Let's face it: the Oscars kind of suck. But in admitting this truth, we can recognize the ways the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences needs to adapt, improve, and revitalize their relevance.
The biggest problem with the Academy Awards is they don't really award the best in the film industry. The voting is so political-- and seems more focused on rewarding current less good films from those who were snubbed in the past that it then snubs those working on the bleeding edge of film today.
And there is still Hollywood's diversity problem-- and yes, this is a system-wide problem that is directly reflected in the Academy's voting. Fewer non-white males in the writer's and director's chair means less diverse lead roles in an America that is increasingly diverse. Fewer non-white males doing the Academy voting means fewer films and roles that express this diversity are awarded.
While on both of these complaints there is some improvement, but just because Innaritu and Cuaron are winning Oscars let's not kid ourselves that #OscarsSoWhite isn't a problem.
Also, things have just changed with movies. We need to simultaneously bemoan the fact that fewer members of the public enjoy seeing groundbreaking cinema, while also recognizing the artistry that goes into making a Deadpool or Captain America: Civil War. Prediction? NONE of the top 10 grossing movies of 2016 will be nominated for Best Picture or Best Director. It's no wonder the public tunes out-- because the Oscars celebrate what Hollywood likes in its movies, but not necessarily the rest of the country.
But let's focus less on what is wrong and more on what we can do to make it right. Here are five simple ideas, including three new awards, that would revitalize the Oscars and make them more meaningful. And for each one I'll look across dimensions to Earth-2, where these already exist, to give you some ideas of past winners and this year's nominees.
1. Best Special Performance - Motion Capture or Digital Animation
Think of it like the award for "Best Makeup." Instead of putting people in masks and prosthetics, modern movie makers are covering some of our best actors in tiny dots and green spandex to create digital characters just as real as any actor on screen. And every year they keep getting better. This award should go to the actor(s) creating the characters as well as the animators themselves, and should be for both traditional animated films as well as live-action films with digital characters. And because sometimes more than one actor is contributing to the amazing work here, films and their producers can nominate a single actor or multiple for consideration, as well as the VFX/animation teams responsible.
Yes, this is how we get Andy Serkis the Oscars he already deserves but will never receive. But it would also be a way to recognize animation and voice-over work in a film like Toy Story where animators are capturing actors' facial performances to inform their animation.
And because these types of performances are most often used in big budget blockbusters, it's a great way to get people involved in watching an awards show where they actually have seen some of the top films.
2016 - Lupita Nyong'o and Star Wars: The Force Awakens
2015 - Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel and Guardians of the Galaxy
2014 - Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, Nick Thurston, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Doc Shaw, Judy Greer, Lee Ross and Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Robert Downey, Jr and Captain America 3: Civil War
Guy Henry, Ingvild Deila, Alan Tudyk and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken and The Jungle Book
Ellen Degeneres and Finding Dory
Alexandra Byrne (costume designer for The Cloak of Levitation) and Doctor Strange
2. Best Ensemble Cast
Sometimes no single actor is worthy of an award, but the rich alchemy of what a director brings together means everyone deserves some accolades. And because no one seems to be able to decide what is a leading and what is a supporting role anymore, this offers some flexibility, as well as the opportunity to reward multiple supporting actors for their fine work.
This would help the Oscars' diversity problem, as there simply aren't enough leading roles for people of color, but they very often inhabit secondary roles, but maybe not the ones who get Best Supporting Actor/Actress nods.
Also, given the star-studded casts of our blockbusters, this is also an opportunity to reward a film along the lines of The Fellowship of the Ring or a film like this year's Moonlight where three different actors play the same character and it's next to impossible to choose which one is better than the others.
2014: The Wolf of Wall St
Hell or High Water
Captain America 3: Civil War
3. Emerging Visions
Think of it like the Grammy for "Best New Artist." Since the Oscars so often neglect groundbreaking work from up-and-coming directors and screenwriters, let's award some of the new blood in the same way a lot of film festivals do.
And rather than being too strict on the rules, broadly define the category as any sort of "Breakthrough" film. It could be a director known for independent work who finally saw some mainstream success (so this wasn't technically their first film.) Or it might be their first film.
Oh, and to make it especially fun, it can be awarded to the writer OR director (or both), as well as the producers in the same way Best Picture rewards the entire film.
2016: Alfonso Gómez-Rejón and Jesse Andrew - Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
2015: Ava DuVernay - Selma
2014: Ryan Coogler - Fruitvale Station
Barry Jenkins - Moonlight
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert - Swiss Army Man
Jeremy Saulnier - Green Room
Chris Kelly - Other People
Yorgos Lanthimos - The Lobster
4. Stop Ghetto-izing Animation
Perhaps the biggest snubs every year are the animated features that don't end up nominated for Best Picture. This is more a change of mindset than anything else, but it is ridiculous that in the history of the Academy Awards, only three animated films have ever been nominated for Best Picture.
While this was supposed to have been ameliorated by including a new category for Best Animated Feature (and the expansion of Best Picture nominees from 5 to as many as 10), it's still incredibly hard for a movie to be recognized as the achievement it is. The same is true for documentaries, where no documentary film has ever been nominated. (This year's 13th is a possibility for breaking this trend, but a very small one)
Especially where in 2016 we had some of the best animated films we've had in a long time, it's time for members of the Academy to start voting for animated films for Best Picture.
2016: Inside Out, Shaun the Sheep
2015: The Lego Movie, The Boxtrolls
Kubo and the Two Strings
5. Always Have 10 Best Picture Nominees . . . And 10 Best Directors
It's unclear why the Academy chooses the number of Best Picture nominees it does. But considering their use of "IRV" or instant-runoff voting, films are ranked by the voters and then the winner is truly the consensus winner.
Considering that point, it's completely odd that the Academy would choose to honor ten films, but not ten directors. When Selma is nominated for Best Picture, but Ava DuVernay is not (and Bennett Miller is? Two years later, does anyone remember Foxcatcher? Didn't think so. . .Again, another example of the Academy trying to award mediocre work in exchange for snubbing Bennett's previous excellent work on Capote and Moneyball) it raises some very serious eyebrows.
Why not celebrate ten directors? The same reason why you wouldn't want a full slate of ten films for Best Picture. Which is no reason at all. So stop doing it.
Cast a wider net, celebrate more people and their contributions, and you'll find diversity (and brilliance, and cutting-edge work) celebrated more often and the Academy honoring grey-haired white men only when they truly deserve it.
Rather than reviewing past supposed winners, I'll just give you a list of this year's honorees (note this is a very different list than my personal Top 10 which represent what I felt to be the best of the year, but not necessarily the films that deserve Academy Awards)
Denis Villanueve - Arrival
Damien Chazelle - La La Land
Barry Jenkins - Moonlight
John Carney - Sing Street
Jeff Nichols - Midnight Special
Denzel Washington - Fences
Kenneth Lonergan - Manchester by the Sea
Theodore Melfi - Hidden Figures
Martin Scorsese - Silence
Ava DuVernay - 13th
Manchester By the Sea
La La Land
Kubo and the Two Strings
Captain America 3: Civil War
A Monster Calls