Dear Troy and Dana,
Oh, the excitement! Oscar week at last, the writers' strike is over, the red carpet is being unfurled …
Is the suspense killing you?
Didn't think so.
Obviously the Academy is aware of the problem. Veteran Oscar watchers were stunned to see that VH1 is broadcasting a show of the "Twenty Greatest Oscar Moments." The Academy is famous for refusing to allow use of clips from past shows. But this year it has opened its zealously guarded vaults, and for what? One of those list shows that are a staple of cheap cable. Or, as VH1 elegantly puts it: "We're counting down the wackiest, zaniest, most unexpected moments in Academy Awards history!" It's "a dose of fun to get everyone in the mood" for Oscars!
And yesterday this landed in our mailbox: "The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has launched a branded Oscars® channel on YouTube™ —www.YouTube.com/Oscars—featuring Academy Awards® show highlights and exclusive video interviews with members from each of the Academy's branches." Another dose of fun!
The folks at the Academy may talk a good game about their confidence in this year's show, but behind the scenes they must be terrified. The suspense isn't killing us, but it may be killing them. And you can't blame them for trying to reach out.
Last week we talked to a veteran Academy member and Oscar forecaster who, because of that all-important relationship with his employers, declined to be named here. "I can't even vote," he moaned. That's how bored he is by this year's crop—dark films that, with the exception of Juno, haven't exactly danced their way into America's heart.
Not only does our Oscar guy find the films uninvolving, but, yes, most of the top contests seem predictable, he says. Our guy thinks No Country will win even though he says the so-called ending is indefensible. In his view, the surprise winner might not be Juno but Michael Clayton. You heard it here. The premise seems to be that No Country and There Will etc. will split votes, and popular Clooney will step through. That would be nice for Warner because our fellow thinks that the studio spent more money on marketing Michael Clayton than the movie has generated in revenue. It's important to keep George happy because to Warner, Oceans is more important than Oscar.
Our expert also acknowledges the inevitability of Daniel Day-Lewis. "The guy's played three roles and only three roles!" he hisses. "The twerp, the tough guy, and the artist … I like subtle performances." And so on.
The larger issue is that the studios have all but abandoned those midlevel movies that used to get audiences and Oscars. They have specialty branches that nurture smaller films like the ones that are nominated, and the rest is Spider-Man and Pirates. If that trend doesn't change, the Academy needs to hope that the VH1 and YouTube can deliver.
Kim Masters is an NPR correspondent and the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everyone Else.