What's happened to the Oscars?
That's not really an original question, since we've been asking it for the last 10 years or so. Ratings are declining for cinema's Super Bowl and movie attendance in general has been trending downward for awhile now. Billy Crystal's opening might have been funnier if I (or 98 percent of the rest of the world) had seen any of the films nominated for best picture, or if I could understand what he was singing. (Did the orchestra have to be THAT loud?) Thankfully J. Lo's dress came to the blogger's rescue, or editors would've replaced "Oscar Recap" with "Michigan Preview."
What's happened to the Oscars? It's not about the telecast, no matter what changes you make to it, or how long it is, or who hosts it.
What's happened to the Oscars? Not only can I tell you what, but I can tell you how to fix it. And it's pretty easy. I'm a child of film and television, so I feel pretty confident that my solution, based on approximately 50,000 hours of watching experience, is a solid one. All you have to do is look at the ascendance of sports in the last 20 years for the answers.
Sports and movies are very similar. Both involve highly paid millionaires that you and I have nothing in common with, and who live a life we cannot fathom. Yet viewership is going in different directions. You can't blame technology, because both do it well. We're constantly seeing new innovations that make sporting events more enjoyable, whether it's camera angles, HD televisions, or more access to athletes. Film does it too -- whether it's the Transformers or Avatar, we're seeing the production value skyrocket. Nope, the answer is in the talent.
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Sports like the NFL are constantly evolving. Movies are stagnant. And when you're stagnant, you get passed by and people lose interest. The NFL is constantly seeing new offensive systems sprout up, and new defensive strategies to thwart them. Quarterbacks aren't just drop-back passers anymore. The position can be manned successfully by Tom Brady, but also by Cam Newton. Coaching philosophies go in and out of style in three to five years. Players are faster. From week-to-week, we don't know what we're going to get. Look at an NFL game from the mid-1980s -- like I did last week -- and you wouldn't recognize it from the sophisticated way the game is played now. And it's not just football. Baseball has changed divisions, increased revenue sharing, added wild cards. Basketball makes sure its stars are front and center and always accessible. You always need to move forward as a business to succeed. This is why 23 of the top 25 prime-time programs this past fall were NFL games. And why the Super Bowl keeps breaking records as the most-watched program of all time.
The Oscars? It's supposed to be the same, but it isn't. Because while computers can help you with a lot of things, they can't help you write a great script or improve an actor's performance. THIS is the real issue of why movies are sputtering. You shouldn't be able to take a Best Picture winner from 1975 and have it compare favorably to one from 2010. You shouldn't be able to look at a Best Actor performance from 1989 and see how it blows away the 2008 winner. But this is what happens, and finally, we've had it. The acting isn't any better overall than it was 30 years ago. The writing isn't any better. Tell me I'm wrong. Hollywood is more interested in blowing things up in the coolest way possible than in making sure a tremendously well-acted movie gets its due. A friend of mine who worked in the business for a long time told me Hollywood used to be about movies, and now it's about money. But this wasn't last week -- it was 15 years ago. It's taken awhile, but that effect is here.
How about investing some resources finding the next great writers (head coaches and offensive coordinators) whose scripts are revolutionary, instead of making Final Destination 14. How about less wooden actors (quarterbacks) whose best attribute is looking good (also known as The Ryan Reynolds Effect) and more who capture the screen? That's where the movies should be going. Push and take chances instead of playing it safe. Don't keep giving me the same old scripts and the same old stories and have every third movie be a comic book adaptation or a remake of something from 25 years ago. This is why the Oscars are met with a shrug now. We didn't see enough of what we liked during the year to care.
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What, you say? Didn't Hollywood just award The Artist, a silent movie, with its highest honor Sunday night? Sure. But here's where you need the forward-thinking I mentioned. The Artist was getting all kinds of buzz the last month or so as the potential Best Picture winner. Was there a rush to get the movie, that had virtually zero release in the United States, into theaters so the average movie-goer could see it? No. That's a fumble. Can you imagine the NFL saying, "Boy, this Tebow guy is pretty popular. Too bad we can't get any of his games on national television for people to see." When you're spotlighting the best of the best, make sure people interested in watching have had every chance to see your product.
For this column, I'd like to thank everyone at SMI and my agent, Bob Sugar, who always taught me the value of a dollar sign. My best friend and mentor, Max Mercy, who was always interested in the power of the story. My dad, John Kinsella. Norman Dale, who only accepted perfection. And finally, to my wife, Adrian Pennino, who always stands next to me, even giving me ideas for things to write about. Thank you.