Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Re: Oscar's Haters

It has now become a seasonal tradition for a slew of Monday Morning Quarterbacks (usually newspaper columnists who have no business covering the film industry) to begin second-guessing the broadcast decisions and deride the quality of the Oscar telecast mere hours after its completion. This year is no different, save one small fact: this year's show was great.

I have talked at great length about the strengths of this year's Oscars--I will not beat that dead horse. Now is time to dissect what has become a blind repetition of negativity aimed towards Hollywood's biggest night.

Of the journalistic critics, I must say that the majority of the reporting has been shallow at best, idiotic at worst. It it symptomatic of the same disease that makes journos continually use Lindsay Lohan, Will Smith, Tom Cruise, or Jennifer Aniston as punching bags--it has become standard operating procedure to lambast the Oscar ceremony each year, and so that is what happens. The comments most are making ultimately mean nothing, because while Condon and Mark brought something new to the table this year, most fierce critics of the telecast have not. Most offensive of them all is Richard Roeper, longtime Chicago Sun-Times columnist and former Ebert & Roeper co-host and Hollywood conspiracy theorist, who wrote a somewhat smug piece yesterday that lauded the accuracy of his prognositcations and derided the ceremony. This line in particular made me cringe: "Until/unless they cut the ceremony to two hours and eliminate the broadcast of the "minor" categories, the numbers will continue to go down."

Um, no. I've already had to put up with two years in a row of a severely-trimmed version of the Indie Spirits on AMC on Oscar Eve (I keep telling K that we need to re-up for IFC) purposely truncates the fabulous speeches, it demands an awkwardly-edited program, and yes--very importantly--it limits the number of categories home viewers get a chance to see (for instance, last year AMC failed to broadcast the Best Documentary award at the Spirits, where two of my film mentors were nominated. I didn't even get to see them lose). So...eliminate the broadcasting of "minor categories"? Simply make the Oscar telecast a quick, business-like show that only further aggrandizes the celebrities we see every day? And therefore tear down what is supposed to a celebration of filmmaking--that most collaborative of art forms--by relegating "minor" categories as not worthy of being celebrated? A true film lover would never posit such a theory.

The Oscars will not, cannot be completed in three hours, let alone two. Sunday's was one of the most brisk Oscar shows in recent years, and it still clocked in at about three-and-a-half hours. That is just how it will always be. What matters is that the producers took care to see that the show did move faster, but also that what we saw was interesting and entertaining to sustain a long ceremony. Make the show move as briskly as possible, but film lovers will never stand for a hacked-up Oscars. Neither will the majority of the viewing public--who, according to early numbers, have put this year's ceremony up by 6 percentage points from last year, one of the higher numbers of the decade. So much for Roeper's notion of "numbers will continue to go down."

This is the bottom line: boring presentation plus boring nominees plus out-of-his-element host will equal a ratings drop. New, more appropriate presentation plus exciting nominees plus Best Host in Years will make for a strong showing. It is, without fail, about the movies. And this year featured some great ones--Slumdog in particular is a lightning rod that people want to get behind--that were featured in a telecast where they were given just respect. The Oscars became a celebration of movies once again on Sunday.

If any of the journalists currently throwing eggs at Oscar's front door actually started to care about celebrating movies themselves, maybe they would see things differently. Until they do, however, while the ratings may rise, the level of discourse will keep on sliding.

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