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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Schizophrenic Academy

Suzanne sent me this excellent piece from the NY Times, which points out some obvious problems with the Oscar telecast:

The Academy Smiles With Both Faces By BROOKS BARNES

This year the entertainment industry woke up to a clear if troubling realization: the Oscars telecast exposed an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in full-fledged identity crisis. Almost everything about the ceremony was big and commercial; almost everything about the winners was small and arty.

The Oscars show, ever since the decision last fall to expand the best-picture field to 10 movies, was overtly put together as a summer blockbuster. Camera crews milked George Clooney for all he was worth, repeatedly cutting to him sitting glumly in the audience, a comic bit that appeared to be planned in advance. “Avatar” was woven deeply into the script while smaller best-picture contenders like “An Education” were treated more like embarrassing relatives.

The Las Vegas-style opening number, the Pretty Young Thing roster of presenters (Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner) and the montage paying tribute to horror movies — not exactly a black-tie genre — were all designed to get eyeballs. Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic, the producers of the telecast, said afterward that changes and cuts had been made up until the last minute, as they looked for every possible way to boost ratings.

It worked. Over 41 million people watched the telecast on ABC, a 14 percent increase from the year before, according to preliminary ratings data from Nielsen Media Research. It was the largest Oscar audience since 2005, when 42 million people watched “Million Dollar Baby” win the top award.

But the trophy winners were largely in sharp contrast to the broadcast’s big-tent ambitions, revealing an Academy with a split personality. Given the impressive ratings bump, some agents and producers predicted that the split would remain: it was awards and a show — not an awards show.

“It isn’t the public who votes, it’s the public who cheers,” said Tom Sherak, the Academy’s president, referring to the ceremony’s function as entertainment. As for the awards themselves, Mr. Sherak said: “I think the Academy voters did what they do. You and I might disagree with one thing or another. But they did what they needed to do.”

Missing for many industry insiders was the organic sense of drama that came with past shows in which a popular film like “Titanic” or “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” built to a climax by picking up prize after prize — or when “The Aviator” built momentum through the minor awards in 2005, only to see the major Oscars slip away as "Million Dollar Baby" claimed the top prize. In those shows the awards actually were the entertainment.

By contrast, Sunday’s entertainment value was in many ways grafted on in a process that could seem vaguely dishonest at times. If “Up in the Air” was so worthy of monologue attention, why was it snubbed in all six categories in which it was nominated?

Spotlighting the incongruence, “The Hurt Locker,” the big winner with six trophies including best picture, was also one of the least-watched films in its theatrical run to ever win the top prize. It sold about $14.7 million in tickets in North America and about $6.7 million overseas.



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