October 22, 2014 | Updated at 08:03 AM 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) 

© 2014 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

Theo James and Shailene Woodley

'Insurgent' Gets First Graphic For the Movie, When Is Footage Coming?

While not much has been seen about the next movie in the Divergent series, it seems like Lionsgate is setting up a new website so that fans can get new content as it is released.

Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson

New Photo Released From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey'

Fans are getting more hints about the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' movie as the release date continues to get closer.

Farrah Abraham

Farrah Abraham Is Following In The Footsteps Of Paris Hilton

Farrah Abraham has been a mother, reality star, business woman, author, stripper, and is now a proud pet owner.

Megan Fox

Megan Fox Confirmed As Female Lead In 'Transformers 5'?

A new report suggests that Megan Fox will be making a comeback and reprising her role as the original female lead in the 'Transformers' franchise with the 'Age of Extinction' sequel.

Batman

'Batman v Superman' Movie Cast Grows Even Larger; Almost 'Avengers' Sized

The cast of 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' is continuing to grow with every month, with such a huge cast of comic book characters that it is almost comparable to 'Marvel's The Avengers.'

'Saw'

'Saw 8' In The Works?

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the 'Saw' series, director James Wan dished about the future of the franchise in an interview.

Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield in a promotional photo for 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'

Is Andrew Garfield Set To Be Unmasked As Spider-Man In 'Captain America 3?'

Marvel is set to shake things up and this began with the resounding news that Robert Downey Jr. would be reprising his role as Iron Man/Tony Stark and be appearing in the next Captain America movie. But does that have any effect on Spider-Man, it actually could.

'Insidious 3'

Fans 'Will Love The Continuation' Of The Horror Franchise With 'Insidious 3'

In a recent interview, James Wan, who directed the first two chapters in the 'Insidious' series, dished about what fans can expect from the third in the franchise.

'Jurassic World'

Who Is Likely To Fall Prey To the Dinosaurs In 'Jurassic World'?

The 'Jurassic Park' series is known to sacrifice a couple of characters in every movie, and things wouldn't be any different for 'Jurassic World.' So Enstars rounds up which of the significant characters, known to us, are likely to be sent down the digestive tract of a relentless beast.

Tracy Morgan

Tracy Morgan Has New Film Out As '30 Rock' Star Still Recovers

Although it was recently said that comedian Tracy Morgan may never work again, fans can actually hear the '30 Rock' star in a film out right now.

'Insidious 3'

'Insidious' Still Feat. Elise Teases The Further For Third Chapter

A still featuring Elise (Lin Shaye) from 'Insidious' was recently posted on the indie-horror movie franchise's Twitter account, teasing her exploration of "the further" in the third chapter.

Brad Pitt

Find Out Why Brad Pitt Might Be More Similar to His New "Fury" Role Than We Think

Brad Pitt is more like his new character, Sgt. Don Collier aka Wardaddy, than people may realize. Find out why.

James Wan

Director James Wan Is 'Proudest' Of 'Fast and Furious 7,' Which Was Also The 'Hardest' To Make

In a recent interview, director James Wan dished about his experience working on 'Fast and Furious 7,' stating that while it was very difficult to make, it was also the one he was proudest of.

Batman

'Batman v Superman' Movie Cast Grows Even Larger; Almost 'Avengers' Sized

The cast of 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' is continuing to grow with every month, with such a huge cast of comic book characters that it is almost comparable to 'Marvel's The Avengers.'

Jason Momoa

Jason Momoa Confirms He's Playing Aquaman, Will He Appear In 'Batman v Superman?'

Jason Momoa has finally confirmed that he has been cast as Aquaman, but will he be appearing in 2016's 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice?'

Latest News

'Insidious 3'

New Still Feat. Stefanie Scott Teases 'New Fears' In 'Insidious: Chapter 3'

A new still featuring Stefanie Scott, the female lead in 'Insidious: Chapter 3,' and director Leigh Whannell from the set of filming was revealed on October 21.

'Terminator: Genisys'

What Does Arnold Schwarzenegger Want To 'Terminate' In Real Life?

Recently Arnold Schwarzenegger applied his Terminator persona to something he wanted to get rid off in real life. The actor tweeted that he wanted to "terminate climate change."

Transformers 4: Age of Extinction

'Transformers 4: Age of Extinction' Still Being Heavily Panned, New VIDEO Points At All That's Wrong With The Movie

A new video for 'Transformers 4: Age of Extinction' reveals all that's wrong with the movie, adding to the brutal criticism it has already been subject to.

Vin Diesel/'Fast and Furious 7'

Vin Diesel Reveals New Movie Still Of Dominic Toretto In 'Fast and Furious 7' Ahead Of Trailer Release

Vin Diesel posted a new image of himself as Dominic Toretto in 'Fast and Furious 7' on Facebook on October 21.

Iron Man Avengers Age of Ultron poster

'Avengers 2' Trailer To Debut On 'Agents Of SHIELD,' When Will It Air?

The 'Avengers 2' trailer is less than a week away.

Batman

'Batman v Superman' Movie Cast Grows Even Larger; Almost 'Avengers' Sized

The cast of 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' is continuing to grow with every month, with such a huge cast of comic book characters that it is almost comparable to 'Marvel's The Avengers.'

Michael Douglas

Michael Douglas Channels A Famous Role Of His In 'Ant-Man' Photos

It looks like Hank Pym is going to be taking on Wall Street in the latest photos from the set of Michael Douglas' latest movie. But does that mean no fighting for the actor?

Justice League

Who Will Be In The Line-Up For 'Justice League Part 1?'

With the newly released schedule for the DC Comics movies, there will be a host of new heroes joining the universe over the coming years prior to a monster team-up in the first Justice League movie. But who will be a part of the team and who won’t make the cut yet?

Kanye West

Kanye West To Be Featured On 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Album

Lorde is getting a big list of artists for her curated work on the next Hunger Games movie's soundtrack and it will include a few big names that will work with the Grammy-winner to give the film a new feel.

Iron Man 3

Robert Downey Jr. Teases 'Captain America 3'

It has been a week of crazy news on the Marvel front and the guy leading it all has had to stay mum on what is going on behind-the-scenes. But can Iron Man himself finally say what he feels about the third Captain America news? It seems like he has a little to say.

Featured Videos

From Our Partners

Android 5.0 Lollipop

Gmail App 5.0 Will Support Third-Party Email Addresses Like Outlook And Yahoo With Android 5.0 Lollipop Update

When the Android 5.0 Lollipop mobile operating system rolls out in the coming weeks, it will bring with it the 5.0 update for the Gmail app, which will include the added ability to add accounts from email services like Outlook and Yahoo into your Gmail app, keeping all of your accounts in one place.

Nathan Griffith and Jenelle Evans

Jenelle Evans CPS: 'Teen Mom 2' Star Gets A Visit From Child Protective Services [VIDEO]

Jenelle Evans recently got a visit from Child Protective Services.

Miranda and Corey Simms

Leah Calvert Miranda: 'Teen Mom 2' Star's Sister Slams Corey Simms' Wife [VIDEO]

Leah Calvert's sister doesn't believe Corey Simms' wife is authentic.

Caroline Wozniacki

Loss to Serena Williams BFF Caroline Wozniack Diminishes Maria Sharapova's Chance at No. 1 [VIDEO]

That's what friends are for. Serena Williams' BFF, Caroline Wozniacki, handed the world's No. 2 player, Maria Sharapova, a huge setback in her quest to take Williams' No. 1 spot away from her

Camp Pokemon

New Pokemon iOS Game Released: Kid-Focused 'Camp Pokemon' Offers Six Different Challenges On iPhone, iPad, And iPod Touch

The Pokemon Company International has launched a new Pokemon app on iOS focused specifically at young children.

Oscar Pistorius prison

Oscar Pistorius' Paltry Sentence Another Example of Preferential Treatment of Rich and Famous? [VIDEO]

Judge Thokozile Masipa is in the minority in thinking that justice was served on Tuesday. Though hers is the only voice that counts.

Novak Djokovic

Report: Novak Djokovic's Wife Gives Birth to Baby Boy: Nole's Chances To End 2014 at No. 1 Hurt? [VIDEO]

Novak Djokovic may just have received the ultimate adrenaline boost heading into the ATP World Tour Finals next month in London. Or the world's biggest distraction.

Xbox One

Xbox One November Update Preview: New Software Includes Profile Improvements, SmartGlass Upgrades, Twitter Integration

Xbox One's November update is on its way, and it's packed with features to increase user personalization and media sharing.

Real Time Analytics