Oscar Blitz 2023 – Postmortem

I honestly thought about writing this post two days ago and changing the schedule on the Hub Post at the very last minute. Normally I give myself two days off between Oscar Night and this reaction blog because a) I’m exhausted, and b) there’s usually some sort of shenanigans or controversy that I have to process mentally before delving into it.

But in all sincerity, I didn’t need that this time around. Yes, I was certainly tired after watching the Academy Awards, and I hardly got any sleep before I had to wake up pre-dawn for the first day of shooting on my new show, but I probably had enough energy to just do the article that night. Because more importantly, there wasn’t a major snafu this year. I didn’t need to decompress and absorb all the things that went wrong, as for the most part, nothing did.

Sure, there were a few hiccups along the way, but on the whole they were minor. Two acceptance speeches (Documentary Short and Visual Effects) had the microphones cut off and the winners played off stage the second the first member of the team got done talking. That’s a little shitty, but the show was already running long, and I know from years of doing live TV that once a directing decision has been made in the control room, it can rarely be undone in the moment. It’s unfortunate, but it would have looked even more awkward to turn the mic back on and cut the music in the middle of someone’s sentence. Several years ago, after “Falling Slowly” won Original Song, the songwriting duo got played off after Glen Hansard had his say, and after the ad break host Jon Stewart made a point of brining Marketa Irglová back on stage to give her remarks, so maybe we could have done that this year as well, but it probably wasn’t necessary.

Along similar lines, there’s been a mild uproar concerning the number of famous names left off the In Memoriam reel, including Tom Sizemore, Paul Sorvino, Anne Heche, and Leslie Jordan. Of those, I’m guessing Sizemore was after whatever cutoff date the Academy set to finalize the montage, and maybe given the circumstances of Heche’s death, it’s just not something they wanted to wade into. That’s all fair enough, even if I disagree. But Paul Sorvino is the father of an Oscar winner, and upon his death several outlets – including the Academy – tweeted out the clip of Mira winning and tearfully thanking him, so that seems like a major oversight. Similarly, Leslie Jordan presented the nominations last year, so he’s definitely part of the “Oscars Family,” if you will. For my own personal, while I wish American Movie‘s Mike Schank had been included, my expectations weren’t high, but I will quibble with leaving Charlbi Dean off. While I wasn’t that big a fan of Triangle of Sadness, the Academy did nominate it for Best Picture, and she was the female lead. But despite all of this, I’m okay, because this happens every year. There will always be someone noteworthy left off, especially in years like 2022 where basically every celebrity you cared about died. This is why the Academy made the rather proper choice of creating a more comprehensive, extended montage that can be viewed online. It’s not a perfect fix, but it’s clear they recognized the need to address the problem and have done so in good faith.

Finally, the segment with Halle Bailey and Melissa McCarthy to set up a trailer for the Little Mermaid remake was painful in the extreme. But again, this is nothing new. Disney has always seen the Oscars as a marketing tool first and foremost, and they’ve always insisted on getting preferential ad space for themselves as a condition of broadcasting the ceremony on ABC. Also, for what it’s worth, they’ve exerted far harsher creative control in the past. Two years ago they made sure that in hiring Questlove to DJ the ceremony, they had the opportunity to give him an entire segment to promote Summer of Soul, which was released on Hulu – a Disney property – and in doing so all but call off the Documentary Feature category for the next year. Last time around, after relegating eight categories to the pre-show on the excuse that there just wasn’t enough time/the categories were too boring, they still somehow found time to devote an entire block to a performance of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” even though the popular track from Encanto wasn’t even SUBMITTED for Original Song, much less nominated. They also made the cringeworthy decision to have Chris Evans pre-record a congratulatory message to each of the Supporting Actor nominees (playing the one directed to the winner) as a way to lead in to a trailer for Lightyear, and that entirely verbal clip was played after a deaf man won. This is just what Disney does. It’s horrible, but just something we’ve come to expect. I’m simply thankful that we got a tribute block for Warner Bros. to balance things out, as well as the fact that the online reaction to the Little Mermaid trailer was almost unanimously negative. Gee, who would have thought that devoted film fans wouldn’t want more Disney live-action remakes?

Outside of that, things went exceedingly well. Most of Jimmy Kimmel’s jokes landed, the Cocaine Bear bit actually worked (with the only disappointment being that it wasn’t Matt Damon in the suit), there was so much emotion in the acceptance speeches and other presentations that I basically dehydrated myself from crying, and on the whole, the right movies won. Normally I’m not all that results-oriented when it comes to the winners, as it’s rare when my opinions align with the voters. But the Academy is at something of an inflection point after years of plummeting ratings, tone deaf pandering, and monumental mistakes. And in a year where only two of the 10 Best Picture nominees deserved any serious consideration, there were so many ways the voters could have put the final nail in their collective coffin, permanently ensuring that the Oscars lose all relevance. By not only picking Everything Everywhere All at Once, but by making the whole ceremony basically a coronation for the obvious choice, they not only delayed their death rattle, but now have a legitimate chance of regaining the credibility that was lost.

Going forward, what’s important now is to keep doing the things they did right this time out, while also improving on the areas that come up short, the largest of which happens long before the show itself. Keep booking solid hosts like Kimmel, keep rewarding the proper candidates, keep the engaging and respectful emotional tone, keep giving audiences interesting visual lessons in how some of these categories work (the demonstration of using recessed platforms for Cinematography was brilliant, for example). All of those things lead to a positive experience for the viewer, and the more the Academy does that, the more people will start tuning in again.

But most important of all, the rules need to be changed, clarified, and enforced. We need a much stricter definition about what qualifies as an eligible film, so that cynical exercises like Tell it Like a Woman never happen again. A one-week run in Los Angeles should not be the only requirement, especially when it’s clear that the “movie” was created solely to hire Diane Warren to write a tune and then campaign for Original Song. In that same spirit, the entire nomination process for that category needs an overhaul, so that lazily contracting someone like Warren for a non-diegetic track over the credits no longer counts. At minimum, there needs to be some authority who can veto the decisions of the individual branches when it’s clear they’re not following their own guidelines. My disdain for Warren’s music doesn’t enter into the equation here. I don’t care who writes or performs what, but when you can point to the exact letter of the law and know that an eventual nominee is in conflict with it, there has to be someone who can overrule and say no.

But this all comes back to the two core issues at play – accessibility and campaigning. Ostensibly, the Academy Awards are meant to acknowledge the highest achievements in film. If the audience can’t see a nominated or winning movie, the whole exercise reeks of elitism and snobbery. And just as importantly, if a film can’t win over audiences, critics, or voters without a marketing strategy, then it’s not worthy of consideration, period.

As such, I think there are two fairly simple solutions, though I honestly doubt either will be heeded. One is to outlaw “For Your Consideration” campaigns. Remember, the majority of the controversy surrounding Andrea Riseborough’s nomination wasn’t that she didn’t give a good performance, but that her friends skirted the “traditional” approach used by the major studios that devote millions of dollars to this process. Um, then just abandon it. You’re literally demonstrating the real problem when you say that an entry is invalid if it didn’t have a massive advertising push. That’s completely antithetical to what the Academy as an organization is supposed to stand for.

So just ban the campaigning entirely. Let the films be judged on their own merits. We can still have Bake-Offs, because those are just specialized, focused submissions, where branch members attend a caucus meeting to see the exact element that’s being highlighted. The studios and production companies aren’t allowed to show off the Makeup and Hairstyling while also saying, “Oh, and while you’re at it, vote for us for Best Picture.” So that’s fine. There are something like 12,000 voting members, and around 300 films submitted every year. Relatively speaking, it shouldn’t be that hard to police this by telling the membership that they’re obligated to report any outside campaigning, and if they’re caught violating the rules, their voting privileges are suspended or revoked depending on the number of offenses. Just like we need money out of politics, we need money out of this.

The second is to require a nationwide qualifying release for all submitted films. There’s been a slight degree of progress on this front, as during the pandemic the eligibility was expanded from just Los Angeles to about a dozen different cities across the country due to varying restrictions and regulations of movie theatres. This past year, when the theatrical model returned in full force, the Academy did still keep about six cities on the list for a qualifying run. But the problem still remains that an entry only has to play for one week in one of those cities. As we saw with To Leslie and Tell it Like a Woman, that was not nearly enough time, and audiences who would seek these films out were denied that opportunity for far too long.

So make it national. Expand the list of cities to about 20 major ones, require a release in at least half of them, and extend the runs for two weeks. Ideally it would be a month, but we can’t ask studios to take a major potential financial loss just to satisfy an eligibility requirement, so I think two weeks is fair. Moreover, once a film is submitted, it must either be in theatres at the time of nomination or on a home viewing platform if it has already completed its theatrical run. Finally, in specialty categories like Documentary Feature and International Feature, once nominated (or preferably when shortlisted), the Academy itself agrees to make the films available in some format in case the candidates don’t have a North American distributor. No matter what the size of the film, audiences deserve to see any movie that’s being considered for the highest prize in the industry. To deny them that is to once again create a social separation that leaves the movie-going public resenting the process, the Academy, and the Oscars as a whole.

That’s pretty much it. This year’s Oscars was a massive step in the right direction, but in order to maintain that goodwill, it is incumbent upon AMPAS to keep that momentum going and continue moving along those proper avenues. Do your level best to tweak the minor flaws in the ceremony, and ensure the fairness, credibility, and accessibility of all pictures under consideration going forward. There will be bumps in the road, but if the Academy commits to doing the right thing, the viewers will join in lockstep, and Oscar Night will become an essential part of pop culture once again. If they fail to address these issues, then all they’ll have done with this year’s fantastic ceremony is delay the inevitable.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much once again for taking this journey with me. From the bottom of my heart, it has been an absolute blast, and I love getting to do this every year. From the moment we started with Supporting Actress, I was able to post content for 35 consecutive days, including six videos! I don’t know how in God’s name I was ever able to sleep, but it was worth it. I’m grateful to all of you who continue to read, watch, comment, share, like, and vote throughout this process, and I’ll keep doing it for as long as you want me to. For now though, the book is closed on 2022 cinema, and it’s back to regular coverage once more!

Join the conversation in the comments below! What was your favorite part of this year’s Oscars? Do you agree with the results? What’s the biggest change you’d like to see going forward? Let me know!

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