination. So how is this business as usual?

  20. Stella's Boy says:

    Come on Joker is hardly a superhero movie. It goes out of its way to not be a superhero movie. It strains to be serious and important and not a superhero movie. And I think a whole lot of people dislike Joker. I also don’t put too much stock in critical reception or Oscars. I am not at all surprised Joker received as many nominations as it did. Would have been more surprised if it hadn’t been nominated. It’s not so much that I blame the Oscars as I just generally dislike them. That seems to be a pretty common and uncontroversial take. It can be fun to argue about them and I love movies so it’s hard to avoid them entirely and have no opinion whatsoever about them. But I don’t lose much sleep over them either. You are being so aggro and unpleasant here. Simmer down a bit man.

  21. Glamourboy says:

    Stella’s Boy…honestly, if you dislike the Oscars, why spend so much time discussing/trashing them? Trashing something that you don’t like for being exactly what it has always been just makes no sense to me at all. I also think that one billion dollars worldwide is a pretty good indicator that Joker has a lot of fans. Once the Oscars got roasted for nominating films that no one saw…now you’re complaining because it nominated a popular film that most people liked a lot, other than you. It would be like me going onto a discussion about the Spirit Awards if I didn’t like indie films and say….’well, they nominated a bunch of small art house films…business as usual.’ Just makes no sense.

  22. amblinman says:

    “Come on Joker is hardly a superhero movie.”

    It’s barely a movie. What’s hilarious is it’s taken “seriously” because it apes much better Scorsese movies, meanwhile the movie is never worse than when it’s pretending it’s Taxi Driver.

    Glamour: Yes, most people who “get” the oscars understand that they inherently prove a film’s quality. Your argument is sound, and as such I think it should forever serve as the last word on Joker from *anyone*. 😉

  23. Glamourboy says:

    Yes, amblinman, Joker must be trash because even through it was a huge critical and box office success…you continually pound your opinion about it here. So you must be right. Everyone has clearly lost their mind and we must follow you, the final word on movies. So now that we’ve established that…let’s talk about the movie that you made this year. Let’s talk about the risk that you took. It’s fairly easy to come on here and just trash films…so let’s talk about your artistic contributions.

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