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It’s Time for the Academy to Reinvent the Oscars

The recent controversy over diversity and the selection of individual nominees has opened the floodgates of criticism on the Academy Awards, the processes, and even its relevance in the modern era.  Many of the complaints leveled against it in 2016 are similar to or build upon complaints of the past; while the Academy itself sees its awards and actions as progressive, and movies themselves as keepers of social conscience, in reality it has lagged behind the times in many of its actions and procedures.

As such, the Oscars have failed to capture the public’s attention except for rare individual moments during a telecast: whether it is the Ellen selfie or Patricia Arquette speech on pay inequality, the awards ceremonies are now more memorable for that fleeting social moment then the overall level of quality. While there is a argument that this is positive, in reality you have a too-long ceremony with no social relevance.  In essence, the Oscars are in danger of becoming a stuffier Golden Globes, and that is damning criticism.

So how can this legendary show regain not only shrinking audience share, but the gravitas that sets it apart from other award shows while still being eminently watchable?  Here are some changes that the Academy should adopt immediately for the 2016 movie-year awards:

  1.  Eliminate the host: The selection of an Oscar host is one of the most overblown and annoying controversies not just in Hollywood, but anywhere.  The host is symbolic of the Academy’s feelings on its product one year prior to the show.  Need to skew young?  Bring on the James Franco/Anne Hathaway duo.  Want to play it safe? Billy Crystal is always available.  In reality, what eventually happens is the host ends up with somewhat edgy but most lame jokes in their monologues, in order not to offend too much, and quip about the length of the show.  In reality, the Oscars don’t need a host; the “voice of God” can announce the award presenters.  To kick off and end the show, the Academy should have a LEGEND in the field welcome everyone with a short speech about the year that was.  This person should not be an up-and-comer or the hot thing at the moment, but one of those people undoubtedly Hollywood reveres as a legend, the type of person whose death would shut down LA in mourning, and someone even the average movie-goer in Middle America would know and respect.
  2. Announce criteria for best picture and stick to it: Do you want to know how a movie qualifies to be a Best Picture nominee?  Mental Floss has a great breakdown but you’ll notice the requirements are all technical.  There is nothing wrong with having general non-technical criteria, and in fact having some would really drive debate as to who was (or was not) nominated and why.  Here is what I would propose as new Best Picture criteria, with nominees meeting at least one of these criteria:
    1. A movie revolutionized movie-making technology in a way that could improve the medium.
    2. The movie captured the spirit of the U.S. or world in its story or production.
    3. The movie was undoubtedly a critical success and appreciated by a large number of the movie-going public.
  3. Expand the director category to match the best picture category: It is absurd that someone can be nominated as a Best Director, but his or her movie not be named a Best Picture, and vice versa.  The categories should match in number and nominee every year unless there is an extremely good reason a movie is a best picture without having a damned good director.
  4. Introduce a Best New Actor and Actress Category: The Oscars should go radical (for them) and introduce two new awards designed to honor an actor and an actress that, in their first role that would qualify as Best Actor/Actress or Best Supporting Actor/Actress, were award-worthy.  This would allow those actors male and female who broke through in a major role to receive recognition in years where there is a favorite to win the major acting categories, as there seemingly is every year.  This would also begin to address the diversity issue being discussed currently.  Oscar-winning actors and actresses can command (or should be able to) better roles and better pay, and this award can be a path to allowing more breakout actors and actresses to gain more mainstream attention, even in a year when someone like a Leonardo DiCaprio is a lock to win a major acting award.

What do you think of these four Oscar changes?  What would you change?

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