Although I was happy to see Kathryn Bigelow win for Best Director and Jeff Bridges for Best Actor, for the most part I found this year’s Oscars show to be uninspired, a perception that seemed commonplace, at least in my scene on Twitter. The reactions from Ken Levine were similar to those that I saw in real time on Twitter throughout the entire broadcast. The John Hughes tribute montage was pretty touching and then things got a little awkward when Judd Nelson and Macauley Culkin joined in. The Best Picture award was rushed, perhaps due to the new rule that included ten nominees rather than five, but why not give each filmmaker an extra five seconds in the sun at the end of the ceremony? And I found Baldwin and Martin to be remarkably banal as hosts. I doubt I’ll remember any of their lines by tonight. It’s also odd to think about the disconnect between an awards ceremony that nominates a number of independent films, even while the distribution channels that disseminate those films are increasingly endangered, as Ted Hope points out.
But despite these missteps (and despite the fact that much of New York City couldn’t watch the Oscars until around 8:30 PM), ratings for this year’s show were the highest in several years, with significantly more viewers tuning in this year. As the Variety article points out, the last time numbers were this high, Titanic was one of the nominees, suggesting that the show benefitted from having a popular film as one of its most visible films. Others have pointed out that “event TV” in general has been garnering high ratings. It’s tempting to suggest that social media is a factor here in the “return to liveness.” The real-time water coolers on Twitter and blogs would seem to encourage more people to watch simultaneously, but I’m guessing that even with a large volume of Oscar tweets, the percentage of people who were “watching Twitter on TV” was probably relatively small, at least compared to the vast “silent majority” who watched the show without tweeting about everything from Sarah Jessica Parker’s dress to the uncanny ability of the Oscar producers to find a black audience member every time a nominee from Precious won an award.
Which gives rise to a number of questions: First, I wonder how much Twitter affected my response to the awards show. I’ll admit that I enjoyed live-blogging with everyone, but I wonder if the online snarkfest helped contribute to the Twitter consensus that the Oscars sucked? Or whether the “trending topics” on Twitter reflect cultural biases that already exist on Twitter? All I know is that my Twitter feed had almost 100 Oscar tweets for every tweet on another subject.
It’s hard to measure how this Oscar buzz fits within the overall hype that the Oscars are supposed to produce, especially when the expansion from five to ten nominees seemed to water down the ability of film companies to market films based on the prestige of getting nominated. As Patrick Goldstein notes, the “Oscar bump” did not seem to have a measurable effect on the box office for a number of the films that were up for best picture, and the marketing of those films may have even cost more than the financial benefits of being nominated (note: Jonathan Gray and Henry Jenkins discuss some of these issues in a recent interview). I’m skeptical about whether Oscar wins can tell us much about current cultural tastes or prevailing attitudes, as Goldstein suggests. Although it was warmly embraced by critics, The Hurt Locker still hasn’t done significant box office.
I don’t have a tidy conclusion here. Social media have obviously become a crucial element of Oscar coverage, providing real-time reactions from a (self-selecting?) group of fans and even anti-fans. And the Oscars themselves continue to be one of the more significant hype machines for generating interest in and discussion of movies out there.