Questions about the show
Perhaps fittingly in such a scattershot year, the ceremony itself is shaping up as a mystery. No host has been named; the academy’s first choice, Kevin Hart, dropped out after (initially) refusing to apologize for past anti-gay ramblings on Twitter. It is also unclear how the 91st Academy Awards, scheduled for Feb. 24, will handle a major change in its format: To keep the show to three hours, up to eight categories will be moved to commercial breaks, with the winning moments edited and aired later in the telecast. The academy has not said which categories (there are 24 total) will be jettisoned from the live show.
The academy’s leaders — with urging from ABC, which broadcasts the ceremony — decided to take such drastic action because viewership has been plummeting. A record low of 26.5 million people watched this year’s telecast, a nearly 20 percent drop from a year earlier. As recently as four years ago, the Academy Awards had an audience of nearly 44 million viewers.
Another effort to attract more viewers, the creation of an Oscar for “outstanding achievement in popular film,” was abandoned by the academy in September. The academy was trying to make room for blockbusters, which voters have increasingly tended to ignore in favor of little-seen art films. But this year ended up as an exception: “Black Panther,” with $1.35 billion in global ticket sales, was the No. 1 movie of 2018. It is the first superhero movie nominated for best picture. “A Star Is Born” collected $406 million, an astounding total for a drama.
Hollywood’s future arrives
In some ways, Oscar voters appeared to be saying that Hollywood has room for both the future (Netflix) and the past (classic studio stories like “A Star Is Born”).
The academy’s old guard has resisted an aggressive push by Netflix to join the best picture club, arguing that, since the streaming service does not release its films in a traditional theatrical manner, its offerings should be better considered by Emmy voters. “Roma” has played in a smattering of theaters in North America, but major chains have refused to show the film because Netflix made it available online in short order.
Netflix has relentlessly campaigned for Oscars, though, making inroads first with documentaries and then, last year, with “Mudbound,” which missed a best-picture nomination but received attention in other prominent categories.