Feature

The Oscars

Do they matter anymore?

Another Oscars telecast, another wasted Sunday, said Tom Shales in The Washington Post. If you didn't watch Hollywood's annual orgy of glitzy self-congratulation last weekend, you made the right call. As usual, there were virtually no surprises or emotional high points to relieve the tedium of the nearly four-hour ceremony. Instead, mediocrity abounded. Though 'œcrisp and unpretentious,' Ellen DeGeneres paled beside such legendary past hosts as Bob Hope and Johnny Carson. 'œThe usually hilarious Will Ferrell, the semi-talented John C. Reilly, and hack Jack Black' sang an unfunny song about why comedies don't win Oscars. The Pilobolus Dance Theatre offered a baffling pantomime of 'œthe titles of films, or something.' Nearly 40 million people still tuned in, said Mark Caro in the Chicago Tribune, mostly for a glimpse of the gowns. Yet the whole ritual feels just plain tired. You have to wonder: 'œHow culturally relevant are the Oscars?'

Not very, said Joe Queenan in the Los Angeles Times. Every year, the Academy heaps laurels on 'œwidely ignored,' high-minded films (Half Nelson and Pan's Labyrinth, anyone?) while snubbing the movies people actually pay to see, such as King Kong and Meet the Fockers XV. When you gather a roomful of pretentious Hollywood types, all of whom think they're artists, no one wants to admit 'œthat the face of the industry is Adam Sandler and Ashton Kutcher,' rather than Helen Mirren and Daniel Day-Lewis. The Oscars have become an exercise in professional amnesia—'œthe night when the industry gets tanked up and forgets what it does for a living.'

That illusion is losing its power, said Neal Gabler, also in the Times. For years now, the movie industry 'œhas been in a slow downward spiral,' and all signs point to an end to America's long love affair with the silver screen. Attendance at movie theaters has been declining for years; in 2006, it reached its lowest point in a decade. Weary of rising ticket prices, Americans have come to prefer the convenience and freedom of watching DVDs and on-demand programming at home. At the same time, Hollywood has lost its monopoly on the ability to create an alternative reality. Today, Web sites such as YouTube and Facebook have democratized entertainment, allowing ordinary folks not only to indulge their fantasies but to be seen by millions. Today, with just a camera phone and a computer, 'œanyone can be Cary Grant or Bette Davis.' The movies will undoubtedly go on. But the era in which we looked to them to define our dreams is over.

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