MCN Commentary & Analysis

The State of Oscar. 012920. Rebuilding The Oscar Season (Pt 1)

One of the great movie experiences I had in 2019 was Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut. Francis Coppola did a recut of the film, after the original, the Redux, and however many TV and airplane cuts, and you could see in the film that he had opened to the door to changing every single moment of the film. It wasn’t just the ending that had changed so many times. It wasn’t The French Section demanding to be seen after having been completely disappeared. In this cut, Coppola wasn’t fixing anything. He took what he shot and the work of all the great people who had touched the film over the years and reconsidered every scene and the overall concept of the film down to the core.

After a shorter Oscar season, which still seems too long to many who are living in it — as opposed to working it — and the re-expansion back to late February due next year, it seems to me that this is the moment to take a look at the whole thing from a distance.

How would you build Oscar season today, if every option (other than disappearing some shows or events) was available?

Here is how I would do it. I suspect there will be a Part 2 of this column after smart people offer their opinion on my opinion. I believe deeply in the inevitability of unexpected consequences, so I am open to arguments that anything I suggest here will have problems I just haven’t considered. But if one wants to make an argument for change, you have to start…

The pieces with a significant public profile now are The Critics Awards (NYFCC, LAFCA, BFCA/CCA), The Group Awards (NBR, Gotham, Hollywood Film Awards, Independent Spirit Awards), The Guild Awards (SAG, PGA, DGA, WGA, etc), HFPA/Golden Globes, and AMPAS/Oscar. Only five of these awards – and apologies to all the groups that feel they should be on this list – are on television. Globes, CCAs, SAG, Indie Spirits, and Oscar. Three of them expect to air on a Sunday night. Also, the close of Oscar nom voting and the nominations are TV events.

So let’s start with these biggest footprints. And think about how football does it. Divisional Playoffs, Conference Playoff, Super Bowl.

This short season, it was Globes on January 5, Oscar noms close on the 7th, Critics Choice on the 12th, Oscar noms announced on the 13th, SAG on the 19th, Oscar voting January 30 – February 4, Oscars on February 7.

So what would be wrong with…
January 10, 2021: The Golden Globes
January 17, 2021: Critics Choice
January 24, 2021: SAG Awards
January 31, 2021: The Oscars

My answer is, “Nothing.”

In fact, I see this as the best possible future for The Oscars.

Why?

It’s 2020, dummy.

But it’s more than that, really. It’s about how people consume this stuff.

I hate the idea that people think – and media promotes the idea – that these are like sports playoffs and that we have precursors that lead to Oscar night. But I can’t fight the reality that this will never change. Oscar cannot control the other shows and they are all feeding off of the teat of Big Gold, so they will always find a way to position themselves as precursors.

So if that is the fact, take best advantage of the fact. In 22 days in the first month of the year, the best films released in the previous year will be embraced and awarded.

What are the arguments against this?

#1 – Not enough time to see the movies.

This is the oldest saw in the quiver of Oscar saws. “But how can they see all these movies?!?!”

The answer in future will be the same as it is today, which is the same as it has been since the mainstreaming of Oscar screeners. They won’t. They don’t.

Add another two months and the answer remains the same.

Now stop. And think. Of course, a tiny percentage of Academy members see a large percentage of the movies submitted to qualify (and I am not yet addressing the categories defined by committees). A small percentage see as many as 125 movies a year. The percentage of voters seeing movies gets larger as one narrows the overall number and more so again as one narrows it down to the films that are “seriously competing.”

By October 15 of any Oscar season, the field (again, not in the committee categories) is realistically down to 30 or fewer movies and honestly, down to about 20 movies, max. There are, usually, about 10 more movies due to come out that are expected to be in play on a significant level. Half of those will die within hours of being shown publicly for the first time.

So here is the demand on Oscar voters… 25 films, max, to view over 2.5 months. Two or three a week.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. By the time the period after the nominations is reached, voters have seen most of the movies that have been nominated. And in terms of the ones they have not, they may have some films to see… but not so many that they need two months to catch up. If that is the case, then they likely voted for nominations having not seen most of the movies that were nominated, which is possible for a few, but unlikely to be the norm.

How we get to January and how The Academy and/or film writers and/or film lovers and/or distributors choose to position films is a legitimate concern. But there is no real way of controlling that process. (I have a somewhat radical suggestion about spreading things out more effectively over the year, but that will have to wait for another column.)

There is a hard reality we all have to come to peace with… not every Academy voter is committed to seeing all or most of the movies that will end up comprising the Oscar nominees. But those who are so committed should not be overly encumbered. But they are. If anything, it seems that not a wide enough range of movies is seen by voters who will nominate. There are many voices about which films these are. But I would go beyond any group of under-appreciated potential nominees and suggest that there are films that are deserving from every kind and combination of filmmakers that gets overlooked every year.

The problem is that if we over-complicate the Academy process, it creates a whole different set of problems. For every problem that is solved, a few that are imagined and a few that won’t be anticipated will be created.

But back to the schedule… Imagine coming back from the holiday break and into the new year and in 21 days, you will know what is seen as The Best Movie of the Year according to the most legitimate group currently perceived (for all its flaws).

January 7… Oscar nominations are announced. January 10, The Golden Globes. What will happen with those voters in a new, slimmed down, smartened up Critics Choice Awards next Sunday? Great. SAG is next week. Will they be influences by The Globes or the CCAs? I don’t know. But now we are one week away from the biggest award in the world. You have seen all these actors and other talent asserting their success for weeks… and here comes Oscar night. Tight, smart, light and about movies. And when it’s over, you can rest and get ready to eat chicken wings and Cheetos because The Super Bowl is next weekend!

Do the three other televised shows want to change positions for whatever goals each is after? Great! Doesn’t matter much to Oscar. They are steps on the road. But all roads lead to Oscar.

Back to the issue of “It’s not enough time!!!”

Last year, Oscar was on February 24, 15 days earlier than last year (which was a more traditional date). So when was The Globes last year? January 6. When were the CCAs? January 13. Both one day later on the calendar than this year.

SAG waited until January 27 last year. Worst ratings ever. This year, though Oscar is more than two weeks earlier, SAG went one week earlier with SAG.

Yes, all the other stuff that is important in town, but not so much to the public, got squished together this month.

Everyone can adjust as they need or wish. With all due respect, this is not a piece about all of those wonderful awards (seriously wonderful peer awards). Oscar is king. Oscar should act like king.

Oscar nomination voting was one week or less earlier this year than in the last few years, opening of voting and closing. So the complaining that this season is soooooo much shorter is not really factual. Phase One is a little shorter, a week or less. Phase Two is much shorter. Two to three weeks.

But the award season goes on for at least four months now, starting in September. It’s always hectic. It is overloaded with events. It gets to be less and less about movies every year.

We are in the 2020s now. The time from TMZ’s report of Kobe’s helicopter crash to mainstream media confirming was an agonizing 25 minutes. Seemed like two hours. And even if it was two hours… that is where we are now.

Get on with it, Oscar!

(I am planning at least one more piece on seeking inclusion and a radical way of spreading out the awards season to make things more fair.)

9 Responses to “The State of Oscar. 012920. Rebuilding The Oscar Season (Pt 1)”

  1. Douglas Pratt says:

    A closer parallel would be the NCAAF playoffs, which are not quite as precise and therefore have the kind of wiggle room of opinion shifting that this would need to work

  2. Monco says:

    This makes too much sense. The show simply needs to take place in the week off between conference championships and the Super Bowl. Football-movies-football. Perfect. All the better if it pushes out these other awards that do nothing but ruin the Oscars by letting you know who’s gonna win.

  3. Bob Burns says:

    I would like to see an awards channel with presentation ceremonies every Sunday night. We could have seasons, like sports, for different popular art forms (music, movies, TV, interactive, viral internet, etc)) Add awards for genres underserved by the Oscars (action, comedy, fantasy, etc) and lift up existing awards that do not get enough attention (critics awards).

    Celebrities are as common as litter, now. There would be plenty of pretty people to applaud for the winners. We could have awards for the best acceptance speeches.

  4. Glamourboy says:

    For me, the biggest problem (and one that you’ve mentioned) is that by the time the Oscars roll by, the winners are a foregone conclusion, leading to a very anticlimactic show. No matter how early you put the Oscar date to, the other awards will hover around. And the results are the same because the voters are pretty much the same…so how about something very radical….instead of Oscar members voting for the awards (and again, let’s face it, if you vote for the DGA you may very likely be voting for the Oscars too)….make a committee…much like the ones they have for the jury at Cannes each year…made up of big filmmakers…the Oscar votes get to nominate…but the jury panel chooses the winner. I bet there would be very different outcomes and it would have a completely different vibe. That is my best idea for fixing the problem.

    Something else the Oscars can do that no one else could do….go back to the archives and each Oscar year, pick an Oscar year from the past and reveal who came in second place…who came thiiiis close to winning that particular year. That brings another level of interest and suspense. Doesn’t rob the #1 winner of that year any dignity…but creates an entirely new ballgame.

  5. palmtree says:

    I honestly don’t understand why the winners can’t be determined from the nomination stage. In other words, whoever gets the most votes for a nomination becomes the winner. The idea that you’d vote on nominations and then vote separately on the winner just invites a lot of campaigning and money spends that are just unnecessary. If everyone at the Academy believes a movie should be nominated, isn’t there a high probability they also just think it’s the best picture? Hell, they could keep the ranking voting system (obviously it would need work very differently), but the idea that you’d elongate the vote into two separate votes is a redundancy that could be looked at.

  6. YancySkancy says:

    palmtree: I think I like that idea. Announce nominations but not vote totals. No campaigning necessary after the nominations. No need to wait weeks after the nominations for the ceremony, though there’d have to be some between period for planning the festivities. I suppose the voters might bitch about not having that time to catch up on nominees, but they should be caught up (on the principal contenders) during the nomination stage anyway, for the nominations to mean anything.

  7. cadavra says:

    Glamourboy is correct. It doesn’t matter WHEN the Oscars are handed out; by the time they are, all those other victories have rendered the show anti-climactic. And since you can’t really silence all those other results, the Oscars are, for lack of a better word, doomed to be an also-ran.

    They could, however, improve things by increasing the number of nominees in the acting categories (to, say, 7 for leads and 8 for supporting), and leveling Picture and Director to the same number, to help alleviate all that “movie directed itself” nonsense.

  8. Alexandre says:

    i agree with cadavra… an obvious change that should happen is the number of nominees: so many movies, so much controversy over excessive whiteness, and only FIVE nominees in each category other than Picture???

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