Everyone has a theory about the decline of the Academy Awards, the sinking ratings that have led to endless Oscar reinventions. The show is too long; no, the show is too desperate to pander to short attention spans. The movies are too woke; no, the academy voters aren’t diverse enough. Hollywood makes too many superhero movies; no, the academy doesn’t nominate enough superhero movies. (A querulous voice from the back row: Why can’t they just bring back Billy Crystal?)
My favored theory is that the Oscars are declining because the movies they were made to showcase have been slowly disappearing. The ideal Oscar nominee is a high-middlebrow movie, aspiring to real artistry and sometimes achieving it, that’s made to be watched on the big screen, with famous stars, vivid cinematography and a memorable score. It’s neither a difficult film for the art-house crowd nor a comic-book blockbuster but a film for the largest possible audience of serious adults — the kind of movie that was commonplace in the not-so-distant days when Oscar races regularly threw up conflicts in which every moviegoer had a stake: “Titanic” against “L.A. Confidential,” “Saving Private Ryan” against “Shakespeare in Love,” “Braveheart” against “Sense and Sensibility” against “Apollo 13.”
That analysis explains why this year’s Academy Awards — reworked yet again, with various technical awards taped in advance and a trio of hosts added — have a particular sense of an ending about them. There are 10 best picture nominees, and many of them look like the kind of Oscar movies that the show so desperately needs. “West Side Story”: Steven Spielberg directing an update of a classic musical! “King Richard”: a stirring sports movie lifted by a bravura Will Smith performance! “Dune”: an epic adaptation of a science-fiction classic! “Don’t Look Up”: a big-issue movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence! “Drive My Car”: a three-hour Japanese film about the complex relationship between a widowed thespian and his young female chauffeur!
The Left Ruined the Oscars and Super Bowl. What’s Next?