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How to Improve the Oscars? We Asked Five Culture Journalists

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The New York Times’s Culture desk recently looked at how the 93rd Academy Awards, scheduled for April 25, will take shape during the pandemic. One article features five Hollywood insiders talking about ways the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences could make the Oscars more entertaining. Below, five of the journalists on the desk offer their thoughts on the same topic — well, four of them do.

I’m in the camp that believes the Oscars would benefit from brevity, or at least finishing on time. (We on the East Coast have tight deadlines and work in the morning!) But aside from that, my dream is for the academy to host the ceremony in a different location each year, like the Super Bowl. The film industry has expanded in Atlanta, New Orleans and Austin, Texas — it could be another economic boon for those cities. Hollywood is often criticized for being out of touch with regular people. What better way to combat that notion? And fans would get a kick out of it. — Maira Garcia, digital news editor

Rethink the musical numbers. Songs in movies are written to help tell stories, not to be bellowed, devoid of context, by off-key pop stars backed by phalanxes of chorines. The orchestral arrangements and attempts at dance are too often informed by a generic idea of Hollywood spectacle — or, on the other hand, of pop spirituality. Get more specific! And since the Oscars take place in a theater, get a theater choreographer to stage them. — Jesse Green, chief theater critic

After nominations have been announced, all finalists would have to submit to the academy the names of agents, managers, publicists, assistants and any other professional colleagues that they would have otherwise thanked in their acceptance speeches; these names would then be posted on the academy’s website or displayed alongside the eventual winner during the Oscars broadcast. Winners would thus have to focus their acceptance speeches on inspirational lessons gleaned from the making of their movie; ribald needling of rival nominees in their category; endorsement of fringe political beliefs that they are trying to articulate for the first time; and heartfelt expressions of gratitude to parents, mentors and school-age children watching at home. (Any violations of these rules would be enforced by catapult.) — Dave Itzkoff, culture reporter

At a time when Hollywood has lamented the loss of moviegoing (I sorely miss it, too), wouldn’t it be nice if the Academy Awards celebrated moviegoers? One way to do that would be to let audiences nationwide vote on their favorite film and award a new Oscar to the winner. This wouldn’t be the same as the academy’s proposed prize for “achievement in popular film.” That short-lived, much maligned idea would have left the decision up to the organization’s members. This would give fans a voice. And who knows? Their favorite could match up with best picture. A win all around. — Stephanie Goodman, film editor

I’m not sure the Oscars need to be, or can be, “improved,” at least as a TV show. (Whether they really measure the best work in movies is another question.) They will always be a mixed bag on average. They inevitably have to serve a casual audience along with a smaller audience of movie buffs. You can hire good producers and cast good talent and make room for spontaneous moments, but beyond that, it’s a matter of chance and whether lightning strikes. It’s easier to make an awards show bad — with ill-conceived stunts, e.g. — than to make one good. But I also don’t think there was any golden age when awards shows were better than they are now. This may be a terrible thing for a TV critic to say. But, just watch them or don’t! If you’re dissatisfied with the Oscars, you may just not be a person who likes awards shows very much, and that’s fine. — James Poniewozik, chief television critic

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