The End of Oscars

The End of Oscars (as) History?

Eliminating Testimonial Awards from the Academy Awards Telecast is a Depressing Mistake

by Stephen Glaister

For many[1] viewers[2] the high point of the 2010 Golden Globe Awards was Martin Scorsese’s Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in motion pictures.[3] Scorsese’s clips package wowed (at least up to its embedded Shutter Island trailer), and his acceptance speech[4] eloquently testified that film is both massively collaborative (“[T]hat making movies is a collaborative process is not a cliché, it’s the truth”) and deeply historical:

“Because, as William Faulkner said: The past is never dead. It’s not even past. As far as I’m concerned, making films and preserving them are the same thing. In this room, none of us who make films and watch them would be here without the people who came here before us.”

The Oscars’ counterparts of the DeMille Award – principally Honorary Awards and the Thalberg Award (for producers) – have, similarly, long provided ceremony highlights. For example, while recent Oscars telecasts have lived in the ratings shadow of the 1998 ceremony at which Titanic won 11 Awards, on the night itself, Stanley Donen’s Honorary Award[5] upstaged James Cameron’s juggernaut. Scorsese introduced Donen’s clips package, which spanned immortal ’50s musicals with Kelly and Astaire, and ultra-chic ’60s confections with Grant, Hepburn, Loren, Peck, and Finney, then Donen accepted his Award, saying that he should really be giving it to the long overdue Scorsese. Next, in two graceful minutes, Donen serenaded his Oscar statuette with a verse of ‘Cheek to Cheek’, brought down the house with an elegant soft-shoe routine, and humbly and wittily saluted 25 of the key writers, songsmiths, and actors who’d made his directorial success possible. It was a sublime moment. Hollywood’s glamorous past (and its past’s past – Astaire premiered[6] ‘Cheek to Cheek’ in 1935′s Top Hat) indeed wasn’t even past, and the implicit argument that Hollywood c.1998 would have been quite different but for the efforts of Donen & co. was made. The evening’s other shenanigans (from Bart the Bear delivering an envelope, to Cameron’s grimace-inducing ‘I’d like to do a few seconds of silence in remembrance of the 1500 men, women and children who died when the great ship died’) looked simultaneously pinched and overdone by comparison.

Unfortunately, as part of a general Oscars revamp that included expanding the Best Picture category to 10 nominees and tightening up the requirements for Best Song nominees, in June 2009 the Academy decided to bump all so-called ‘Testimonial’ awards from the telecast to a separate, more intimate, Governors Awards dinner event held in November. Accordingly, Kevin Brownlow, Jean-Luc Godard, Eli Wallach, and Francis Ford Coppola have already received their 2011 Honorary Awards and Thalberg Award respectively. The Academy’s only official reason[7] for this change was to circumvent the telecast’s time limitations and ensure that ‘each honoree will be given his or her full due, without compromise.’ The honorees are still big, it’s the telecast that got small. But some of the ‘fine print’ of the new policy, together with 2010 and 2011′s tripling of the customary Honorary Awards rate suggests that the Academy also just wanted to be able to honor more people.

The first two Governors Awards dinners have followed the model of the AFI’s Lifetime Achievement events: toasts, presentations, then honoree speeches (go here[8] for video).[9] I especially recommend Caleb Deschanel’s toast[10] to cinematographic legend Gordon Willis at the first event. It’s true: Deschanel could not have spoken about his friend at that length or in that precise, affectionate, in-group marked tone except in a relatively intimate environment (and certainly not in the Kodak Theater). Moreover, I think one has to concede that this format could ‘work’ more generally. With relatively little effort, the Academy could turn the current on-line video of the Governors Awards dinner into a proper show for internet or cable TV network (say, AMC or Bravo) distribution, or both. And with elites, gourmets, and old-timers catered for elsewhere, the Oscars telecast could concern itself exclusively with film’s present. Stars of Twilight wouldn’t have to pretend to know or care who Lauren Bacall is. Projecting further out: the Oscars telecast could perhaps fulfill its destiny by focusing increasingly on competition between only the very broadest, fast food-like, youthful entertainments (e.g., Twilight vs. Iron Man, Star Trek vs. Avatar, The Dark Knight vs. Mamma Mia!, LOTR vs. Harry Potter).

Still, there are at least six, jointly very compelling reasons why the Academy should not segregate its Testimonial Awards away from the main ceremony.

First, the visceral loss to the telecast from segregation is considerable. Charlie Chaplin’s emotional (Hollywood and US) ‘home-coming’, Honorary Award in 1972 is often picked as the greatest Oscars moment of all. What a truly brilliant idea, to prevent anything like that[11] happening again. While not all Testimonial Awards can blast off to become an evening’s signature the way Chaplin’s or Donen’s did (or Scorsese’s DeMille Award did at the Golden Globes), they’re almost always an evening highlight, and they’re never the stuff that’s rightly pilloried as ridiculous time-wasting when shows run long. (For that ignominy, the Academy should look at the hydra of non-awards-related padding whose recently-sprouted heads include 2009′s truly pitiful ‘Animation in 2008′, ‘Romance in 2008′, etc. montages. Each of these (five!) forgettable clips packages, when taken together with its presenters’ introduction, was almost as long as a typical Testimonial Award segment.) For the sake of the argument, suppose that we set aside the Academy’s professed concern that current Testimonial Award segments don’t give honorees their due. Then there’s no getting around the fact that bumping the Testimonial Awards sacrifices a consistently delightful feature of the Oscars telecast.

Second, the intellectual loss to the telecast from segregation is also considerable. This is a version of Scorsese’s main point: Testimonial Awards preserve historical sense and connection. They’re an important institutional technology for keeping the whole enterprise of film in the correct perspective. With them the Oscars and its audiences explicitly bear witness to the idea that in film one is always (knowingly or unknowingly) in dialogue with giants, standing on the shoulders of giants, and so on. The harsh truth of the matter is that removing the Testimonial Awards from the main telecast dumbs the Oscars down and threatens to trap it in a parochial and barely intelligible present. George Orwell’s O’Brien says that if you want a picture of a totalitarian future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face . . . for ever. Similarly, if you want an image of an Oscars trapped in the present and eating its own seed-corn for the future, imagine the latest teenyboppers earnestly and exclusively presenting extensive highlight reels such as ‘Romance in the Movies that were released in this very year’. . . for ever. In our view the Academy should configure its showcase event in ways that resist rather than abet the various drain-circling, idiocratic forces in contemporary culture. Making serendipitous encounter with giants more rather than less likely is part of that resistance and should be one of the Academy’s goals, both for its own members and for the culture at large. Some kid in Nebraska watches the Oscars because of Gladiator or to see what Björk or Nicole Kidman will wear, but comes away intrigued by this guy Ernest Lehman and his plea for screenwriters. And what was that flick he wrote: The Sweet Smell of North by Northwest Side Story? Some kid in Johannesburg watches the Oscars for the LOTR, but comes away buzzing about Peter O’Toole and his buddy Lawrence Arabia. That’s a very important, though largely invisible and unheralded kind of Oscars success.[12] And it’s the kind of Oscars success that bumping Testimonial Awards to an unheralded B-show preempts.

Third, removing Testimonial Awards from the main Oscar telecast hands the Golden Globes telecast an important advantage, assuming it keeps the DeMille Award. That said, the DeMille Award is a poor substitute for Honorary Oscars in particular. The problem is that the Golden Globes ignores the craft/collaborative aspects of film, giving ordinary Awards just to actors, directors, and producers. Its DeMille Awards inherit that somewhat celebrity-worshipping, external-to-the-industry, institutional focus. By way of contrast, the Oscars are a true intra-industry award show that honors a wide range of craft/collaborative categories. The Honorary Oscars inherit this ordinary institutional focus: since 1990, the Academy has specially honored a choreographer (Kidd), a writer (Lehman), a composer (Morricone), an Art Director (Boyle), two cinematographers (Cardiff, Willis), and a historian/restorer (Brownlow) in addition to the usual actor, director, and producer suspects. Bravo, and accept no DeMille Award substitutes.

Fourth, the Oscars telecast is special: until 2010 it faithfully represented both the collaborative and the deeply historical dimensions of the medium that Scorsese identified and saluted. That’s a serious and distinctive achievement; one that shouldn’t have been taken for granted or thrown away lightly. By way of contrast, broadly celebrity-/star-worshipping award shows that (like the Golden Globes) ignore the importance of collaboration are a dime a dozen. And awards with relatively little historical sense are commonplace in other media. Neither the Emmys nor the Grammys engage in meaningful ‘dialogue with their past that isn’t even past’, and that appears to be a big part of why they’re relative non-events compared to the Oscars. Stripping the Testimonial Awards from the Oscars telecast therefore makes the Oscars telecast more like every other big award show. In the absence of any compelling benefits from standardizing (no network effects in this case), throwing away distinctiveness is almost certainly a mistake.

Fifth, historically speaking, one of the most important and legitimate uses of Testimonial Awards has been to correct the Academy’s most galling errors of omission: think Hitchcock in 1968[13] or Cary Grant in 1970[14] or Peter O’Toole in 2003.[15] Whether because of the quirks of competition (Hitchcock, Lehman, O’Toole, Bacall, Willis), or because of the elusiveness of the individual’s talent relative to standard Awards categories (Grant, Donen, Corman), it emerges that if this person doesn’t get a Testimonial Award now, they won’t enter the Academy’s lists period. And that’s almost unthinkable given their achievements. Insofar as this historical, ‘gap-filling’ or ‘error-of-omission-correcting’ rationale for Testimonial Awards continues to be central, however, to that extent those Awards should be kept as symmetrical and continuous with ordinary Awards in the main ceremony as possible. That is, insofar as the real point of many Testimonial Awards is to give people the Oscars they should have got in the regular run of things (and would have, say, if competition had been a bit more well-spaced, or if comedic skill weren’t so perennially easy to overlook, or if the Academy hadn’t been in a foul mood that year, or…. ), to that extent Testimonial Awards aren’t radically different sorts of Oscars than the normal competitive kinds, they’re radically the same. In 2010, Bacall now has in hand the Oscar she should have got for To Have and To Have Not, Willis now holds the Oscar he should have got for The Godfather Part II, and so on. Segregating out Testimonial Awards just obscures what’s really going on in these canonical cases.

Sixth, the Academy pitched the Governors Awards dinner solution as doing favors to all honorees, but that sounds like soft-soap to my ears. In a business where ego and hamming it up (not to mention plain orneriness[16]) are currencies, it’s a good bet that many honorees would, if they were allowed to choose, prefer a shorter tribute on the big stage (e.g., ‘I want my moment of triumph/celebration in the same place where, for twenty or more years, I lost or wasn’t even nominated!’).

And consider the note of apology that often accompanies error-of-omission cases: we’re so sorry that we didn’t get this to you earlier. But that apology (and associated final embrace) is intuitively most convincing insofar as it’s most public, i.e., insofar as it comes from the largest ‘we’ possible, in the biggest room. Consider Doris Day. Doug McGrath’s plea[17] in the NY Times for Doris Day to receive an Honorary Oscar convinces: Academy members and film buffs alike should feel a little guilty about the way Day’s been largely forgotten, or remembered principally as a punch-line (‘before she was a virgin’). Her due is due and there’s no time to waste (she’s nearly 90). Get her down to LA, and, if she’s up to it, strolling across the big stage on the big night to a standing ovation after a revelatory clips package. It could be another Charlie Chaplin moment. So we are agreed.

But the newly segregated Testimonial Awards means that there’s no longer any provision for that particular sort of Hollywood ‘happy ending’ for Day, and for us. That may be a problem for Day (‘The honorees are still big, it’s the telecast that got small, huh?’), but probably not; she’s a legendarily good sport. But it’s definitely a problem for the Academy and for the broader cinephile community since they’re the ones with the guilty consciences. If McGrath’s right then the Academy will want to correct its error of omission with respect to Day. But if current arrangements stand, it won’t be able to do that by making the heretofore customary, biggest, most romantic, assuaging gesture that the Academy’s empowered to make. Why on Earth would the Academy hamstring itself in that way?

To summarize, mechanically segregating Testimonial Awards away from the main Oscars telecast:

  • Removes visceral delight from the Oscars telecast;
  • Removes intellectual heft from the Oscars telecast;
  • Gives an important edge to the otherwise inferior Golden Globes telecast;
  • Makes the Oscars telecast less distinctive overall;
  • Breaks a symmetry with ordinary competitive awards that the canonical error-of-omission-correction cases strongly argue we should preserve;
  • May inflict costs on some honorees, and definitely inflicts costs on the
    guilty-about-omissions Academy itself.

For at least these six reasons, the Testimonial Awards should be reintegrated with the Oscars telecast, at least on a case by case basis (e.g., at recipients’ requests), and probably entirely generally.

What about other recent changes to the Oscars such as expanding the Best Picture category to 10 nominees? We can’t go into those debates in detail here, but at least one of our recommendations – eliminate all non-awards-related padding – is germane to them. In our view, the Oscars only drags unforgivably when it becomes clear to everyone that the show is being padded, that people are screwing around, e.g., yukking it up like they’re on Saturday Night Live (whose weekly ‘We’re filling 90 minutes of dead air here, people!’ ethos is a poor fit for a necessarily packed-to-the-gills Oscars ceremony). Eliminating most non-award segments preempts much of this aggravation, and it would be the right thing to do even if it didn’t also help ensure that there’s telecast time available for Testimonial Awards.[18] But it does also do that, and, in principle, it also makes space for several more awards. To wit, I recommend a pair of awards aimed unapologetically at films in the mold of Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Dark Knight, and Avatar:

  • Best Extravaganza-/Mega-movie. Maybe having a budget > $100 million could be the criterion. Or perhaps whatever Ben Hur cost, continuously adjusted for inflation, would be better. Or perhaps a measure of ‘boots on the ground’, e.g., a total cast and crew > 500, would be best. Importantly, however, whichever criterion we adopt, ‘mega-’ and ‘mega- vs. non-mega-movies’ can and should be understood, at least in the first instance, strictly descriptively, like ensemble sizes in classical music, or weight classes in boxing. That’s the point: mega-movies tend to be as relatively incomparable to much smaller movies as the largest Mahler or Beethoven symphonies are to string quartets (and other chamber pieces). Similarly, heavyweight boxers aren’t better or worse boxers than fly-weight boxers, rather they’re just such different athletes that pairwise comparisons of individuals (who’s the better boxer?) between those weight classes are almost nonsense.
  • Best Action Sequence. We all know a good action sequence when we see one (note that action sequences aren’t the same thing as stunts or special effects, although they normally involve some of both). Such sequences have been a staple of mainstream film-making and of mainstream audience pleasure since at least the crop duster and Mt Rushmore chase scenes in North by Northwest. Action sequences now are as singular and identifiable (and as widely discussed and generally important to a whole range of mainstream movies) as large production and song and dance numbers were in the ’30s-’50s heyday of the movie musical. It therefore makes good sense (though the step’s by no means rationally compulsory) for us to start to honor excellent examples of the action sequence form. Mega-movies with huge budgets will have the inside track on this award, but they won’t always win. I wouldn’t bet against sequences built around a Keaton or a Jackie Chan on any budget.[19]

Samuel L. Jackson has been thinking[20] along somewhat similar lines about additional awards, although he explicitly offers ‘more awards’ as an alternative to ‘additional nominees’, whereas I treat these points independently and on their merits.

While I have no information about Jackson’s views about the recent changes to the Testimonial Awards, I imagine that they’d be worth hearing. That Jackson is one of the very best actors in Hollywood has been evident since his astonishing, good-enough-for-Cannes, Oscar-worthy-but-in-fact-not-even-nominated performance in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever in 1991. Yet he has been largely ignored by the Academy ever since (with so far just a single nomination, for Pulp Fiction). Jackson may yet win a competitive Oscar, but there’s a serious possibility that he’ll only enter the Academy’s lists via the Honorary route, just the way it’s-incredible-they-never-won-befores such as Kirk Douglas and Peter O’Toole did. If that’s what happens, we can only hope that the Academy has its house in order by then, so that Jackson at least has the option of receiving his Award (‘the Oscar he should have got for Jungle Fever or Pulp Fiction‘) in the traditional way. I suspect that that’s what the supposedly much-courted, ‘Dark Knight’ fan-boy and -girl masses would want and expect too. Be cool Academy.


[1][ ].

[2] [ ].

[3] Robert De Niro’s 2011 Cecil B. DeMille Award was a well-reviewed high-point too, but it wasn’t the astonishment that Scorsese’s Award was the previous year, hence it’s not quite as useful an example for us here.

[4] [ ].

[5] [ ].

[6] [ ].

[7] [ ].

[8] [ ].

[9] The Governors Awards dinner event is also in roughly the same genre as the swank but indifferently attended
[ ] pre-WW2 Oscars dinners with dancing held at either the Ambassador or Biltmore Hotels. The eavesdropped-on-by-radio, ‘private party’ vibe of those events quickly dissipated with the move to theater venues in 1944, with subsequent moves to larger auditoria, and with the beginning of telecasts in 1953

[10] [ ].

[11] [ ].

[12] The possibility of ‘firing the imagination’ success also suggests that the Oscars telecast could and should liberalize its In memoriam reel. Maxine Cooper died on April 4, 2009, but wasn’t remembered at the 2010 Oscars. Who’s Maxine Cooper? She played Mike Hammer’s secretary, Velma in Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955). Her staggering into the Malibu surf with Ralph Meeker as the apocalypse begins behind them is one of the greatest sequences in all of film. Insert a couple of seconds from that scene into the In memoriam reel and you not only gracefully acknowledge a non-star who nonetheless was a big part of a great film, you may also spark a few precocious 8 year olds to wonder, ‘Who was she? And what the heck was that I just saw?’

[13] [ ].

[14] [ ].

[15] [ ].

[16] Allegedly [ ], Godard would have accepted his 2011 Honorary Award in person if it hadn’t been presented at a ‘not the Oscars’ Governors event.

[17] [ ].

[18] I’m similarly enthusiastic about (i) efforts to encourage Award-winners to be dignified, succinct, and generally to take Audrey Hepburn’s acceptance speech [ ] as a model, and (ii) proposals to bump the three Short Film (Live Action, Animated, Doc.) Oscars to some B-show or other (short films haven’t been routinely screened before feature films since the 1970s, so these aren’t industry categories as such).

[19] A Best Action Sequence Award, which honors an aspect of films, may attract less resistance than a Best Mega-movie Award, which partitions films into incomparable sub-classes (suppose for the sake of the argument that no one has the stomach for duplicating, ‘umbrella’ Award categories, e.g., a Best Film Period in addition to Best Mega-movie and Best non-Mega-movie; cf. Best Film Period in addition to Best Comedy and Best Non-Comedy, and Best Thesp. in addition to Best Actor and Best Actress). For whatever reason, incomparable sub-classes, even those based on material considerations (budget/bodies) rather than content or subject matter, just aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. I don’t see the problem myself, but I could live with having a Best Action Sequence Award as the sole way to reliably funnel nominations and wins to the best Mega-movies. That would still significantly improve on the Oscars’ status quo.

[20] [ ].

9 comments to The End of Oscars

  1. Cheryl Baum says:

    I totally agree. I ignore the 10 picture thing because you are usually only really dealing with the big 3 anyway but losing those awards was really a bad idea. Especially lifetime achievement. The Academy needed that to right past wrongs or for those who’s work doesn’t fit any category but are amazing. I agree it also encouraged younger generation to hear about or see clips of famous movies they may not have known about or given someone an interest in seeing what all the fuss is about and opening them to a new, old experience. It’s yet another sad commentary on our times of dumbing everything down for the majority (these are people who think “reality” TV is a good idea!). I guess we’ll have to hit rock bottom before anyone wakes up and realizes how badly we are influencing America in a negative way. A whole generation who has no idea what class means. It’s a tragedy. Great article.

  2. [...] The End of Oscars As History? from (Suggested by swanstep) [...]

  3. Samuel Kincaid says:

    Stephen Glaister is absolutely correct. The United States entertainment industry is held hostage by the ever-shortening attention span of television viewers.

    The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences claims moving the honorary awards to the Governor’s Dinner gives the honorees more individualized attention. What it really does is appease networks and producers who are trying to shorten the show. What is the end result? These signifcant moments are replaced with yet more
    incipid stunts such as montages and silly musical numbers. I shouldn’t be surpirsed if this Sunday we are treated to a tribute to talking dogs in the movies.

  4. Nader says:

    I love to rant and I love movies and I am a big fan of the Academy Awards, in that, my friends and I watch every film in the ten major awards (best film, directing, lead and supporting acting, original and adapted screenplay, cinematography and animation) and we make wagers on who and which films we think we will, making the Academy Awards even more fun. Yet from what I’ve noticed in past years, the Oscars have added far too much fillers in the ceremony. For instance, at the 2009 ceremony, for each of the four acting awards and best directing award, they brought up five past winners to talk about the nominees–that’s 25 people wasting time. It took 4:16 seconds for five past winners to talk about the actresses nominated for lead actress–the lead actor introductions took an extra 1:20; extrapolate the numbers, that’s approximately 25 minutes of wasted time. And then when it’s time to accept his or her coveted award, individuals are too jubilant to keep track of time and 45 seconds later, cue the music rudely interrupting speeches (i.e. Adrien Brody). The introduction is typically fun to watch, as it provides a comic start to such a dramatic evening, but then the Academy finds it necessary to include several songs and/or song and dance numbers that again waste time. When it comes to honorary awards, so many wonderful actors, actresses, directors and producers finally achieve the Oscar they should have won years or decades ago. I know if I was Peter O’Toole, Sidney Lumet, Eli Wallach, Lauren Bacall, Charlie Chaplin or Kirk Douglas, I would be far too damn emotional to care about time restraints, especially when they have been snubbed time and time again. The Academy consciously knows that they have made poor decisions in the past and the problem with that is that the right actors and directors win for the wrong films, which has a ripple effect and snubs the more deserving performances. The speeches are why most people watch the Oscars–for other individuals, they care more about the elegance and fashion. If it wasn’t for the speeches, then what would be the point of watching the Academy Awards when we could simply just go online and read the list of winners? Rather than focus on the glory of winning, they Academy would rather waste time and God forbid if the televised ceremony ends five minutes past 11:00pm ET. And what is always aired after the Academy Awards? The local nightly news. I’d rather watch more of the Oscars than learn of the inevitable and constant violence and theft that occurs each and every day. The world hasn’t come to a halt when the Super Bowl ends 30 or 45 minutes past its televised schedule every year and neither should the directors of the Academy. Great article.

  5. sosgemini says:

    ^^^While they used the acting testimonials the past two years, they have not done so for directors. And I’d argue that the original intent of the acting testimonials by previous winners brings a since of history to the awards. The first year it was done, it took up the same amount of time that showing individual film clips (which IMHO is a big waste of time since either you’ve seen the film or you have no clue what’s going on within the clip).

  6. Craig says:

    Thanks for the article. I’ve often felt a tinge of embarassment when the lifetime achievement awards are handed out and I find myself asking, “Who?” But as you’ve suggested it does lead me to find out more about those who’ve had such significant impact over the history of cinema.

    I wanted to comment on footnote number 18 where you suggest that short films are only good for a “B-show.” I found this quite surprising following an article that highlighted the collaborative effort that is filmmaking. I would argue that many short films exemplify that spirit as much as (if not more so) than big Hollywood films. Getting a short film made and screened to be eligible for Oscar contention is a labor of love for those who actually have to work hard to scrape together money, actors, and technical talent to make it all happen, usually without backing by a big studio or producer.

    I don’t want to sound like I’m saying short films or indies are the “one true artform.” I love movies of all types. But those who love cinema need to make a bigger effort to promote the short films. Expanding on one of your own examples: the kid in Nebraska sees big blocksbusters winning awards, but how is he supposed to make something like that? If in the same breath we honor short films, something much more achievable, that same kid could have a model to follow, some idea of how to start learning about the film industry on a small scale to know if it’s something he’d really enjoy.

  7. Cesar says:

    I just wanted to say thank you for this article! I couldn’t agree more! Great job at writing it!

  8. Brian says:

    Good article, agree with the central argument. Some points though: (a) breaking the awards up into sub categories like best action sequence would only lead to a Grammys style awards-for-all situation that would devalue the whole process even more (b) surely giving consolation guilty-conscience Oscars to those who should have won in the past is an embarrassing here-take-it-if-you’re-going-to-sulk compromise (c) I think you over-estimate the educational possibilities of the Oscar broadcast on the teenagers of Nebraska and (d) Sandra Bullock has one

  9. stephen glaister says:

    Thanks to all the commenters so far. I’d like, however, to respond briefly to #6, Craig. I suggested in fn. 18 that maybe the three short film awards should be pushed to a B-show (such as the Student Oscars, which has a pretty good record of rewarding/identifying talent as it happens), in part because (except for the wonderful Pixar) short films before features don’t exist any more (Oscars used to be given for both one-reelers and two-reelers when those were big parts of movie-going). Still, as Craig nicely observes, the current system does create special incentives, potential-for-feet-in-the-door, etc. for some young film-makers, and losing that would be, well, a loss. I agree, but the benefits of a slightly more streamlined main Oscars show are significant too: three awards for films that almost no one in the theater or at home has even heard of before, and which almost nobody will ever have a chance to see in the future (although web distribution may be changing that a little), stops the ceremony dead I find. In general too these awards seem to me to fight with the idea that the Oscars are really ‘the big leagues’. So there’s a trade-off. Ultimately too there’s a question about whether honoring short films in this way is really the best way to encourage young talent/beginning film-makers. The Independent Spirit Awards has in some respects a better model for that: no short film awards but a
    best *first*screenplay and best *first* feature and a couple of ‘emerging’ awards for both fiction and non-fiction. At any rate, I like my trade-off and suspect that a slightly broadened Student Oscars + the Spirit Awards would ensure that the loss of the short film Oscars from the main ceremony wouldn’t ultimately be so very painful.

Leave a Reply