On Monday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences officially announced that four of the 24 Oscars awarded during the ceremony would be handed out during commercial breaks. The four categories are makeup and hairstyling, live-action short, film editing, and cinematography. It’s easy to take the attitude that, in the realm of life, this won’t affect that many people – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s either true or means this isn’t lousy. There’s something inheritably insulting and cruel about the whole “commercials” part. It would probably have been more respectful to just ship these four categories off to another show altogether as opposed to saying, “While the folks at home are learning about Hamburger Helper, that’s when you can give your speech.”
As I wrote about yesterday, this whole charge to shorten the show doesn’t make a lot of sense. The only people complaining are probably the people in the theater. And, frankly, my empathy level for people who have to attend the Oscars as an invited guest is pretty low. I completely understand why Major League Baseball is trying to shorten their games. Do you want to know why? Because there are thousands of regular season baseball games every year. Cutting, say, 20 minutes off of the average time of one game winds up saving over 33 days of baseball every year. Cutting 20 minutes from the Oscars broadcast saves 20 minutes every year. What’s the point here?
Let’s focus on cinematography. And this is nothing against the other three cut categories, but I need to pick one and I’m picking cinematography. I truly believe a good movie can be made by a director with little to no experience by just picking a great cinematographer and listening to every word he or she says. Bradley Cooper had never directed a movie before, but he tapped Matthew Libatique – who shot movies like Black Swan, Iron Man, and The Fountain – as his director of photography and he got himself a fantastic movie out of it. (This isn’t to say Bradley Cooper doesn’t know how to make a movie, but I have no doubt that if he hadn’t picked someone like Libatique and hadn’t listened to what Libatique had to say, A Star is Born wouldn’t be nominated for Best Picture right now.) Libatique was nominated for an Academy Award this year, Cooper was not.
Now, ahead, here are two scenarios to prove why not presenting the Cinematography Oscar live is a terrible idea. One of these scenarios happened a year ago. One could have happened a year ago, but hasn’t happened yet.
Roger Deakins is one of the best cinematographers working today. People will see movies he’s shot just based on the fact he’s involved. His (recently ended) streak of Oscar nominations without a win was almost becoming comical. (I’m sure it wasn’t comical to Roger Deakins, but, at the very least, it certainly was unusual.) A list of Roger Deakins-shot films is basically a list of How Movies Should Look: The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Skyfall. Deakins had been nominated for an astonishing 13 Academy Awards without a win. (In 2007, he was nominated twice, for both No Country For Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. He lost to Robert Elswit for There Will Be Blood.)
In 2018, Deakins finally won for his work on Blade Runner 2049. It was a great Oscar moment and a culmination of a lifetime of great work finally being rewarded. And we all got to see it happen live. When Sandra Bullock read off Deakins’ name, the crowd gave Deakins a standing ovation. Now, if this had all happened this year instead, this whole fantastic scene would happen while we are watching an A1 Steak Sauce commercial. It’s all very stupid.
The second cinematographer I want to mention is Rachel Morrison, who was nominated last year for her work on Mudbound. With her nomination, Morrison became the first woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Cinematography. This seems like a major breakthrough. And there’s no doubt someone was watching that broadcast last year who was inspired by Morrison’s nomination. Someone out there who sees Morrison and decides, yes, I want to do that, too. We hear stories about that all the time, young filmmakers who see someone at the Oscars who inspires him or her to chase their dream.
What if Morrison had won? What a fantastic and historic moment that would have been, played out over live television to millions of homes. Imagine that ovation. Now, what happens when Morrison eventually does win? (And let’s hope she doesn’t have to wait as long as Deakins did.) Now, that historic moment is going to be something that happens as a commercial is airing. What’s the lesson here?
Yes, you, too, can follow your dreams and, someday, if you’re lucky, you’ll win an award that’s presented during a Jiffy Lube commercial. I can’t help but think this will have an effect on the future of movies. And that goes for all four of those categories. This all seems very short-sighted and stupid.
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