The recent list of Oscar nominees is unbelievably dull. Here are five ways to liven up the voting.
When the nominations for the 2013 Academy Awards were announced last week, film pundits responded with words like “surprising,” “unpredictable,” and even “shock and awe.” It was a rather pathetic attempt to stir up some excitement over so-called snubs, like the absence of Argo’s Ben Affleck and Zero Dark Thirty’s Kathryn Bigelow from the Best Director category. The fact is, while the winners are a toss-up, the nominees for this year’s Oscars are exactly what you’d expect. Look at the front-runners: a Steven Spielberg–directed biopic starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln; the screen version of a beloved Broadway musical; and a movie by Hollywood golden boy Quentin Tarantino. Not a lot of shock and awe there. Shock and awe would be if Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter had made the cut.
The only controversy might involve The Master. P.T. Anderson’s transcendent drama, loosely based on the life of L. Ron Hubbard, was at the top of many critics’ best-of-2012 lists, but it’s conspicuously absent from the Best Picture ballot. (Scientology conspiracy, anyone?) The problem is that the major categories continue to be dominated by a small clique of “cool kids,” while the rest of the industry gets short shrift. The nerds are thrown a bone in the form of technical awards and the misfits are simply ignored.
The Oscars know that they’re seen as too snobby. Two years after the 2008 ceremony hit an all-time viewership low, the Academy expanded the Best Picture nominees from five to a possible 10 in order to recognize more popular movies and indie fare. The show itself embarked on a string of embarrassing efforts to appear young and hip (see: James Franco co-hosting), leading to some of the worst Oscar telecasts ever. Nothing, however, has changed. What the awards need aren’t half-measures, but a serious rethink.
With that in mind, here are a few modest proposals that might make the Oscars less exclusive, less predictable, and a lot more fun.
Bar past winners from the competition. Do we really need to see icons like Spielberg and Day-Lewis nominated over and over again, when they already have two or more Oscars cluttering their shelves? Remove shoo-in Day-Lewis from this year’s Best Actor contest and it actually becomes interesting. In his place you could put Jack Black. He gave an exquisitely crafted tragi-comic performance as the closeted gay undertaker in Bernie. But because that film was released last spring, it seemingly wasn’t on the Academy’s radar. Which leads us to…
Start the Oscar race eight months earlier—not on the opening night of TIFF. Studios and distributors save up their Oscar hopefuls for the fall and winter, even though the awards officially represent the entire year’s crop of pictures. This renders the eight months before TIFF rolls around as a kind of awards dead zone. Just look at two of the best comedies released last summer: Wes Anderson’s much-loved Moonrise Kingdom and Zoe Kazan’s charming post-mod rom-com, Ruby Sparks. Moonrise got one Oscar nod—for Best Original Screenplay. Ruby Sparks got zilch.
Make it mandatory that at least one superhero or action star has to be nominated each year. Actor Javier Bardem, in an interview last fall on CBC Radio’s Q, said it best: Whether he’s starring in an Oscar winner like No Country for Old Men or playing the Bond villain in Skyfall, when the camera starts rolling, he’s doing the same job. Yet at the Oscars there’s an entrenched idea that performances in films deemed serious and/or artistic are somehow superior to others. Rare exceptions, like Heath Ledger’s posthumous trophy for The Dark Knight, prove the rule. In maintaining that attitude, the Academy passes over some terrific acting in genre flicks. Where was Robert Downey Jr.’s Oscar nom for 2008’s Iron Man? Where is Daniel Craig’s for rejuvenating James Bond?
Turn “Best Foreign-Language Film” into “Best Foreign Film.” This year’s nomination of Kim Nguyen’s Rebelle (War Witch) marks the third time in a row that a French-Canadian film has made the foreign shortlist. That’s wonderful, but what about Canada’s English-speaking films? Drop the ridiculous language restriction and brilliant indie auteurs like Guy Maddin might finally get a crack at the Oscar big-time.
Let Ricky Gervais host the telecast. Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane has been tapped to host this year’s gala, suggesting the show is looking for a little edge. But what the ailing Oscarcast really needs is a big dose of Ricky Gervais. The British comedian’s wicked three-year stint hosting (or was it roasting?) the Golden Globes was the best thing ever to happen to those second-tier awards. Sic him on the Oscars and watch the ratings soar.