So the numbers are in, and last night’s Oscar telecast raked as the ceremony’s highest viewership stats for a decade, reaching an audience of 43 million. Of course its being hailed as a triumph for host Ellen DeGeneres, but we’re going to suggest that part of that was due to a more open, or rather less decided, race for Best Picture between “Gravity” and eventual winner “12 Years A Slave.” Not to mention all the people who tuned in with their kids to hear the one and only Adele Dazim sing “Let it Go.” (Be sure to check out our list of the Best and Worst Moments from the show).
With the figures 6% higher than last year’s, and with no foreseeable fallout along the lines of the sexism accusations that plagued Seth McFarlane’s hosting turn (that grew louder online and in the op-ed pages over the subsequent week) the organizers must be feeling pretty good about themselves. To which, killjoys that we are, we’d say whoa there! Not so fast! This year may have got a few more eyeballs, but there are still a few changes that we think will make next year’s telecast better. Here are five suggestions (along with the permanent, standing suggestion that they ply the celebs with more booze à la The Golden Globes), for your consideration.
1. Bring In An Edgier Host
So, we were quite impressed with the job Ellen DeGeneres did last night, with producers opting for a safe, steady pair of hands, and with a hosting style that was that bit more informal, after last year’s diametrically different, wannabe Rat-Pack/Vegas show feel that Seth MacFarlane brought to the stage. But we do hope that the Academy now feels that they have the license to go a bit further next year, and that the hiked-up viewerships figures are not necessarily read as being a direct result of a more conservative hosting choice. In fact, the impulse that seems to have governed recently is “take a risk” followed by “play it safe” on alternate years (Hathaway and Franco were risky and bombed so Billy Crystal came back the next year, then MacFarlane followed by DeGeneres) and by that same logic we should be in for something a bit less, well, cosy in 2015. But we just hope that the fact that so many of the riskier choices of late have turned out badly doesn’t see the Academy retreating back into their shell. Ellen we can take and mildly enjoy for a year, but we can’t see people getting hugely excited for another helping. Also, while the looseness of her off-the-cuff approach was refreshing, it did contribute to the show’s overlength, and the feeling of general sagginess that set in somewhere around hour two. Which brings us to….
2. Drastically, Vastly Reduce The Running Time, By At Least An Hour
Last night’s Oscars, at 3 hours 35 minutes were apparently, to the minute, the same length as 2013’s ceremony, but it sure felt longer. Though admittedly that might be because the mean-spiritedness of MacFarlane’s gig exerted its own kind of fascination. But while DeGeneres didn’t help matters by including a tortuous 15-minute bit about ordering pizza which was maybe hilarious if you were there but soon became irritating to the watching millions, a lot of the the dead air and slackness of the telecast was totally not her fault. The sluggish pace was basically down to the whole event not being run crisply. Do the celebrities doing the category presentations have to be introduced with such stately fanfare themselves? And do we really need to see a potted edition of every single Best Picture nomination, introduced by yet another celebrity who needs to be introduced? This sort of thing kind of guarantees the evening can’t ever really build momentum, and instead regularly judders to a halt. There are a bunch of ways the ceremony’s designers could go about tackling this, from reducing the categories they feature to staging in such a way that it’s more designed for the TV audience than for the attendees. But if there was one change we could impose on all future ceremonies, it would be this one: for the love of Mike, lose an hour.
3. Don’t Have A Theme, And Cut All The Montages
This is something of a more recent invention, thanks to producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron who produced the last two shows, which revolved around “heroes” and “movie musicals” for reasons that seem pretty arbitrary. And we can’t think of anything more pointless than having a tacked-on theme for the ceremony; it adds precisely nothing to the evening. It only encourages more montages that are unrelated to anything that’s actually nominated. We’re all for including a bit of film history in the evening, but most of these montages don’t stretch back more than ten years, and we can probably do without micro-snippets of “Kung Fu Panda” or “After Earth”—as we’ve said before, it surely doesn’t make a difference between someone tuning in or not. So don’t have a theme and believe us, no one will miss it. And, themed or not, enough with the montages in general.
4. Cut The In Memoriam Section
We’re aware this isn’t necessarily going to be the most popular suggestion, and it’s one that caused a certain amount of internal debate. The In Memoriam section is the show’s sole chance to pay respects to those that passed in the previous year, and is certainly responsible for some potent moments, such as last night’s reel closing on Phillip Seymour Hoffman. But it’s also not always done all that tastefully, as also evidenced this year, where the reel was followed by Bette Midler singing “Wind Beneath My Wings.” And often, this portion of the show opens up something of a can of worms, when it comes down to the choice of who’s included and who isn’t (there were inevitable complaints about the exclusion of Tom Clancy, and Alain Resnais). So why not do away with it altogether? The nod to Sarah Jones, the crew member killed in an accident a few weeks back, which wasn’t part of the main montage but followed on-screen after Midler’s song, and which led to an extended version of the presentation online, showed that in this day and age, you can use the internet to make everyone happy. So why not keep it online, and stop the applause-measuring, the debates over who was worth including and who wasn’t, and the mood-stalling nature of squeezing in quiet moments of reflection in an evening of jocular self-celebration.
5. Go Back To 5 Best Picture Nominees
Again, we have mixed feelings about this one. Though it was done mainly because of falling ratings, and because “The Dark Knight” had missed out on a nod, the expansion of the Best Picture field to ten has had some boons. It’s hard to imagine movies like “Winter’s Bone,” “Amour,” “The Tree Of Life” or even something like “Her” this year making the cut with only five slots, and it’s nice to see smaller films showcased in that way alongside more obvious awards fare. But it’s also lead to some pretty questionable fare making the cut too (“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” for instance), and may have had repercussions beyond that. Mark Harris persuasively argued at Grantland that a wider Best Picture field has actually led to fewer films being recognized, with the 44 nominations in the major categories being spread between only twelve films. And as we saw last night, even with the Best Picture nominees being grouped into three to be “presented,” an expanded field also takes up more time, so for the benefit of the show if nothing else, why not revert to five? It makes those five feel a little more “special,” as it were, and in theory could make the show both more focused and more diverse in terms of the films that were getting picked.
Anything else you’d do if you were in charge? Let us know in the comments section below. — Jessica Kiang, Oliver Lyttelton