06 March 2014

[Guest Post] Oscars Fever

Oscars by Aniket Tari

So finally the Oscars are done. After three months of closely following all the other awards and debating which films will make it to the final race, we finally have somewhat satisfying results. And now begins the post-Oscars micro-analysis of the entire ceremony, the wins, the snubs and the memorable moments off-stage, on the red carpet, etc. etc. But what is surely undeniable is that despite all the criticism directed towards this particular awards show, a lot of people do watch it and they do discuss it an awful lot. And that's how the Oscars have always been; sharing a love-hate relationship with the audience.

For starters, the majority of the audience has always had problems with the academy for always choosing to honour old-school, conventional films over ground-breaking ones such as Crash over Brokeback Mountain, How Green Was My Valley over Citizen Kane, Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan and so on. So when this year Gravity was up against the slavery-drama 12 Years a Slave, it was expected that the latter would win. And it did win, but after Gravity was honoured for all the right awards. But the Best Picture snub left the fans of Gravity disappointed nonetheless. Why does a breathtaking film like Gravity lose when it has everything a film should have? Which eventually leads us to the question - what makes a film worthy of Best Picture? Answer - Nothing. Cate Blanchett in her acceptance speech said that the award is "random and subjective" and she is so right! Each year, hundreds of thousands of films are made worldwide. Among them a few thousands might stand out for their amazing storytelling, creativity and resonance. It isn't possible to award all of these films. And why must they be awarded? We don't need awards to decide the greatness of a film. Every person finds specialty in a different film. What one might view as a mediocre film, can be inspirational to another, resonating with them on a different level. So when 12 Years a Slave wins against Gravity, there isn't a need for an uproar. We have no right to pit two completely different films against each other in the first place. So why is there a need for such an extravagant award ceremony that supposedly puts people in an extraordinary league? Well, the Oscars can be viewed as the Olympics of films. A competition among films and artists. Simple.

So when I read about people boycotting the awards ceremony, trashing it publically and calling it foul, I have a hard time understanding them. Why do we have to take these awards to heart? All awards are subjective. It is widely known that most among the 6000-member jury of the Oscars consists of retired artists from different fields such as actors, directors, producers, cinematographers and other technicians who have been out of touch with making films for a long time. So what appeals to their old-school sensibilities, might not necessary go down well with us. And in recent times, it has been the other way around as well. The academy has been grappling with diminishing TV ratings, primarily because of the choice of films being nominated but also because the ceremonies are awfully long and boring. 

The academy's insistence on doing things the old-fashioned way hasn't always gone down well with the audience, especially the younger audiences. So they've tried attracting the younger demographics by appointing younger hosts like Anne Hathaway and James Franco, Seth MacFarlene, etc. However, this attempts backfired horribly when the hosts either couldn't manage the pressure of hosting an event viewed by a billion viewers worldwide or went too far with their attempts at edgy comedy. So when this year, the academy appointed Ellen DeGeneres to return as the host, after her stint in 2007, everyone heaved a sigh of relief. Ellen, in her previous gig, had managed to salvage the academy from its ratings slump with her charismatic persona and immense popularity, giving us an entertaining ceremony in return. So she seemed like the best bet this year after the previous years' misfires.

But this year the ceremony took a different turn; the host wasn't just on the stage taking digs at the actors and announcing presenters, this year the host spent majority of her time interacting with the audience and that's where they nailed it! We're living in the social media age where we are not content just seeing the actors from a distance but where we want to interact with them and have a conversation. And that's precisely what Ellen did! We want to see our favourite actors act normal and behave in an everyday manner by letting go of their celebrity act once in a while. So when Ellen began taking selfies with the actors and the actors began jumping and cramming to get into the picture, the audience rejoiced! Next came the pizza act, where Ellen distributed pizza in the audience and the starving actors let their guard down to enjoy America's favourite food in their tuxedos and magnificent gowns. Gone were the days when presenters came on stage with sombre faces to hand off the trophies and actors sitting in the audience with equally sombre faces. These artists of the Twitter age were honest, playful and, well, tweeting during the ceremony! The result? Highest ratings for the ceremony in a decade, 75% rise in live tweeting during the ceremony and lots of discussions about the ceremony that lead people to watch the repeat telecasts. Despite being a three and a half hour long event, it didn't feel like a drab. Instead, it just passed by, leaving us fairly satisfied.

I genuinely hope that the academy learns it's lesson from this year and loosens up a little, in the way it plays out the ceremony and also by letting newer films with newer narrative styles win the coveted trophy. The academy got most of the things right this year and Gravity was really close to winning. And that's a great feat. If it continues like that, maybe the Oscars will be able to come out of its ratings slump and again become one of the most watched TV event of the year.