By Amy Smith
It seems like most people are still fixated on a particular incident that occurred at the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday night, and it is understandable why. However, there is something to be said about how the Academy handled the ceremony itself. Even before the event occurred, I found myself extremely disappointed in how the night was being presented. There are many things from the telecast that ABC and the Academy should be looking at and changing for the 95th ceremony next year, and some of them are easier to fix than expected. Breaking down each aspect, I am here to give suggestions as to how to fix the Oscars.
Perhaps the biggest fix on the Academy’s mind is the runtime, which they tried to correct this year by cutting eight awards from the live ceremony and presenting them before the telecast. This decision was one that left many Oscar fans disappointed and skeptical as to how the speeches would be edited into the show. Despite promises to keep the speeches intact and presented fully, it has been confirmed that the speeches were heavily edited. Not only that, but the ceremony still ran over by 40 minutes, exceeding the length of last year’s ceremony.
Of course, things were added to this year’s ceremony to pad out that runtime that was not included in last year’s ceremony. However, the solution to this situation is not to cut out any more content from the show. Instead, ABC and the Academy should accept the fact that viewers will not turn off if the show just so happens to be an hour longer. Take, for example, one of the biggest television events every year, the Superbowl. That telecast runs on average for four hours between the game, pre-show analysis, and the half-time show. Suppose people are passionate about things such as movies or a football game. In that case, they will watch for the entire time regardless of the extra hour. By committing to the four-hour runtime, not only is the show more likely to finish early than late, but nothing has to be sacrificed to squeeze 23 awards and the entertainment in the small timeframe.
This year, there has been a mixed reception to how the three hosts did. Amy Schumer, Regina Hall, and Wanda Sykes signed on late to host the ceremony, and there were rumors that they would each take an hour, but that ended up not being the case. The jokes throughout the ceremony were hit and miss, but I will say that it was nice having hosts once again and restoring some sort of order and pacing within the show. At the beginning, the hosts were engaging with funny monologues and great skits. However, when the humor started to focus on degrading the past year’s films, I began to lose interest in the gags. I also wish that the hosts were there more often, as the long stretches without any of the three ladies did not help with the weird presentation order and reminded me of the issues of the complete lack of hosts over the past few years.
I want to give credit to “And The Runner Up Is” host Kevin Jacobsen for tweeting a suggestion for next year’s host: Lady Gaga. Watching the Best Picture presentation on Sunday night and seeing her with Liza Minnelli added a warm touch to the ceremony that was missing for most of the show. Lady Gaga has shown the utmost respect for legacy over the past few years, not just with Minnelli but with Tony Bennett as well, and it is clear she cares about this industry and those who are admired within it. She would be a fantastic presence both to the legacy that the Oscars should be but also to entertain a crowd and draw viewers in just by being announced as the host.
The Presentation Of The Awards
Many of the 23 awards presentations were awkward during this year’s telecast. I have already brought up the fact that eight of the awards were presented during the pre-show and edited into the show; however, the editing of these clips was poorly executed. The first award of the eight was made to appear as if it was happening live. However, the other seven were rushed through and had no set-up from a presenter. These awards were brushed off quickly in order to try to make time for more entertainment, and it took away from how major some of these wins were.
I also found myself disappointed with several of the presentations done during the live ceremony. Of course, the incident occurred during the Best Documentary Feature award, but that is not something that can be accounted for when blaming ABC and the Academy for the presentation itself. Instead, I want to focus on the Best Animated Feature and the Best International Feature category. With ABC being a part of the Walt Disney Studios company, it is no surprise that they continually pushed “Encanto” throughout the night with numerous songs and the eventual win for that film. However, getting three actresses who portray live-action versions of the Disney princesses and pushing the idea in their presentation speech that animation for children is an insult to that industry. Yes, Disney had three nominations in the Best Animated Feature category. However, in that category, alongside them were “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” and “Flee.” Phil Lord, one of the producers for “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” and previous Oscar winner for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” called out the Academy both for heavily promoting only “Encanto” in the advertising for the show and for the presentation speech in the ceremony itself. It is also disrespectful to make a speech about the childish appeal for animation when one of the nominees is a film about an Afghan refugee’s struggles to escape which made history by gaining nominations in all three Feature categories.
In terms of the International Feature category, the presentation of the award was fine. The issue came when the Academy used music to play off director Ryusake Hamaguchi, who had won for his film “Drive My Car” on two different occasions. Hamaguchi prepared a speech in English so that he would not need his translator, possibly to try to keep the speech as short as possible. With that, he paused to engage with the audience and think of what he was going to say next, and during that time, he was thrown off by the music playing. On the second attempt, it happened that one of the presenters ushered him off stage without an effort to start speaking again. This speech was shorter than others presented live on the night and showed no respect to a film that gained four nominations at the Oscars, including Best Picture.
One major fix to the presentations is simply having all 23 presented live and making them feel equal. However, the show also needs to do better when writing the presenter’s speeches and celebrating the art form. This year already disrespected a lot of the craft that goes into these films, and they still managed to belittle other ones that were presented live. Having people who genuinely care about the craft announce the winners and write their monologues will show a lot more sincerity to those nominated and make their wins have even more impact.
The amount of entertainment inserted into the show made the runtime longer this year. Five songs were performed, one of which was not even nominated for Best Original Song. There were numerous skits and gags from the hosts, some of which worked and some that didn’t. The show opened with an outstanding performance of the song “Be Alive” by Beyonce, nominated from “King Richard.” However, with the performance not taking place on stage like the others, it did stick out and felt tonally different from the rest of the ceremony. The performance of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” the first live performance of the “Encanto” song, should have been an easy sell, and yet they cut half of the song and added Megan Thee Stallion to perform in it. It was very bizarre and played badly both to the viewers at home and the live audience.
Even if the performances make the show run over three hours, having the musical numbers help space out the awards in a natural way. However, there are some changes that should be made. Firstly, the Best Score award should be brought back to the live telecast so that the orchestra can play the music to the audience. This is one of the more special presentations of the year, and clips cannot do justice to the incredible work that the composers do. There needs to be consistency among the five nominees regarding the musical performances themselves. Having one performance performed at a different location pre-recorded and the other three on stage gives a weird perception of the importance of each song and takes away from the live aspect of the ceremony. Finally, the Academy needs to do more to push the movie aspect of these nominees. There was a montage for the 60th anniversary of James Bond, and yet this was completely unrelated to Billie Eilish and Finneas’ performance of “No Time to Die.” It made no sense to separate the two, and the franchise’s celebration would have had more impact if it had been pieced together.
The Attempts To Gain A Younger Audience
ABC and the Academy made several different attempts to attract a younger audience to watch the ceremony. The performance of We Don’t Talk About Bruno was one of these attempts, but there were other things that they tried. The biggest example was the Oscars Fan Favorite and Oscars Cheer Moment, two awards that people at home voted on via Twitter. These were not official Oscars but just shout-outs on the live telecast. It was revealed on the show that Zack Snyder fans helped his films come out on top for both, with “Army of the Dead” winning the Fan Favorite award for the best film of 2021 and “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” winning the Cheer Moment for the moment where the Flash enters the Speed Force. Other films mentioned for the Fan Favorite were Camila Cabello’s “Cinderella” and Johnny Depp’s “Minimata.”
These awards did not go the way the Academy was planning, as they were probably expecting “Spider-Man: No Way Home” to do better in the voting. However, this line-up showed exactly why having fan accounts voting on Twitter is a bad idea. I do think there is a good idea within this to gain attraction and still have engagement from the film community, but having something fan-voted that stan accounts can easily take over is not the way to do it. Instead, the Academy should consider competitions concerning ballots or predictions and get people to engage with the actual nominees. Do a competition in which people predict what will win with a chance to win some film-related goodies. Get fans to say why they want someone to win to get a chance to be at the ceremony. These would help spread love and excitement about those already nominated and give back to the community in an engaging and fun way.
The Academy also needs to realize that many young people cannot watch the ceremony. With the show only being aired on ABC in the United States, it is hard for cord-cutters to access the show live currently. A young audience will not suddenly gain access to ABC just to watch the Oscars, and the Academy needs to learn this. With Disney+ and Hulu both at hand, the Academy needs to find a way to embrace online streaming platforms and make the show more accessible. Even if the show were on YouTube with a way of integrating advertising and sponsorships, there would be much more engagement from the audience they are trying to target.
The viewership may have gone up this year, but that was not due to the team’s creative choices. When you have films such as “Dune” and “Don’t Look Up” nominated, you are naturally going to get more people tuning into your show. While I do not expect the Academy to learn the proper lesson from this year’s ceremony, I hope that they listen to the fans and the members and fix the aspects that were broken this year. As a fan from the U.K. who stays up until 5 am to watch the Oscars every year, this telecast disappointed me, and it would be hard to recommend anyone here to stay up to support the show that was put on. Do better next year, ABC.
What did you think of this year’s Oscar ceremony? What are some of your ideas for how ABC and the Academy can improve the show to strike the best balance of pleasing casual viewers and Oscar fans such as us? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account and take a listen to the Next Best Picture team’s instant reactions to the 94th Academy Awards here.
You can follow Amy and hear more of her thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @filmswithamy