Not necessarily everything that entails the Oscars has a cinematographic notion. Success stories, failures, discourses of protest or on injustices are a necessary part of the entire Oscars Gala. Its 91st edition was destined to make history, but it turned its gaze to champion a seemingly obsolete stagnation, although firmly rooted in the worn structure of an Academy Awards as predictable as it is indecipherable. Clumsy is the effort which tried to change this.
Five milestones showed a willingness to change by the Academy – or rather tried to show. However, the start of the communication campaign was, without a doubt, unsuccessful, rétro-planning doomed to fail from the very first decision making steps. In the middle of summer, on August 8, the Academy announced the creation of a new category that joined an already inflated but obligatory lineup of awards, the prize for the best popular film, a deviation from the conventional to connect more with an audience that had dwindled in the last five years. But precisely the same audience that had endowed the Oscars with its prominence was also the one to disapprove of an addition more fitting for the MTV Awards, and on September 6 the organization backtracked on its decision. Its first great announcement, also its first rectification. It’s already August and September, and such news simmers in the public discourse just several months before the Gala. A cycle of action and reaction, resulting in an uneasy audience late in the summer.
The second feat was the appointment of comedian Kevin Hart as host. Two days later, on December 7, a homophobic joke he posted on Twitter in 2015 ended his presenter status, leaving the Academy significantly damaged. Weeks of rumors, threats of rectification by comedian, ended up delaying a Gala that finally was decided with a format absent of a particular host.
The third feat was announcing that, of the five nominees for Best Original Song, only two would be played (‘Shallow’, from A star is born and ‘All the stars’, from Black Panther), which sparked another controversy that had to be resolved by announcing, just a week later, that in the end all songs would be performed on stage. Despite the rectification, logistical problems prevented Kendrick Lamar and SZA from playing ‘All the Stars’.
The fourth milestone concerned actors and actresses, doing away with the tradition of delivering this year’s cast awards by last year’s winners. Judging by the history, it was unfair to deprive Gary Oldman, Allison Janney, Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell the honor of delivering the awards they themselves won a year earlier. Once again, this was amended, although such rectification was delayed until the 20th of February.
The fifth and most absurd was the idea that, with the intention to lighten the Gala, four categories would not be televised: Cinematography, Film Editing, Live Action Short and Makeup and Hairstyling. In the most objective analysis, regardless of what the four categories chosen were, the angry protest of various pundits and heavyweights eager to make the headlines by criticizing this decision would have sufficed to knock this ruling down. However, it was even better because the four categories were of such significance that it inspired Cuarón, winner of the Oscar for Best Director, to sharply criticize the organization, stating: “In the history of cinema, there are masterpieces without sound, without color, without plot, without actors or without music, there hasn’t been a single film in existence without photography and without montage.” Eight days before the ceremony, the Academy is again rectified for the fifth time under pressure from illustrious figures such as Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino, among others.
Thus, with five incredible exploits of communication and subsequent rectification, the Gala itself almost seemed like the least of it all. In fact, there can’t possibly be a thrill-inducing chronicle to a ceremony condemned to be, per sé, eternally boring. However, the excitement that comes with each statuette is always in crescendo, and, as is every year, the musical pieces do serve their purpose … but it is never enough. Truly remarkable was the interpretation of ‘Shallow’, the winning song of the night which presented Bradley Cooper as a notable prelude to one of the greatest stars: Lady Gaga. Paradoxically, he embodied the Oscar spirit perfectly; one of excitement and euphoria despite such certainty.
And as a certainty, love. Love for the classic, for the simple, for a pleasant, emotional yet modest Christmas home. Love for America, love for Green Book. Peter Farelly, director of the motion picture awarded with the illustrious prize, said: “it is about loving each other despite our differences and discovering the truth about who we are … because we are the same people”. And indeed, the Academy is still made up of the same people, still rigid and inflexible, and while this continues, will deprive everyone of the chance to witness for the umpteenth consecutive year, the best film of the year being awarded deservingly. This year, by a marked difference, that film was Roma.
The result was a crushing simplicity, both demolishing and empty. A dullness that lasted just over three hours compared to four last year, one of the galas with the smallest audience in recent history. Viewership data shows moderate improvement (29.6 million compared to 26.5 last year), enough to stop the bleeding from recent years and to bolster an Academy already drunk off itself. The price? Reputational bankruptcy perhaps, after five rectifications and after denying the grand prize to Roma due to a supposed ineligibility of the film. Farelly, Green Book and inflexibility; supporting actor, original script and film, in short, controversial aftermath.
Timeline of the Oscars’ Audience Revival Efforts
August 8 – Creation of Best Popular Film category announced
September 6 – Academy confirms it will not move forward with new category
December 5 – The Academy announces Kevin Hart’s selection as the Oscars’ host
December 7 – Kevin Hart renounces hosting the Gala amid controversy after his homophobic tweets in 2015 were made public
January 24 – The Academy announces that only two of the 5 songs nominated for Best Song will be performed at the ceremony.
January 31 – The Academy announces that all songs nominated for Best Song will be played at the Gala.
February 5 – The Academy decides to break the tradition of giving the winners of the previous year the honor of presenting the new awardees with the award. Allison Janney “It breaks my heart.”
February 11 – The Academy announces that to limit the Gala’s total duration, the categories of Cinematography, Film Editing, Live Action Short and Makeup and Hairstyling will be awarded during commercial breaks and not broadcast live.
February 16 – The Academy rectifies and confirms after receiving a joint communiqué (signed by Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Robert De Niro, among others), that the four categories initially omitted will finally be broadcast live.
February 20 – The Academy rectifies and confirms once more that the four actors and actresses awarded last year will present the awards for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.
February 24 – ‘Green Book’ is distinguished with the award of Best Picture.
Álvaro Ramos Izquierdo
Senior Communications Consultant, aficionado of the eminently artistic essence of film and, nonetheless, a mythomaniac of the Oscars.