Monday, 15 December 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #205: Can An X-Man Save The Oscars?

It looks official that Australian actor-singer-sexiest man alive (after me) Hugh Jackman has been tapped to host the Academy Awards in February 2009.

Folks are hoping that his leading man charm and old fashioned song & dance showmanship will save the Oscar telecast from sinking ratings, and utter disinterest on the part of the movie going public.

Now I wish Mr. Jackman good luck, he's got his work cut out for him, because I don't think he can save the show, and while he'll be blamed it won't really be his fault. You see the problem with the Oscars aren't the hosts, it's the

You see, Oscar nominated films have become their own genre, and it's a genre that the greater part of the audience doesn't seem at all interested in.

Hollywood studios have always made "prestige" pictures, the sort of films designed to win awards, earn praise from critics, and make studio bosses feel like they're real artists instead of just businessmen. They dealt in big important themes, usually had lavish budgets, and had the best casts money, and studio contracts, could get.

They were also aimed to appeal to the widest possible audiences, which is very different from most Oscar winning films these days.

Now not every prestige picture was guaranteed to win both audiences and Oscars, and there was a time when Oscars didn't go only to pictures meant to win Oscars.

A classic example is
Casablanca, at the time of its making, it was just a mid-range picture designed solely to fill a slot in Warner Bros.'s release schedule. It wasn't meant to win awards, or even be a big hit, hell they didn't even have a finished script when they started filming. Yet it came to dominate not only that year's box office, but win the coveted Best Picture Prize.

So I guess the best way to sum it up, was that in the Golden Age,
any film could win an Oscar if it was considered good enough. Nowadays, you pretty much have to have your acceptance speech written before the script's even written.

You see, during the 70s a new wave of brash young filmmakers came out of low budget films and TV to become dominant players of the box office. Many of their films, were broad crowd pleasing fantasy adventures, and the old Hollywood guard resented it, and while members of this generation could get nominated, they could not win for these films, because they were not seen as worthy enough.

By the 80s this schism was getting pretty militant, and these same filmmakers couldn't win even when they tried to be worthy of the Academy's praises. A classic example is Stephen Spielberg's movie The Colour Purple, which holds the record for the most nominations with no wins.

By the 1990s, the 70s generation became the old guard of Hollywood, and now they could win awards, but they still held onto the notion of only nominating "worthy" pictures. While still capable of delivering the occasional hit, the purpose of these films began to shift from winning over audiences, to winning over Academy voters.

This also witnessed the rise of the Miramax domination of the Oscars. The Weinstein Bros. took campaigning for Oscars to heights, or depths, by creating an attitude that mainstream Hollywood was no longer worthy of making Oscar worthy films. Studios began to buy up the smaller independent companies and convert them into "brands" whose purpose was solely to win awards, and feed the egos of studio executives.

Now you have films that really serve no purpose other than to get nominations and win awards. Most of these films fail, both commercially, and for prizes, look at all the recent anti-war films for proof of that, but the practise keeps coming.

Just look at the list of films people are considering Oscar hopefuls:

Frost/Nixon. It doesn't tell us anything new about Nixon, or Frost, and serves no real purpose other than to appeal to Academy voters with big performances, and the use of Hollywood's favourite political boogeyman.

Seven Pounds. They should just call this "Give Will Smith the Goddamn Oscar." From the previews I can see it's all about actors exchanging soulful looks, discussions about the meaning of life, and some artful cinematography to put it above a Lifetime movie of the week.

The Reader. May very well be a brilliant film, but Harvey Weinstein seems intent on reviving his crashing career with an Oscar, with a film about guilt, and the holocaust. The whole thing screams "Gimme Oscar" and that's actually becoming a detriment to any merits the film may actually have.

Revolutionary Road. Suburban angst in the angst filled Eisenhower 1950s. Looks like a repeat of just about every trope associated with suburban angst cinema, including infidelity, hypocrisy, and the "insane" character who sees the truth, with the added element of condemning those damn conformists of the 1950s. It should have been titled: Been There, Done That.

If Hollywood wants to get people excited about the Oscars again, they're going to have to start making films that get people excited.

That's all.

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