Hollywood and the Oscar Dilemma (Re-Post)

The Oscars

(The Academy Awards are threatening again.  Every couple years I devote a post to this subject.  But since I rarely watch new movies anymore, and have sworn off most awards ceremonies, I’m recycling this essay from two years ago.  Most of it, I think, is still relevant.)

Last Sunday occurred the 87th Academy Awards, or “The Oscars.” According to television’s Nielsen ratings, it was the 5th lowest rated Oscars telecast since ratings began in 1974. Some people blame the lackluster collection of nominees. Others blame Neil Patrick Harris, whose new career is hosting awards shows. Maybe it was the flat comedy sketches, or the abundance of musical numbers.

The awards ceremony was controversial even before it happened. Film critics and others seemed almost feverish in digging into their pockets for their race and gender cards. I’m not sure why. Seems to me Hollywood is typically ahead of the rest of the country in matters of diversity. And the awards aren’t supposed to be about political correctness, anyway, but rather quality.

But that topic is for a whole ‘nother article, so I’ll fold my cards.

 The (Academy Award) ceremonies are a meat parade, a public display with contrived suspense for economic reasons” – George C. Scott, who declined his Best Actor award for “Patton” in 1971

There are numerous award ceremonies devoted to the art of cinema: industry awards, audience awards, critics’ choices, and festival presentations. They stretch worldwide, popping up in countries as Hollywood liberal as Pakistan, Lebanon, and Iran. They range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Being an unabashed critic of everything, one of my favorite cinema awards presentations is the Golden Raspberry Awards, popularly known as the “Razzies.” These awards are presented the day before the Oscars, and they honor the worst films of the year, as voted by 650 journalists, industry bigwigs, and film nuts. This year’s big Razzie winners were the film “Saving Christmas,” and actors Kirk Cameron (“Saving Christmas”) and Cameron Diaz, a double winner (!) for “The Other Woman” and “Sex Tape.” Congratulations on your bad work, Cameron! And to you, too, Cameron!

The Razzie Award, honoring the worst in Hollywood

And in researching this essay, I learned there’s even an awards ceremony for adult movies: the X-Rated Critics Organization (XRCO) hands out an annual “Heart-On Award.” But, of course, I wouldn’t know about XRCO or their award.

But let’s stick with the granddaddy of them all: the Oscars. Why have they lost so much appeal? I’ll offer three reasons:

1. They’ve become too political. I’m not talking about Left vs. Right here, although there is a hefty amount of PC (see above).  No, I’m referring to campaigning and back scratching.  Today, it’s about who you can schmooze in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Studios, producers, directors, and actors start campaigning for nomination even before their films are wrapped. So one not only has to do good work, one also has to market just how good you were. In 2004 the ceremonies were bumped from late March and early April to February. Why? In part, to shorten the film ad campaign and lobbying season! Movie buffs are becoming increasingly hip to the gratuitous politics of Hollywood, and it disgusts them almost as much as Washington D.C.

2. The glamour has waned. There’s still a lot of glitz (the silly red carpet thing is getting as big as the awards themselves). But it’s all prefabricated, and there’s no more “Wow.” I think much of this has to do with the proliferation of leisure technology. Netflix, YouTube, DVDs, I-Pads, smartphones, etc. have given the average film buff easy, unlimited access, anywhere and anytime. This has removed a lot of the mystique and intrigue from our film heroes. We used to have movie “stars.” Actors like Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda, Marlon Brando, Katherine Hepburn, Judy Garland, Bette Davis, Vanessa Redgrave… they were not only masters of their craft, they were also gods and goddesses. It was because we didn’t see them everywhere. If we wanted to bask in their glow, we attended a theater to watch them on the “silver screen.” Nowadays, ticket prices preclude going to the theater, and the actors are no longer exalted stars. They’re little blotches of marketed pixels that pop up at the click of a computer mouse or the TV remote. It’s no coincidence that this year’s Best Supporting Actor, J.K. Simmons, is best known for an insurance commercial.

red carpet

Red carpet ceremony

3. The quality has deteriorated. I know, you’re probably thinking “There he goes again, living in the past.” Actually, I don’t live there, I’m just able to cast a wider net due to my age, and the range of films I’ve been lucky and able to see. And I really believe that the major motion pictures coming out of Hollywood today (not so much shorts, documentaries, and independent films) rely more and more on quick and easy clichés. It’s all about marketing. Producers know what gimmicks will work to either sell tickets, impress critics, or both. Revealing dialogue has been usurped by the one-liner. Biting satire has been appropriated by the sustained scream. As the late, great film critic Roger Ebert said, “Hollywood is racing headlong toward the kiddie market. Disney recently announced it will make no more traditional films at all, focusing entirely on animation, franchises, and superheroes. I have the sense that younger Hollywood is losing the instinctive feeling for story and quality…”

Sadly, I don’t think much will change as far as my list above. The campaigning to get nominated will continue, leisure technology and stay-at-home entertainment will only increase, and big-budget films will get more gaudy, predictable, and stupid.

I have no regard for that kind of ceremony. I just don’t think they know what they’re doing. When you see who wins those things—or who doesn’t win them—you can see how meaningless this Oscar thing is” – Woody Allen, who won Best Director for “Annie Hall” in 1977

allenBut even if style finally does triumph over substance, it would be nice to have an Oscar ceremony where I don’t have to continually punch the mute button or switch the channel (sorry Oscar, but Neil Patrick Harris making irreverent comments while posing in his tighty whities just isn’t funny).

A couple years ago I wrote about Oscars’ 10 Most Unforgettable Moments. Perhaps we could use a few more of these unforgettable moments, which at least added some color to the pomposity and ridiculousness. Maybe Brad Pitt lecturing us about the military-industrial complex. Or Helen Mirren doing one-armed pushups. Or Jack Nicholson removing his sunglasses.

At the very least, if you really want this spectacle to be a comedy routine, find a host who’s actually witty. Where’s Billy Crystal? Is Bob Hope still available??



Humphrey Bogart. “Your memory stays/It lingers ever/Fade away never”



14 thoughts on “Hollywood and the Oscar Dilemma (Re-Post)

  1. I remember reading this take the first time around. I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m with George C. Plus I think he said something about performances shouldn’t be compared and awarded. I think you know I stay away from these award things (music included). I won’t be tuning in, haven’t for a lot of years. Isn’t it great to have a choice. But I will guarantee you one thing Pete, CB will be watching a couple flicks this weekend. Good piece!

    • Thanks, CB, and there are a lot of good films about Hollywood to get your juices going (All About Eve, A Star is Born, The Bad and the Beautiful, Sunset Boulevard…). That town loves movies about itself!

      • ‘Sunset Boulevard’ man what a film! You always set off my bells with this stuff. I can think of a few more films that throw a dig at the place. Just watched ‘Hail Caesar’. Enjoyed it. Ralph Fiennes is worth the price of admission. Enjoying the comments so far. ‘Out of the Past’, yup a good one.

  2. Great piece. Agree 100%. I don’t care to watch the Oscars, Golden Globes, CMA, etc. ad nauseum. It’s deteriorated into a fashion show held by and for the wealthy few, chock full of self-congratulatory moral preening and identity politics.

      • Like most of your other guests you are right on about the award show. You must enlighten us on your take of the Grammy’s. That might have been the first award show I quit watching and that was years ago. Maybe this year the idea was to have Metallic play (you know REAL talented musicians instead of what goes as talent these days) and bring some of us viewers back then my daughter told me that got screwed up.

      • I stopped watching the Grammy’s in the late ’70s, about the time people like Christopher Cross started receiving awards. They’re a popularity contest, with a few “critic’s darlings” thrown in once in a while to try to give the thing legitimacy. I don’t think the judges know anything about real music. I always thought the Oscars (and to some degree the Emmys) had a bit more integrity. But I’ve given up on all of it. Just like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, how can you give an award for an art form? It’s purely subjective. And although I’m all for civil rights, equal rights…human rights…the PC at these things is so obvious, it’s ridiculous (and I generally lean liberal!). Oh well. Hate to say it again, Dennis, but I think we’re a couple of angry old fogies!

  3. But, the fashion dos and don’ts- how will I know if I’m not watching.? ‘Guess the cult of the celebrity-followers have me in their grasp. But Pedro, is your life that exciting that it can’t be jazzed up by the lives of famous strangers?? I thought not. ‘Sides, who wants to focus on / improve upon their own life when all our empathy can go out to the poor, unfortunate souls at the top?

  4. Indeed, it lacks the soul it used to have, I guess. Too dang political motives like, “The Cove” won over “Food Inc”? Or a degrading farm like “El Mariachi” turned to “Desperado” / “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”.. And visual-consumption-wise, what worries me more is what we’re feeding the kids of nowadays with. A crisp yet vast reading, Pete. 🍸

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