Safe to say, the Academy Awards inspire more column inches and broadcast hours of bullshit than any other event in entertainment, but when the stuff is piled as high as it was in today’s New York Times, one wonders if there shouldn’t be a special Razzie for Worst Media Thumbsucking of the Year.
The honor must be split among Frank Bruni and Ross Douthat, Times political columnists slumming as Oscar experts, and entertainment reporters Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes.
Bruni and Douthat go mano a mano in emails discussing the awfulness and injustices of Sunday night’s show, while Cieply and Barnes focus on how the academy’s dissing of box office hits is causing a collapse in TV ratings. The Bruni-Douthat conversation might have taken place in any bar in the U.S. where the show’s broadcast has just ended. It’s that pointless and unenlightening, and so much noise added to the postmortem chatter.
But Cieply and Barnes are veteran reporters who would seem to know better than to pursue the hand-wringing refrain that the academy voters are out of touch with mainstream moviegoers. Cieply and Barnes imply, though I doubt if it was their sincere wish, that “American Sniper” should have won more than its single Oscar for sound editing. How many more? Best Picture? Screenplay? Actor? Director Clint Eastwood was not even nominated, a legitimate scandal in my mind, so that biggie was not available.
And if not “American Sniper,” which the Times tells us has been seen by 40 million ticket buyers, then how about “The Imitation Game” for Best Picture. It has been seen by 10 million people. In contrast, the night’s three biggest winners — “Birdman,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Whiplash” — barely raised a blip on the box office charts.
The fault in the Times’ syllogism — “Birdman” has grossed only $18 million; the Oscar ratings were down 15%; therefore “Birdman” is unworthy of its triumph — is that the Academy Awards is not the People’s Choice Awards. If you want to root for “Captain America,” “Maleficent” or the latest “X-Men” – the People’s Choice Awards is for you (spoiler alert: “Maleficent” won).
Academy voters are different from the rabble gathered at the multiplex. Movies are not only their great pastime but their livelihood. They know more about the actual work done than does the average moviegoer, or critic for that matter.
If the Academy Awards are increasingly irrelevant, it is not because voters are out of touch but because the studios producing mainstream films have given up trying to make and sell “great” movies and are instead making whatever their marketing data tells them will likely find the largest audience, especially of teenagers and young adults.
As discouraging as this is to people who like new and edifying stories, it is the natural evolution of Hollywood’s business model. It is producing a mass market product and has become more – dare I say? – sophisticated in finding the common denominator of its consumers.
It is ironic that the more people complain about the Academy Awards show and its winners, the more coverage they receive. The Times used to hold its upturned nose when it came to covering Hollywood. Now, they cover it like 1950s smog, choking on it but showing up for work.
And, therein lies a paradox. The more the Times writes about the Oscars, the less worthy they seem of the Grey Lady’s attention. Why can’t they give awards to the movies and filmmakers that most appeal to the sensibilities of the Times’ editors and its readers? (Of course, they do: The foreign language Oscar went to “Ida,” the darling of the film cognoscenti, but that wasn’t enough.)
Given that the Academy Awards are going to become neither The People’s Choice Awards nor (thank God!) the National Society of Film Critics awards, the Times must shovel the BS along with the worst of us. And what a load they shoveled today.