Stop Buggering Oscar 

A five-point plan for intervention — no one gets arrested

Thursday, Nov 27 2003

Michael Jackson isn’t the only accused child molester in Hollywood. Add to the list the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose victim is Golden Boy.

We raged in 1998 after Miramax screwed the rules so that Shakespeare in Love could murder Saving Private Ryan with an obscene $10 million marketing blitzkrieg. We decried in 2001 after the dirtiest Academy Awards campaign in motion-picture history defiled A Beautiful Mind with a gay-baiting, Jew-baiting, studio-baiting and media-baiting scandal. We scolded last year after ex–AMPAS president Robert Wise debased his own pristine reputation with that dubious flack-written flattery of fellow director Martin Scorsese. We protested in September after the Academy invented new rules to vaccinate voters against virulent strains of gossip and innuendo. We’re still howling now — but all anyone can hear is that collective hysteria over Oscar screeners, which screams on, and on. (In New York on Monday, independent filmmakers filed a lawsuit to lift all screener constraints.)

CUT TO: Cher in Moonstruck slapping Nicolas Cage and saying: “Snap out of it!”

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So shut up. Stop your whining, and turn up your hearing aids. This is an intervention. It’s pathetically obvious to everyone but you members of the Academy that Oscar is suffering a complete breakdown. For God’s sake, he’s already been castrated. And if no one does something to stop this buggering, he’s going to be permanently fucked up.

Because let’s not pretend this has anything to do with the integrity of a process which purports to honor Hollywood but which now dishonors everyone and everything associated with it. (Case in point: the Academy hiring Joe Roth, the man behind Gigli, to be the 2004 telecast’s producer. How about Bennifer as Rob Lowe and Snow White?)

Instead, you know and we know this is really about the bling-bling: the gazillions of dollars spent to make and market the world’s most exportable cultural product. With all the rivers of ink and acres of forest used to write about this year’s screener-ban debacle and its unhappy compromise, hardly anyone has identified the real problem. That time and time again the Academy has fought more fiercely for matters concerning money — its registered trademarks and copyrighted property and broadcast ratings — than it ever has for the Oscar process. True, the Academy every so often amends its rules to try to contain an ever more creative string of cunning and calculated Oscar campaign maneuvers by those cliques of master manipulators known as the moguls. But this is at best a Band-Aid approach. What’s needed is the Batman suit so that the film industry’s governing body can guarantee a fair and honest contest to the estimated 1 billion people in 150 countries who will watch the moved-up-a-month 76th annual Oscar telecast on February 29. (Nominations will be announced on January 27.)

Here are five suggested fixes.

CUT TO: Jimmy Cagney in Public Enemy smushing the grapefruit into Mae Clarke’s face.

No. 1: It’s the Big Screen, Stupid!

Quit your whining and judge the movies in theaters the way they were meant to be viewed in the first place. And for cryin’ out loud at least see all the movies.

You might think that, given the Industry’s reputation for extreme technology, the Academy would by now have developed a foolproof system to ensure that its members have properly screened all the Oscar-eligible feature films. In fact, there’s no such watchdog in place.

Instead, the Academy lulled itself into a false sense of security when it agreed that its voting membership could judge the movies by watching them on videocassette (1989) and then later on DVD (1999), in the comfort of their homes near the bathroom (because of all those aged prostates). Everyone knows Academy members who do not set foot in a cineplex — not just because of illness or infirmity but also because of laziness and privilege. This noxious habit of judging Oscar worthiness based on how a movie plays on a TV screen is an affront to the motion-picture art form.

At least during an Academy-sponsored theater screening, voters must overcome the public shame of walking a gauntlet of their colleagues if they wanted to leave in the middle of a film. But in the privacy of a voter’s home, who’s to know if that DVD was ejected after 10 minutes or never put into the player at all? Thanks to this glaring failure, the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes may well be fairer than the Oscars. The Academy needs to devise a high-tech way of policing its members. Smart cards with photo IDs could ensure that all the movies were screened by each Academy voter. If videocassettes and DVDs are a must, the same special technology that prevents piracy could also rat out anyone trying to take shortcuts.

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