Not Your Daddy’s Oscar
If it seemed to you like there were an awful lot of Best Picture nominees this year, you were right. The Academy doubled the usual number of finalists in order to boost the awards show’s ratings:
The Oscars, broadcast live around the world, were once a ratings juggernaut. But in the past few years, the show’s popularity has slipped, its television audience has aged and its relevance as a barometer of popular culture has been questioned.
Dramatically expanding the number of films in contention for the top honors, however, has allowed crowd-pleasing hits to bask in the Oscar aura along with the art-house fare that the academy often favors.
So far, the move appears likely to have the intended effect. In addition to low-grossing critics’ favorites like “The Hurt Locker,” “An Education” and “A Serious Man,” the 10 nominees announced Tuesday include three of the eight top-grossing films of 2009….
In the short term, it appears that the gimmick will work. But the long term effect is more likely to be further erosion in people’s interest in the Oscars as a cultural institution than a resurgence. The Oscars have declined in importance in direct proportion to the increasingly obvious gaming going on in the awards.
While they’re still the premier award in the business, they’ve lost a lot of their cachet as the impression has sunk in with movie buffs and casual fans alike that politics and PR have long eclipsed artistic merit in determining who wins. The unsexy technical awards less tainted by such factors still seem to mean something, but the “main” awards have lost a lot of their luster the last couple of decades. Brazenly skewing the formula for a quick ratings boost is not going to convince the general public that the award is returning to its roots.