The Wrap columnist Steve Pond speaks to AMPAS executive director Bruce Davis, and he doesn’t even mention Jamie Stuart‘s recently floated suggestion of a Top Ten, American Idol-like framework on the Oscar telecast? Not even in jest? This is what seasoned responsible entertainment journalism is all about — i.e., ignoring the radical nutball idea that might just change the game and turn everything around.
Is Stuart’s idea appropriately dignified and straight-laced and smacking of organizational tradition and black-tie conservatism? Of course not. It’s an idea very much of its time, which is to say an idea that reflects a culture driven by corporate fast-food ADD values, which is to say a kind of degradation of movie culture. Serious movie culture is believed in and kept afloat today by some 10,000 industry and media people, if that, and I don’t know how many thousands of serious true-blue movie fans out there. Most film lovers watch the Oscar show. Begrudgingly and cat-callingly, but they watch it. The bottom line is that they aren’t enough. The Oscar show producers either have to accept a smaller and smaller audience (which would be fine with me) or they need to attract the Eloi.
In other words, if ratings and popularity are of concern to the Oscar telecast producers (and I hear each and every year that they are), they have to somehow reach the mob that couldn’t care less and never will care about the best films of the past, present and future. I believe that Stuart’s idea would deliver ratings and a kind of coarse vitality that would represent a regrettable tradeoff, yes, but also provide a new lease on life for the show. Okay, in a somewhat gaudy and hucksterish way. But who would argue that the Oscar show hasn’t been trying to attract ratings for years with at least somewhat similar showbiz values?
In Who’ll Stop The Rain, Nick Nolte‘s Ray Hicks is sitting in a grimy Oakland bar and looking at the strippers on a nearby stage and saying to the overweight bartender, “What a lotta shit this place is now.” And the bartender replies, “You’ve gotta go with the times.” That’s all I’m really saying. It’s not 1939 any more, and it’s not 1974 or 1988 or 1999 even. Democracy can’t function when there are too many stupid and under-educated people out there, and a rich movie culture can’t thrive when the overwhelming majority refuses to see films like The Hurt Locker (except to the tune of a truly pathetic $12 million) and The Cove and yet vigorously rewards the makers of films like G.I. Joe, Transformers 2 and (in all likelihood, God help us) Jennifer’s Body.
Who would deny that mainstream movie culture has been and is being steadily degraded each and every weekend by the generally appalling choices of the majority? Which is then reenforced by bottom-line big-studio decisions to greenlight more idiot movies in a vicious cycle of mediocrity? Mainstream appetites and big-studio tentpole movie culture has come to represent an assortment of impulsive, cretinous and under-educated attitudes and assumptions. The days of mainstream movies like To Kill a Mockingbird and Nashville and The Road Warrior, even, are pretty much over as far as the attentions of the mob are concerned. The American public, trust me, is not going to wake up and start reading books and eating better foods.
Since when has the Oscar show been anything but an attempt to honor in some cases unseen (or under-seen) quality-level films for history’s sake, and — incidentally, in the meantime — persuade several million Eloi to maybe give them a looksee when they turn up on Netflix? (Or, in the old days, in neighborhood and sub-run theatres.) That’s the goal, right? So what’s the problem with changing the format as long as it accomplishes same?
It doesn’t please me entirely to admit this, but implementing Stuart’s idea would most likely provide a shot in the arm to the Oscar telecast. The traditional same-as-before Oscar show has been swirling into the bowl for many years now. The producers have to wake up and make it a vital or a thrilling thing. Stuart’s idea (and it doesn’t have to be done cheaply or vulgarly) would make it, after a fashion, kind of thrilling. Given a choice between Hugh Jackman performing “Top Hat” and Stuart’s idea, I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing an Oscar show with a top-ten elimination structure of some kind. It wouldn’t be that bad. Or it wouldn’t need to be, I mean.