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And The Winner Is…

And The Winner Is…

By Jonahh Oestreich • February 26th, 2012

You can’t make money with the Oscar. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has the right of first refusal and can buy the gold-plated statue from the winners or their heirs for 1 Dollar. Orson Welles’ Oscar for Citizen Kane (1941) could only be put up for an online auction last December after a judge ruled that Welles hadn’t signed any agreement to return the trophy.

THE MAIN NOMINEES
OF THE 84th ACADEMY AWARDS

» Best Picture «
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Hugo
Midnight in Paris
Moneyball
The Tree of Life
War Horse

» Actor in a Leading Role «
Demián Bichir
George Clooney
Jean Dujardin
Gary Oldman
Brad Pitt

» Actress in a Leading Role «
Glenn Close
Viola Davis
Rooney Mara
Meryl Streep
Michelle Williams

» Directing «
The Artist
The Descendants
Hugo
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life

Obviously, the Academy doesn’t like the Oscar to be an Ebay item as it were. Tradition and sublimity are rather important to keep up the prestige of the seemingly most important industry award. Especially now, in an not-so-golden era of the filmmaking business.

The Oscar ceremony is a, if not the pivotal event of the movie year. Although Golden Globe, César, BAFTA & Co. garner more and more attention and reputation, the Academy Award is the overshadowing dinosaur in the annual prize rally.

It’s also the biggest self-celebration of the industry — filmmakers of all professions nominate and vote for their colleagues. There were times when way over 40 million people around the world tuned in. The numbers are declining, some even say this year there might be fewer people watching than at the recent Emmy award ceremony.

Age seems to be a problem for the AMPAS, not only because the average of its audience is going up. 54 percent of the over 5,700 Academy members are older than 60, not even 2 percent are younger than 40. This year’s Oscar presenter Billy Crystal (63) is a veteran himself; he has presented the trophies 19 times before.

Wings, 1927
Best Picture 1929: Wings

The Academy seems to go in conservative retreat; many of this year’s nominations speak for themselves. That is not to say the candidates haven’t deserved it but the longing for the “good old times” is apparent. A silent movie won the first ever Oscar for Best Picture (Wings, 1929); so far it has been the only silent movie to collect the statue. 83 years later, this might change, with The Artist.

There are wide cracks in the glamour, even if the Oscar brokers try everything to hide and ignore them. The award seems to be up for grabs to anyone who has quarrels with the Academy or just uses it for self-promotion. Sasha Baron Cohen’s campaign is an apt example that the sacred gold of the industry is by no means untouchable.

Meanwhile, winning the trophy means less and less. Oscar-decorated movies may see a rush at the box office but the question is if they benefit from the Award in the long run. Whereas the stars and the studio giants still seem to make money — thanks to digital and 3D — the industry as a whole lives off its savings.

Too many mediocre films and an in large parts aggressive copyright policy have contributed to the bleak trend. Many point to the disastrous economic situation as the culprit but this is only half the story, if not less. For too long, the dream factory has spent too much effort and money to make its movies and their distribution fail-safe; profit has come before bravery and more than just technical innovation.

The Tree Of Life, 2011
My personal favourite:
The Tree Of Life, 2011

But it doesn’t look like Hollywood would allow its self-made bubble to burst any time soon, not only because this year’s Oscar ceremony has been made fail-safe, too. A small but telling detail: This year’s Oscar ceremony doesn’t take place in the “Kodak Theatre” any more. Since Kodak went bust, it’s now the Hollywood & Highland Center — the mall where the theatre is located.

More importantly, the wider audience has no voice in the nominations, at least not directly. The sense and nonsense of many nominations have always been a subject of heated disputes. But controversial nominees and winners are part of the show, and more often than not they seem to reflect the internal status-quo of the Academy.

To me, it looks like they’ve been running scared and away from the reform of the Academy Awards that experts say is necessary and overdue. This year’s nominees may not be blockbusters but this doesn’t mean the industry is changing course. It rather appears like a sudden eclecticism to preserve prestige and the veneer of sublimity. The show must go on.

Jonahh Oestreich

Jonahh Oestreich

One of the Editors in Chief and our webmaster, Jonahh has been working in the media industry for over 20 years, mainly in television, design and art. As a boy, he made his first short film with an 8mm camera and the help of his father. His obsession with (moving) images and stories hasn’t faded since.

You can follow Jonahh on Twitter @Jonahh_O.

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