Let’s face it: the Oscars are not as cool as they used to be. Oscar, at age 83, is showing signs of tarnish. It is becoming a less and less compelling event for the digital youth culture. Last year’s Academy Awards were the sixth top social TV tentpole event of the year after the MTV Music Awards, the American Music Awards and even — God help up — the Grammys. Not a good look. If the American Music Awards are getting more social media attention than the Oscars, then there is something terribly wrong with Hollywood. Movie ticket sales, incidentally, hit a 16-year low in 2011.
Oscar, quite frankly, needs to chill the fuck out. And by chill I do not mean throwing a glossy-eyed James Franco and a hyperactive Anne Hathaway at the podium. Quite the contrary: the changes to save Oscar must needs be structural, not cosmetic, to affect real change. I propose as one solid structural change that might save the Oscars that it is time to honor comedies and comedic performances in the Best Picture and Best Actor and Actress categories. Life, after all, is not all drama; it is mostly drama, but it is also the moments of levity. Why not honor those?
Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” is the last alleged comedy to win best Picture at the Academy Awards. And it wasn’t even a pure comedy at that; “Annie Hall” happened to be just as dramatic as it was comedic. Which leads me to the question: Why do the Academy Awards ignore comedies, anyway? What does Oscar have against a great comedic performance? A comedic role — the nuance, the timing — when played pitch-perfect is a wonder to behold. Anyone who thinks comedy doesn’t work the actor’s chops as well as drama ought to watch Philip Seymour Hoffman in 2004’s “Along Came Polly.”
Melissa McCarthy just got a Best Supporting Actress nod for “Bridesmaids.” This is a step in the right direction. Insanely great comedic performances rarely get a chance to even get to this point of speculation. Perhaps it is time to create a Best Actor and Actress in a Comedy category, like they have at the Golden Globes (only far less corrupt a process), to make sure that it gets a fair shake come awards season. It would certainly youth up the Oscars, which, with all the gravity and all the gowns, is in dire peril of becoming a magnum of chloroform.
Comedy categories at the Oscars might sound a revolutionary act, but it was not until the Nagano Olympic Games in 1998 that even snowboarding became an actual Olympic sport. And at the time there were the usual overly conservative arguments that snowboarding was not a sport, it was a fad of the youth, that it would somehow “sully” the image of the Olympics. The Olympics have survived just fine, and a greater consideration of the comic in life by the Academy would go a long way in making the Oscars more relevant. This is our Nagano.
If there had been a Best Actor in a Comedy category back in 2007, Sasha Baron Cohen would almost definitely have won for “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” And who among us didn’t think that was not an Oscar-worthy performance? Perhaps not solid enough to overtake Forest Whitaker’s Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland” — which won that year — but definitely Oscarworthy. Finally, Oscar has other biases, of course, and that is not unexpected of an institution that is eighty three years old. Oscar doesn’t like Sci-Fi, not as Best Picture, anyway (Sci-Fi as a genre does well in the special effects ghetto). And that’s ridiculous. “The Empire Strikes Back” should have won Best Picture in 1980. But don’t get me started on the lack of respect given to the sci-fi genre.