April 18, 2015 | Updated at 09:00 PM EDT The Latest Entertainment & Celebrity News

Why the Oscars Still Matter

I've been watching the Academy Awards since I was 11. This required permission from my parents to stay up late on a school night, but they knew how much movies meant to me. It was the only night of the year when one could see the biggest stars in Hollywood on the small screen. Audrey Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and Elizabeth Taylor didn't appear on talk shows in those days.

By Leonard Maltin, Reuters on Jan 09, 2013 04:44 PM EST
facebook tweet this pin it plus
Sign Up for Newsletter
  • Seth MacFarlane
  • Seth MacFarlane (Photo : Reuters)

(Reuters) - I've been watching the Academy Awards since I was 11. This required permission from my parents to stay up late on a school night, but they knew how much movies meant to me. It was the only night of the year when one could see the biggest stars in Hollywood on the small screen. Audrey Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and Elizabeth Taylor didn't appear on talk shows in those days.


Memories like mine have been shared by a number of excited Oscar winners, who have said how unreal it seems to be standing at that podium, which they never dreamed of when watching the awards show as children.

I doubt the critics questioning the Oscars' relevance today could recall anyone making a similar speech at the Golden Globes or any of the newly minted award shows that have permeated the pop culture landscape. That's because these shows don't have the history, tradition or worldwide impact that sets the Academy Awards apart from the crowd. And while some of these ceremonies have better reputations than others, they all exist in the shadow of the Oscars, the locomotive that drives a massive and increasingly complex Hollywood machine known as awards season.

Nothing else much matters once autumn arrives in Tinseltown. The rest of the world may have other things on its mind, but in Los Angeles the buildup begins on Labor Day weekend, when the first award-worthy pictures are unveiled at the Venice, Toronto and Telluride (Colorado) film festivals. That's where movies like "The Artist" and "Slumdog Millionaire" were launched. A few months later at the Oscars, filmmakers get to bask in the glow of success while those who finance and release the movies get to see a concrete return at the box office. All this hype inspires people to see those movies - in theaters, on video or online. How many Americans would have sought out a black-and-white silent movie from France or an Indian movie with subtitles (but no movie stars) without the ballyhoo that concluded on the Academy Awards stage?

The man or woman on the street may complain that the Oscars don't reflect popular taste, but that was never the purpose. The Academy Awards are meant to maintain a standard of excellence that is often at odds with box-office returns. If millions of people didn't rush to see "Winter's Bone" or "The Hurt Locker," it's their loss and not the Academy's fault.

This culture gap has taken a toll on the Oscars, however, as the ratings for its annual broadcast has dropped into the 30 million to 40 million range, according to Nielsen Co, after peaking with 55 million viewers in 1998, the year of "Titanic" - one of the rare box-office blockbusters to also dominate the Oscars. That's down from the 40 million to 50 million sets of eyes that used to tune in during the 1970s and early '80s. What's the solution? Hiring attractive young stars (Anne Hathaway and James Franco) as hosts for the ceremony didn't do the trick, and returning to the tried-and-true (Billy Crystal) apparently turned off the younger demo. You can't please everybody, and grousing about the Oscars has become a popular pastime.

IMAGE CONTROL

The Academy is taking steps to counter its fusty image. It has stepped up its membership outreach over the past decade and invited contemporary filmmakers across all ethnic, racial and gender lines to join, although it still has a long way to go. Its 6,000 members are proposed by colleagues in various branches, from screenwriters to makeup artists, and voted in once a year. Journalists like me are not included. Core members still skew mostly older and white ‑ membership is almost never revoked ‑ yet these supposedly out-of-touch professionals are the first to embrace young and emerging talent such as Jennifer Lawrence, Jesse Eisenberg, Rooney Mara, Octavia Spencer and Jeremy Renner, to name just a few. The Academy also operates a world-class research library and film archive and supports student filmmakers and film festivals, all based on the license fee it receives for that one telecast.

Critics have urged the Academy to delete the "duller" awards from its agenda, as has been done at the Grammy Awards. But the Grammys have the advantage of being able to ask its musical nominees to sing and play onstage. The Oscars can't very well have actors come out and perform scenes from their latest hits.

Every producer who tries to make the show leaner and tighter learns a sobering truth: No matter how glitzy the opening may be, there are at least 24 awards to hand out. At some point, someone will have to read long lists of nominees in categories like Sound Editing and Visual Effects, followed by the speeches of winners that few in the audience know or care about.

Therein lies the Oscar conundrum: It isn't a show, it's an awards ceremony disguised as a show. If it were to change, it wouldn't be the Oscars. I say this as a purist living in a world of rapid change, where there is little sentiment or regard for tradition. That's why younger-skewing, hipper shows are able to steal some of Oscar's thunder. The kind of major-league stars who used to be seen only once a year on the Academy broadcast now turn up on TV year-round, promoting their movies.

One reason the Johnny-come-lately awards shows have been embraced by the movie industry is that it helps promote their movies at a time when the cost of advertising and promotion has gone sky-high. The kind of offbeat, upscale films that vie for yearend honors often don't have blockbuster promotional budgets, so free publicity is catnip to their studios and distributors.

HEARTS AND MINDS

Yet even the "free" publicity of awards season is starting to cost more. For at least a decade studios have shuttled A-list stars and directors from one Hollywood industry screening or Q-and-A session to another, often hitting two or three such events in one evening. The goal is to work their way into voters' hearts and minds, not unlike a presidential candidate on the campaign trail. One can only imagine the bills for private jets, limousines and stylists who tend to these stars as they make their rounds. And this doesn't even include the televised awards shows, which continue to multiply like rabbits.

Some of those pretenders to the throne earn considerable attention, and the Golden Globes presentation features more stars than even the Academy can muster. (After all, it honors both movies and television shows, and has separate categories for comedy and drama.) No one with a card-carrying publicist can afford to ignore such an event, but the same philosophy is now applied to even more spurious gatherings, like the star-studded Hollywood Film Awards in October.

It's unlikely that anyone would spit in the eye of an organization offering a prize, even if it's just for showing up, which often seems to be the case. And no one would disdain a citation from the estimable guilds that represent producers, directors, writers and actors ... not to mention the organizations made up of cinematographers, costume designers, editors and composers. They all conduct awards ceremonies, or "kudofests," as the trade paper Variety dubs them. And while the number of working critics has shrunk in this era of downsizing for newspapers and magazines, the number of critics' groups proffering awards has risen sharply.

No one is more aware of the competition and what it signifies than the Academy. For the first time this year, the 85-year-old organization is allowing question-and-answer sessions with actors and filmmakers at Academy member screenings. Until now, studios that wanted to parade Steven Spielberg or Meryl Streep before an industry crowd had to settle for Screen Actors Guild gatherings and other non-Academy-sanctioned events.

One arena in which the Academy was ahead of the curve was in thinking globally. In the mid-1940s, Hollywood's elite recognized the artistic brilliance of European cinema by honoring such works as the Italian films "Shoeshine" and "The Bicycle Thief." It remained an honorary award voted by the Board of Governors (bestowed on such masterpieces from France and Japan as "Forbidden Games" and "Rashomon") before becoming a normal competitive category in 1956. This year, 71 countries, from Afghanistan to Vietnam, are submitting feature-length films.

The announcement of Seth MacFarlane, the creator and edgy voice of "Family Guy," as the next host also sends a message that the Oscars are not stuck in the past. The Academy website is more active than ever, posting coverage of its many live events, and the public-relations staff is embracing social media, apps and YouTube.

I still look forward to Oscar night every year. I don't expect or demand a great show, but every now and then the producers pull off something memorable ... or a winner creates a bit of magic. When Jon Stewart brought a virtual unknown, Marketa Irglova, back onstage after a commercial break so she could express her deep feelings about winning an Oscar for the song "Falling Slowly," from "Once," she captivated the audience in the theater and at home. Why? Because she spoke from the heart (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qx8yLvb0gZM). Moments like that create indelible memories and inspire young people around the world to pursue their dreams. Ultimately, after all the back-slapping and self-congratulation dies down, that's why the Academy Awards still matter.

Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin is perhaps best known for his annual paperback reference book, "Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide." He also hosts "Maltin on Movies" for Reelz, introduces films on Comcast and teaches at the University of Southern California's School for Cinematic Arts. He has written many books about film and holds court at www.leonardmaltin.com.

(This story has been refiled to add comma in paragaph 3 after "in the shadow of the Oscars," and remove the word "him" in paragraph 14) 

© 2015 Enstarz, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Tagged :   Oscars, The Oscars 2013
facebook tweet this pin it plus
Contribute to this Story send us a tip send us a tip send us a tip
Sign Up for Newsletters

Around The Web

  • SEARCH ENSTARS

Nick Gordon and Bobbi Kristina Brown

How Is Bobbi Kristina Brown's Boyfriend Nick Gordon Doing In Rehab?

Bobbi Kristina Brown's boyfriend Nick Gordon is said to be doing better now that he is getting help in rehab as she gets treatment as well.

Paul Walker and Cody Walker

Could Paul Walker's Brother Join The Cast Of 'Fast and Furious 8'?

Paul Walker's younger brother, Cody, who helped finish Walker's character arc in 'Furious 7,' has set his eyes on Hollywood.

Maddie Ziegler

What's Next For Maddie Ziegler?

Maddie Ziegler opens up about what's next for her in her career.

Bobby Brown & Bobbi Kristina Brown

Bobbi Kristina Brown's Family Still Hopeful She’ll Recover

Bobbi Kristina Brown has started to question what Bobbi Kristina Brown will be like if she wakes up from her medically induced coma.

Jessa Duggar

Is Jessa Duggar Pregnant?

Jessa Duggar spotted buying maternity clothes.

Willie Nelson

Publication Claims Willie Nelson Has Passed At 81 During Death Hoax

When a publication falsely reported that Willie Nelson had died at age 81, the truth came out that it was incorrect.

Nick Gordon and Bobbi Kristina Brown

How Is Bobbi Kristina Brown's Boyfriend Nick Gordon Doing In Rehab?

Bobbi Kristina Brown's boyfriend Nick Gordon is said to be doing better now that he is getting help in rehab as she gets treatment as well.

Maura West

Maura West Confirms If She's Leaving 'General Hospital'

Ava Jerome hasn't been receiving much good news lately on General Hospital, it could be because the actress, Maura West, is planning to leave the soap.

Paul Walker and Cody Walker

Could Paul Walker's Brother Join The Cast Of 'Fast and Furious 8'?

Paul Walker's younger brother, Cody, who helped finish Walker's character arc in 'Furious 7,' has set his eyes on Hollywood.

Kim Matula

Is Kim Matula Readying To Return To 'The Bld and the Beautiful' Full Time?

She left her very popular role on The Bold and the Beautiful at the end of last year to pursue other ventures, but new reports allege that Kim Matula wants to return to CBS and her role of Hope Logan once again.

Showtime

Showtime Boxing Live Stream: Watch Julio Cesar Chavez Jr vs Andrzej Fonfara Online

Find out how to watch Julio Cesar Chavez Jr vs Andrzej Fonfara online

Mimi Faust

Mimi Faust & Nikko Smith's Wife Margeaux Get Physical On 'LHHATL'

Things come to a head between Mimi Faust and Nikko Smith's now infamous wife Margo in a new teaser of 'Love & Hip Hop Atlanta.'

Bobbi Kristina

Deborah Cox Talks Bobbi Kristina Brown: 'I Hope For A Miracle'

Deborah Cox has expressed her prayers for Whitney Houston's daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown, as Brown continues to get treatment in a rehab center while in a coma.

'Fast and Furious 7'

What We Know So Far About 'Fast and Furious 8'

Information about 'Fast and Furious 8' is trickling through.

Tia Mowry

Tia Mowry Possibly Calls Out KeKe Palmer For Getting Close To Her Husband

Former 'The Game' star Tia Mowry might have had a few words for KeKe Palmer after the 'Brotherly Love' actress was a little too friendly with Mowry's husband, Cory Hardict.

Latest News

Showtime

Showtime Boxing Live Stream: Watch Julio Cesar Chavez Jr vs Andrzej Fonfara Online

Find out how to watch Julio Cesar Chavez Jr vs Andrzej Fonfara online

Jennifer Garner

Jennifer Garner Talks About Helping Kids With Early Education

Jennifer Garner is doing what she can to help make a difference in the lives of children during their early education.

Downton Abbey

'Downton Abbey' To Have The 'Best Possible Ending?'

One of the actresses from 'Downton Abbey' just dished on the last season and the epic turnout that it's going to have.

Moniece Slaughter

'LHHNY' Star Diamond Strawberry Sits On His Lap & His New Girlfriend Moniece Slaughter 'Handled It'

Moniece Slaughter of 'Love & Hip Hop Hollywood' is still fighting off girls from 'Love & Hip Hop New York' as they get close with her new boyfriend RIch Dollaz, who also stars in the New York show.

Carrie Underwood

Mike Fisher Reveals His Favorite Part About Being A Dad

Country superstar Carrie Underwood and her husband, Mike Fisher, have been parents to baby Isaiah for almost two months where the dad revealed his favorite part of being a parent.

Nashville

Deacon May Not Get The Liver Transplant On 'Nashville?'

As Deacon continues to battle his illness on 'Nashville,' it seems like he's getting better- until the doctor comes in with some unfortunate news.

UFC

'UFC On Fox 15' LIVE STREAM: Watch Machida vs Rockhold MMA Fight Online

Find out how to stream Machida vs Rockhold online.

Kate Sullivan

Kate Sullivan Flaunts Full Lips On Social Media

Fitness expert Kate Sullivan added a new photo to her page that shows off her luscious beauty that helped her become the sensation she is today.

Kylie Jenner

Kylie Jenner Likes To Stalk Her Exes

Kylie Jenner admits she likes to stalk her exes.

Max 'RuPaul'

Max Made A 'Grave Mistake' In Last Week's 'RuPaul' Episode

Former 'RuPaul' contestant Max just revealed some details about the Snatch Game that took place on the previous episode of the drag competition.

Featured Videos

From Our Partners

Call Of Champions

'Call Of Champions' MOBA Comes To iOS & Android, Partners With 'League Of Legends' Pros For Alpha Testing [VIDEO]

Three players from the League of Legends pro circuit are collaborating with Spacetime Studio to create and fine tune Call of Champions, the company's upcoming MOBA title for smart devices.

Hassain Rubel

Bangladesh vs. Pakistan WATCH FREE Online: 2nd ODI Cricket Match Live Streaming @ 8:30 GMT

The Tigers’ 329 in the first match was their highest scoring total in the nation’s ODI history. It was just a masterful display.

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Hearthstone Expansion Blackrock Spire Now Open: Learn How To Beat The New Bosses [VIDEO]

The latest wing to Blackrock Mountain in Hearthstone has been opened and excellent YouTuber Trump is here to show you how it's done. Watch and learn.

Inateck Bluetooth 3.0 Ultra Slim Keyboard

Inateck Bluetooth 3.0 Ultra Slim Keyboard Review: A Smarter Option Than Apple's Wireless Keyboard

These days, it helps to have a keyboard that’s versatile. Sure, you can buy a USB keyboard for your computer, but what about when you’re on your tablet, or even your phone? What if you’re on the go and don’t want to lug around a giant keyboard?

Jets vs. Ducks

JETS vs DUCKS Watch FREE Live Stream Online: Winnipeg at Anaheim Game 2 Preview

The Jets look to bounce-back from a Game 1 loss while the Ducks hope to take a 2-0 lead. This game can be live streamed for free.

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

JULIO CESAR CHAVEZ JR. vs. ANDRZEJ FONFARA Live Stream: Mexican Star JCC Jr. Ready To Take Boxing Seriously?

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. returns to the ring after more than a year's layoff to fight Andrzej Fonfara

Mortal Kombat X

Mortal Kombat X Characters Rain, Sindel, And Baraka From Story Mode Made Playable By PC Modder

In case you didn't think Mortal Kombat X's pretty impressive roster was deep enough, a PC modder has made normally locked fighters playable.

Penguins vs. Rangers

PENGUINS vs RANGERS Watch FREE Live Stream Online: Pittsburgh at New York Game 2

The Rangers look to jump out to a 2-0 series lead while the Penguins hope to even things up. This game can be live streamed for free here.

PS4

PS4 vs Xbox One: March NPD Sales Report Shows Sony Leads Again, Nintendo Posts Strong Hardware Numbers

Sony has continued its sales lead over Xbox One according to the latest NPD numbers, though Nintendo has posted the largest gains for the last month.

James Harden

ROCKETS vs. MAVERICKS Free Live Stream Game 1: James Harden Seeks To Advance Past First Round

James Harden is an MVP candidate, but getting past the first round of the playoffs is much more important than individual awards.

Real Time Analytics