Arts & Culture News

No One Watches the Oscars Any More, Because Where the Hell Do You Watch the Oscars?

Bong Joon-Ho with one of his many Academy Awards for 2019's Parasite.
Bong Joon-Ho with one of his many Academy Awards for 2019's Parasite. Frazer Harrison / Getty Images
It’s no secret that the Academy Awards are a pale imitation of the show they once were. The days of an exciting host like Bob Hope or Billy Crystal delighting moviegoers of every generation are now faded memories. Heck, we’d be lucky enough to even have a host. Recent ceremonies have gone completely hostless. In 2018, the Oscars briefly hired Kevin Hart for the 2019 hosting gig, but he dropped out after homophobic comments he made earlier within his career resurfaced and inspired a wave of controversy.

Ratings have been sharply declining for the Oscars broadcast over the past decade. Ever since Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) took home a shocking Best Picture victory over Boyhood in early 2015, the show has reached historic lows and failed to gain over 35 million viewers. Both the Academy and their network partner ABC have desperately tried to revamp the ceremony to engage both their core cinephile viewers and average audiences that don't care about what takes home Best Production Design or Best Live Action Short Film.

What’s the big plan to #FixTheOscars? Gimmicks. We’ve watched some of Hollywood’s greatest minds continue to introduce dumb ideas over the past few years. First, they decided to fix their major issue: average audiences haven’t seen most of the nominees for Best Picture, save for the rare instances in which a blockbuster like Joker, Black Panther, The Martian or Mad Max: Fury Road sneaks into the category. So as a way to pat the studios on the back, they proposed a “Best Popular Film” category would be added to the awards lineup.

What does that even mean? Has the most prestigious night in the cinematic year turned into a middle school popularity contest? Who would this be rewarding? Would successful Best Picture nominees, such as A Star is Born or Bohemian Rhapsody, also qualify? Do we need to give an Oscar to Vin Diesel and the “writers” of The Fast and the Furious 27? What about new categories that would actually honor artists who aren’t recognized, such as Best Casting, Best Stunt Coordination or Best Voiceover Performance?

The “Popular” film category was met with criticism and laughter when it was first introduced, but this year the award is back in an amended sense. During the broadcast, the Oscars will be awarding two special awards, as voted on by Twitter users: “#OscarsFanFavorite” and “#OscarsCheerMoment.” Yeah, let’s give angry trolls more power, why don’t we?

As with anything Twitter-related, these categories have been heavily influenced by block voting: Johnny Depp stans have managed to rally around the film Minamata (which has yet to be given an official release in the United States) and upvoted it as one of the “fan favorite” movies of the year; among the other contenders is the Amazon musical Cinderella, one of the worst reviewed movies of 2021. It's no secret that the Oscars are hoping that one of the year’s superhero or blockbuster films will end up No. 1, because they would really like to have all three Spider-Man actors on stage. Andrew Garfield is a Best Actor nominee this year for tick, tick…BOOM!, and you can guarantee that Tom Holland is going to be there to present something.

All of these ridiculous changes that the Oscars are making are a sign that they’re completely out of touch. Clearly, the show isn’t producing memorable moments like Matt Damon and Ben Afflecks’ shocking 1998 win anymore. Viewers simply aren’t invested.

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What’s more disgraceful is that these silly gimmicks are coming at the expense of celebrating the actual hard work of cinematic artists. This year, eight of the supposedly “less buzzworthy” categories will not be presented live, including Best Original Score, Best Editing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design and the three short film categories. Apparently you don’t need to edit a movie, unless it stars Johnny Depp. You also don’t need music. Makes sense.

All of these ridiculous changes that the Oscars are making are a sign that they’re completely out of touch. Clearly, the show isn’t producing memorable moments like Matt Damon and Ben Afflecks’ shocking 1998 win anymore. Viewers simply aren’t invested. However, amidst all of these gimmicks, the Oscars have ignored the easiest, simplest and most obvious solution. How do you get people to watch the show? Stream it.

Currently, the Oscars are only available to be viewed live on network television or via paid livestreams on YouTube TV, FuboTV, Hulu with Live TV and DirecTV. That means that if you’re a cord cutter, you’d need one of those pricey “live TV” packages in order to watch the show. As anyone living in the streaming world of 2022 would know, that’s a pretty big ask. Do you really need to add another monthly bill for a subscription service?

But the Oscars are locked into their contract with ABC, which has shown time and time again that they don’t understand what the show should be. ABC is aiming for a tight three hours, so perhaps cutting the “boring” categories is their idea of a solution. But how long will the Twitter awards last? What about the excessive montages, original song performances, overlong acceptance speeches and obnoxious comedy bits from co-host Amy Schumer, who'll share duties with Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall?

The Oscars do need to be successful. They help promote an industry that’s in need of a boost, and they celebrate great work that’s worthy of shedding a light on. This year’s ten Best Picture nominees are all excellent even they they neglected to make room for Dallas director David Lowery. If they could adjust to the changing times, the Oscars could be the leader that the industry needs.
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Liam Gaughan has been covering film and television since before he had a driver's license, and in addition to the Observer has been published in About.com, Schmoes Know, Taste of Cinema and The Dallas Morning News. He enjoys checking classic films off of his watchlist and working on spec scripts.