Despite Terrible Ratings, 2021 Oscars Claim One Important Victory

 Despite Terrible Ratings, 2021 Oscars Claim One Important Victory

As predicted here and in virtually every entertainment news blog and column, Sunday’s Oscar telecast performed over 60% lower than 2020’s Oscar show – – which was already in the history books as the lowest-rated Academy Awards Show, ever.

Cinema’s biggest night drew a 1.9 rating, and scored just over 9.85 million viewers.

By comparison, last year the show earned a 5.3 rating, with 23.65 million viewers, again – – an all-time low, that is before 2021 arrived.

Given the precedent-setting, record-breaking basement-level ratings for The Grammys, The Golden Globes and The Country Music Awards – – all equally clocking in at 60% of the audience each earned last year – – it came as no surprise that 2021’s long-delayed Oscars ceremony would shatter records and make Nielsen history – – just not the kind of history any number-crunchers and advertising-sales executives would ever hope the show to repeat.

Beyond the pandemic, which kept many from seeing the films in competition, there were other reasons the show didn’t grab hold:

  1. Another No-Host Event. For the second year running, the special had no one steering the ship, on-camera. Last year, the ratings were abysmal. Why would anyone think that going host-less, again, made sense? I predict we’ll see a major celebrity host resume duties next year
  2. Oddball Production. In an effort to create a fizzy, Old Hollywood-like setting that could accommodate a “safe crowd” due to Covid restrictions, the entire affair instead felt uncomfortably under-populated, awkwardly-staged and as a result, made it painful and embarrassing to watch. No one seemed in command, so speeches dithered on, presentations took on a highly subjective, “here’s what I like about you” cringe-worthy flair and there was no orchestra to play anyone off. There show had no “urgency” or “anticipation” to create momentum, the strangest choice of all being awarding The Best Picture trophy as the third-to-last prize, versus its obvious, appropriate place: the finale. The 2021 Oscar show was beyond uneven and at times, it rang amateurish versus its intended, somewhat awkward target: “creating intimacy with the nominees.”
  3. Non-Mainstream Movies in Competition Equals Non-Mainstream Talent Winning and on TV. While 2021 will not only be remembered for a huge step forward in diversity and representation, it may also be remembered for featuring the most obscure list of movie titles, ever. When Pixar’s movie Soul is the night’s best-known title, it simply underlines how the Oscars have really become more about the celebration of independent film, versus movies-at-the-mall fare.

Others can and will cry out about the rest of the problems with the show, of which there were many, and as tempted as I am to rattle off more criticism (execution flaws create a cumulatively unappealing, domino effect, leading to audience shedding) my final comments will focus more on where the Oscars go from here.

What’s undeniable about last night’s ceremony is that the Motion Picture Academy once again discovered 2021’s best efforts in all areas of cinema, and from my perspective, consistently awarded the most deserving.

Many will question whether the late Chadwick Boseman should’ve won Best Actor for his splendid performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – – but few can complain about the Academy awarding Anthony Hopkins the prize for his work in The Father.

Debates about what is truly excellent can be stimulating, but such debates are usually a far cry from debates about “what’s most popular.”

In years prior, the Motion Picture Academy actually considered creating a category for “Best Popular Film” – – in an effort to include blockbuster/superhero movies, attract more A-list talent to the ceremony and thus, hopefully boost ratings.

Artists cried out that they’d worked their entire lives not worry about being “popular” and that the Oscars should be awarding supreme creative effort, not “who is most popular!”

Awarding true artistry usually involves celebrating those who set trends or turn them on their ear, not shining a light on celebrities who conform to those trends most spectacularly.

The 2021 Oscars, while a ratings failure for ABC, can claim victory in the most important respect: it has maintained, if not enhanced, its dignity.

By not compromising its values, the Oscar will continue to have its day in the sun.

Because of its bold and courageous move to focus more on the work of independent film, the Motion Picture Academy defiantly continues to highlight extraordinary, original work, thus maintaining its reputation as the true and reliable arbiter of greatness.

Will mainstream movies ever garner Oscar attention again?

I’m certain we’ll see writers, directors and producers, largely working in the studio system, tire of always ceding the higher, artistic ground to content creators outside of Hollywood’s center.

For instance, last night’s big winner in multiple categories for Nomadland, writer/director/editor/producer Chloe Zhao, is currently helming Marvel’s next big superhero franchise, The Eternals. Can Chloe bring her same magic to a mega-budgeted film, as she has her sparingly financed independent efforts?

I predict we’ll see real effort and imagination going into big-budget productions, the way Pixar continuously cleans up at the Oscars in animation.

As Pete Docter, a multiple Pixar Oscar-winner put it recently (and winner for Soul last night), “at Pixar, we think of our work as Indie films.”

His inference is clear: if you want to make quality, you must do it outside of the hyper-formulaic, conservative and traditional studio system.

In an age when Hollywood seems to be run exclusively by Artificial Intelligence, algorithms, accountants and Wall Street, it’s refreshing to be reminded of an award with only one true motive: recognizing real artistic excellence.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s the highest rating any show could reach.