Do movies still matter? And what then of Oscar?
"MOVIES TRY TO ESCAPE CULTURAL IRRELEVANCE" said the headline in the New York Times the other day, a time before a super-storm name Sandy washed most of what seemed important at the moment off the front pages.
The accompanying story painted a dreary landscape for Hollywood, one of falling ticket sales amid a pack of films failing to make any sort of pop culture connection. As a result, it's having trouble cranking out Academy Award winning films, and Oscar himself is having a hard time remaining important. Ratings for the ceremony keep sliding, especially among the target demos and younger viewers.
My son is the movie critic (see his reviews at www.onmilwaukee.com) and I'm just a customer who gets in using his kid's free passes at the Ridge in New Berlin--Matt isn't just a columnist, he actually works at a theater. But here's what I've been seeing for years: too many big-name actors in too many bad movies meant to fill seats but leave viewers unfulfilled .
Think about the last time you were at a party and said, "Hey, have you seen (insert movie title here) yet? You've GOT to go!" On the other hand, I'll bet you've been at a gathering when someone asked if you've been catching the new season of "Homeland" or "Boardwalk Empire". Maybe you've skipped those weekend bashes to empty your DVR of a couple three/four episodes of "Dexter" or "Sons Of Anarchy".
TV caught up, especially the cable folks like AMC, FX, HBO and Showtime. Lavish productions shot with movie-quality techniques and written with the kind of clever character development and plot twists Hollywood used to serve up on the big screen can now be seen weekly on your family room HDTV. Simply put, television is doing it better and you don't have to leave home to catch it, much less leave $20 at the concession stand.
As for the Academy Awards, good luck. Sophisticated TV audiences aren't going to watch a bloated, four hour pageant full of fill just to see what the best picture is, certainly not younger viewers who simply don't have that kind of attention span. They grew up watching the MTV and the edgy awards shows they serve up are the new gold standard. Plus, there's a disconnect: the girl in the Times article echoed what my son said about Oscar, the break coming the year the Academy gave the best picture award to "The King's Speech" over "The Social Network": both were good films, but is there a more clear example of cultural irrelevance? The story of a dead monarch wins over another about the defining social/technological advance of the new generation?
No wonder twenty-somethings ignore Oscar in droves.
My advice to the Academy: blow it up and start over. Seth McFarlane as host may be a good start but so much of the rest of the night is a waste. People want to see stars be themselves--think Golden Globes, where the booze flows and the night proceeds without a safety net. They don't want speeches from octogenarian members of the Academy about how wonderful movies are, dance numbers, or tributes to dead stars (cold, but true). They also want fashion: red carpet reruns dot the tube for days if not weeks after the Oscars, so give the people what they want.
And maybe start putting quality ahead of big box office formulas. The recent Milwaukee Film Festival showed people will still sit in the dark and share the theater experience, taking chances on low-budget films that deliver story and character. Good movies are out there. The just aren't coming out of the usual Hollywood spigot.