Random Thoughts On The Difficulty Of The Oscars

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 13.266% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

1)  We had seven guests for our Oscar party last night.  There were nine films up for Best Picture.
Not a one of the guests had seen one of the Best Picture nominees.
That’s a problem, because why the hell would you watch the Oscars when you don’t care?  Now, clearly people do – seven folks showed up – but that’s like the Superbowl in that there’s such a big social event that it barely matters who’s on the field.
But the Oscars know that ratings rise when people have seen the films (the year when Avatar was up for it was a big spike), and drop when it’s unexciting.  That’s why they doubled the number of nominees, one suspects, to give people more of a shot.
Yet Oscar is still Oscar, and likes dreary depressing movies.  (12 Years A Slave is a very Large and Important Film that provides a history lesson, but it’s also precisely the opposite of fun.)  Oscar doesn’t like action films, or comedies, which means what you get left are a lot of dramas.  And dramas are increasingly moving to TV.
(Though we did get a bumper crop of pretty awesome and humorous dramas this year in the form of American Hustle, Wolf of Wall Street, and Captain Phillips – which one suspects accounts for the decent ratings this year.  My guests didn’t watch it, but with four $100 million+ box office blockbusters in the mix, it wasn’t as bad as the year where The Artist was the frontrunner.)
So what’s that mean for the Academy Awards?  Tough choice.  You can’t just start saying, “Oh, the Avengers!” without really sapping the dignity of the Oscars, but considering the Oscars harp on an increasingly-smaller piece of the movie pie – dramas aimed at grown-ups – then less and less people will be invested as time goes on.  People have no one to root for but the dresses.  And those are dresses worn by actors and actresses who largely appeal to older people.
Like I said.  Tough gig.
2)  Ellen Degeneres was a perfectly safe host who played it perfectly safe.  You knew what you were going to get with Ellen Degeneres.  She is keyed to offend nobody.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I find it hard to get really keyed up about Ellen.  She goofs around, makes a couple of good shots, and I kind of forget she’s the host.  And again, some people are going to be all “Oh, I love Ellen!” and that’s great, she’s lovable, but as an Oscar host Ellen is pretty dispensable.
Maybe that’s what you want, really: a host who just shoves the people on-stage as quickly as possible and gets the hell off.  But again, that makes it harder to get people invested in the Oscars, because you’re basically saying, “The host doesn’t matter.  The films do.”  And, as previously noted, the films are increasingly less exciting.  So what’s anchoring the Oscars?
My Twitter feed hated hated hated Seth McFarlane last year, but the ratings spiked in a relatively low-key year.  He got a lot of buzz, and the Oscars did what they inevitably do after a controversial host, which is to go back to an oldie like Billy Crystal (groan) or Ellen Degeneres.  Which just gets back to the eternal problem of the Oscars being increasingly irrelevant for the coverted 18-34 demographic, and say what you will about Seth McFarlane, that Family Guy audience tuned in.  They generally don’t watch Oscars.
What percentage of them stayed?  Who knows?  This year’s decent (though not blockbuster) Oscar ratings could be explained by a) a decent amount of blockbusters on the Best Picture block, b) Ellen Degeneres being more popular as an Oscar host than I thought, c) Seth McFarlane revitalizing the format to some small extent, or d) Reply Hazy, Try Again Later.
Yet that’s your problem.  The films the Oscars champions are dwindling, going to more long-term positions on television.  The hosts can’t be too controversial or they’ll piss people off, but if they’re lame then people get bored (*cough* James Franco *cough*) or don’t get excited.  The host is a pretty thankless task, and I’m not even certain they could make a difference, since if they make the kinds of jokes that are really honestly funny, then they’re actually shitting on the people who came to get awards.  I thought Chris Rock and Ricky Gervais were great entertainment as hosts (Gervais at the Golden Globes), but they did that by reminding the audience what shallow jerks they were – and while that’s funny to me, I get how it’s inappropriate to take someone who’s gotten their lifetime achievement and yank their pants down around their ankles at the same time.
So can you have an interesting hosts?  Billy Crystal’s about as good as it gets.  And I’m not really a fan of his cornpone, but people seem to like it.
3)  Matthew McConaughey?  Best Oscar speech ever.  Yeah, he creeped people out by talking about God; as a Christian, I say good for him.  And I loved his enthusiasm and articulate nature as he discussed his philosophy.  That wasn’t an Oscar speech, which is usually a mumbled list of names through tears, it was a speech.  And go him.
(Also, he totally deserved that win, even as I felt bad; in any other year, Chiwetel could have gotten it, as his performance was also sterling.)

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