Something happened! Oscar Night used to be a televised homage to the people who made films. It was their night, and Hollywood’s night, and we were invited to tag along. If there was a red carpet celebration, I can barely recall. What the celebrities wore was a matter of casual observation. The length of the show and the ratings? With the exception of network executives, I can’t imagine anyone cared.
The Oscars celebrated film, and film was a reflection of both the American and the global culture. What was happening in the world? Which cinematic artists had a say in making a lasting impression? What movies had us talking? Consider this. Here is the list of Best Picture nominees for 1980.
• Kramer versus Kramer
• All That Jazz
• Apocalypse Now
• Breaking Away
• Norma Rae
Four of the five are on my revolving all-time best movies list and I’m not telling which one is left off. If this list didn’t have you staying up to see who won Best Picture, you probably don’t like movies. (Skip Google. Do you remember who took the top prize?)
It is an annual exercise in Hollywood punditry to predict the death of traditional movies. I won’t even bore you with the list of reasons. We all know them. Perhaps these numbers will be more revealing. 2018 total North American box office receipts? $11.9 billion, up seven percent from last year. And the age of the movie-going pubic? 64% between the ages of 18 and 44. I believe that is what the advertising industry refers to as “young people.” Maybe this is not such a graying industry.
The intangible though, in my humble opinion, is the connection you feel when you sit in the theatre. Here is the world’s most informal survey. Percentage of people who watched ROMA on their living room couch on Netflix and stayed awake from beginning to end? A handful. Number of people still sitting in their seats until the credits were over at the movie theatre where I saw it in New York City? About 95%. And everyone walked out talking. The men’s room urinals were abuzz. That’s movie-going. A shared experience from beginning to end.
On Sunday night a bunch of actors and filmmakers, producers and writers, and craftspeople of every stripe are going to take the stage, make a speech, and remind us that movies changed their life. They changed mine.
I saw THE SOUND OF MUSIC at least seven times – in the theatre! – as a kid. (“I’d like to thank my mom for…”) I decided to become a writer at the age of 10 after the scene at the monkey house in THE GRADUATE when Ben watches Elaine go off with Carl, crushing his heart to the tune of “The Sounds of Silence.” A short film called “The Lost Phoebe” was my inspiration to attend film school at The American Film Institute, where I studied screenwriting and worked as a P.A. on my one and only Oscar-nominated film (“The Silence” – it did not win.)
Has technology killed the movie house? No way. During Sunday night’s televised Oscars slog, listen to some of the acceptance speeches. Read the story between the tears. Movies are who we are and the people who deliver them are telling the stories that must be told. Next week, after the votes are tallied, go out and see a movie. Settle back in your seat in a pitch black theatre and watch those faces fill the big screen. Passion is a dish best served with popcorn. I’m giving it a two thumbs up.