I know it's not cool to like the Oscars. Hollywood's out of touch with America, it's just a bunch of phonies congratulating each other, blah blah blah. I write this one day after the 80th Academy Awards and already the event's been forgotten. Look, I won't defend the show. But I've watched it every year since I was six or seven. It's a tradition for me, although even I don't care who wins anymore. But I like the suspense before the announcement of a winner, I like the obituary reel, and I always hope that there will be that rare moment when an underdog wins. That said, part of the fun of watching the Oscars - for me, anyway - is finding fault with it, and imagining what I'd do to improve it. So if anybody's willing to give me a chance at producing the show, I'd make the following changes:
- Show clips from every nominated movie. I'm not just talking from the best picture (which strangely went missing in 2008), best acting and best writing nominees, but also for art direction, cinematography and so on. And especially all the short film nominees (fiction, animation, documentary). Why not show at least ten tantalizing seconds of each? It might pique some viewers' interest, and it would also actually showcase the films - however briefly - which is what the nominations should be all about.
- Similarly, play a brief passage of music from each nominated score. Oftentimes they're the best part of the movie (e.g., Babel and Atonement).
- Never cut off the acceptance speeches. Sounds like I'm just padding the already lengthy running time, no? Well, everybody blames these speeches for bogging down the show, but they're not the culprit. I just feel bad whenever somebody - even a sound editor - finally gets their moment in the spotlight, only to get cut off before they finish their thank-yous.
- Only allow one song from a film to be nominated for Best Song. This year we had to endure three bland Disney songs from Enchanted, none of which won anyway. (Last year, it was the same deal with Dreamgirls.) It was unfair to some genuinely good original songs in 2007, from Dan Bern, Eddie Vedder and Lou Reed, among others, and is also boring to sit through as the songs - usually written by the same exact people - sound so similar.
- Actually, limit the number of Best Song nominees to three. Once upon a time, songs from films were also popular hits: "Que Sera, Sera", "Nobody Does It Better", etc. But pop culture has changed and the category has become irrelevant. However, after the Once actors/songwriters had their moment last night, I couldn't find it it my heart to kill the category outright. But narrowing it down to three songs will trim the ceremony by a good five minutes at least. Oh, and while we're at it, let's lose the dancing and just keep the singing.
- Only show those "themed montages" if Chuck Workman is making them. Documentarian Workman's impressive clip collections of comedy, romance and action through the decades have enlivened many an Oscar broadcast since he started making them in the '90s. Unfortunately they've led to uninspired pieces by other filmmakers, including Michael Mann's pointless "The movies look at America" submission in 2006.
- Bring back Billy Crystal, or at least Ellen DeGeneres. These two Oscar hosts brought a giddy "The movies are fun!" energy to the proceedings, sorely missed when we have the dry snark of a Jon Stewart or a Steve Martin (not to mention the downright hostility from David Letterman and Chris Rock). It's true: More people tune in when you have a warm, affable host who seems to genuinely enjoy what he or she is doing.
- Run fewer commercials. Who can deny that this is what really makes the Academy Awards an interminable affair? It's a vicious cycle: The show goes too long, so fewer people tune in, so the commercial slots become less valuable, so the network needs to run more ads in order to make money, so the show goes too long. But imagine if they cut the time for commercials in half! The show would be shorter by at least thirty minutes (all of it dull commercial time), so more people would tune in, so advertisers would pay more for the more valuable slots, so the network will make money, and everybody will be happy.
- Start it earlier. Look, I've lived on the West Coast almost all my life. From Saturday Night Live to other awards shows, I've always had to put up with a "tape delay", where the East Coast gets all the stuff hot off the press, as it were. The Oscars are the only non-sports event that we Westerners get to see live. Still, I feel sorry for all those people on the East Coast who have to stay up to midnight (and sometimes even past midnight) if they want to catch the whole show. (That's why so few people tune in. It simply runs too late for most!) It's already awkward for us Californians to tune in at 5:30pm on a Sunday. So what difference does it make to us if they just start the damn thing an hour earlier?