Photo Credit: mptvimage.com
To paraphrase a popular line from innumerable movies, watching the Oscars is like banging your head repeatedly against a brick wall.
It feels so good when it's over.
Not surprisingly, the rating for The Oscarcast was down this year. First, it was reported that the numbers were down by 10 percent from last year. Then, the figure went to 14.9 percent, before ballooning to the current number, 16 percent (in some quarters, 17 percent). Oy.
In an excellent analysis today in The New York Times, titled "Oscars Show Growing Gap Between Moviegoers and Academy," the decline is dissected and defined in thorough fashion by Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply.
The low rating is no surprise because of the films and performances in question. It has become apparent that there's a correlation between the movies involved in the competition and the level of enthusiasm that the viewers, average moviegoers, have for those films. This year, the buzz surrounded such titles as "Boyhood," "Whiplash" and the 2015 winner, "Birdman," films with which movie critics and die-hard cinéphiles may obsessed, but not the moviegoing public.
In point of comparison, the public was obsessed with the 1998 Oscar winner - the big-studio "Titanic." That year, the Oscarcast drew an average of 57.25 million people over its length, which was a 29% increase from the previous year when the indie, "The English Patient," dominated the show.
In recent years, as more independent filmmakers have become members of the academy, the five slots for Best Picture have become dominated by independent films. This apparently became cause for concern because the Academy expanded the field to as many as 10 titles, so that more popular titles had a chance to vie for the top award. But this year, there was only one popular film among the eight nominees - "American Sniper."
Not even "Interstellar," which is not only a big and popular film but an extremely thoughtful one, managed to make the grade.
The show itself, meanwhile, was so unmemorable this year that most of the dialogue has revolved around the annually problematic In Memoriam sequence. Someone is always left out. For some reason, everyone seems up in arms this year about the exclusion of Joan Rivers, whose handful of films included a witty cameo in Burt Lancaster's "The Swimmer" and the comedy "Rabbit Test," which she directed. Her other titles are negligible. Elaine Stritch, also slighted, had a similarly lightweight résumé.
There have been no complaints, however, that a real movie star - Lizabeth Scott - was conspicuously missing from this year's In Memoriam. Scott was a major fixture in several film noir classics, arguably the definitive femme fatale. Granted, she passed in 2015 - on January 31 - but Rod Taylor, Anita Ekberg and Louis Jourdan, all of whom died after her, were included. In the scheme of things, who cares about Joan Rivers? She was a peripheral player at best.
And while we're at it, the fine director Joseph Sargent ("The Taking of Pelham One Two Three," "MacArthur") was also overlooked.
Bad form. Very bad form.
Postcript: Two readers, Beth and Charlotte, alerted me to the fact that the Academy has a complete In Memoriam photo gallery on its site. Everyone is there - 129 names in all, alphabetized. Joan Rivers is there. Elaine Stritch is there. Lizabeth Scott is there. Joe Sargent is there. So why didn't the Academy simply refer the media to its site when all the fuzz started? An Academy spokesperson has been apologizing for the Rivers omission, saying "You can't include everyone." Which is true. Listing 129 names would have added yet another half hour to an already unwieldy show. But directing the curious to the Academy's site could have avoided an unnecessary misunderstanding. Flawed communication here. Anyway, click here for the Academy's photo/memoriam link.