The Oscars: Voters must look beyond status quo

There are two lists Hollywood values above all. One is the list of the highest grossing films of the previous year. Last year, “The Avengers” easily topped the list with a gross of more than $623 million, with “The Dark Knight Rises’” $448 million gross in second place. The list included other fan favorites such as “The Hunger Games” and “Skyfall.”

The other list, one could argue, could be just as profitable. It’s the Best Picture nominee list, and just a movie’s presence on the list can bolster box office results. This year’s nominees “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Lincoln,” “Argo,” “Life of Pi,” “Django Unchained,” and “Les Miserables” have each earned more than $100 million, a record number for the Academy.

But what about the other nominees? There’s “Amour,” a foreign film about growing old; “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” an indie which follows a little girl who lives in the Louisiana Bayou; and “Zero Dark Thirty,” which may have once had the steam to reach the $100 million benchmark but faced numerous accuracy problems.

Academy members often bemoan the lower ratings the show has seen the past few years. The general consensus seems to be that the Academy must become more “hip,” as evidenced by Seth MacFarlane’s turn as host, and the disaster the Academy endured when James Franco and Anne Hathaway hosted; Franco appeared stoned the entire time.

But do hosts really mean as much as the films up for consideration? Ask any Oscar nut, and they’ll tell you Bob Hope and Billy Crystal are the most memorable hosts the Oscars have had, and producers brought Crystal on board for 2012’s show in an attempt to draw ratings. However, people won’t be interested in investing three hours of their time in the awards ceremony unless they feel the movies they loved have a true stake in the proceedings. One of the show’s highest rated telecasts came in 1998, when “Titanic,” a movie audiences cared about flocked to and helped gross more than $600 million, dominated and James Cameron actually shouted “I’m king of the world!” onstage. Audiences watched because the big winner was also a cultural phenomenon. Sure, “Argo” and “Silver Linings” have been successful, and the Academy certainly shouldn’t sell out just for ratings.

But when the Academy expanded their nominee list, it was to counteract backlash from omissions such as “The Dark Knight.” “Skyfall” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” films that received positive critical reviews, could have been good nominations that would draw a sizeable viewing audience. Of course they wouldn’t win, but if the Academy wanted to reach the masses, those throw-away nominations could liven up the show. Smaller action thriller “Looper” could have also been a unique nomination.

However, change may not be in the Academy’s nature. According to a 2012 Los Angeles Times report, Oscar voters are nearly 94 percent Caucasian, and 77 percent of voters are male. The median age is 62, and people younger than 50 constitute only 14 percent of the voting populace. Past winners are invited to join the Academy, but the official list of members is a highly guarded secret.

Earlier this year, Academy voting moved online for the first time, and voters simply couldn’t figure out how to use the system. The Academy eventually had to push the deadline back to accommodate the process.

These statistics clearly show the Academy’ need to diversify. The Oscars name a Best Picture each year, but Best Picture by what standards? The moviegoing populace is incredibly diverse, therefore the voting voice needs to represent that standard. Right now, Best Picture is really what one small group believes it should be, and so it really shouldn’t mean so much. Studios use the nominations as advertising tools, as they plaster “Best Picture Nominee!” on every TV spot. The public eats it up, but they should really be more discerning.

This is not to say I dislike this year’s nominees. Yeah, “Flight” should have been nominated. Yeah, “Skyfall” deserved more recognition. But “Argo” will most likely win (a change in my predictions, as the tides have turned), and it deserves it. And I’ll still obsess over the Oscars, because the films that end up being celebrated do deserve it. I just wish the Academy would be more inclusive of the complete film experience and not just the niche Oscar-bait films Hollywood puts out each winter. I truly believe the Academy would see a ratings coup if they opened their eyes.

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About Karsten Burgstahler

Karsten Burgstahler can be reached at kburgstahler@dailyegyptian.com or 536-3311 ext.255.

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