Several months ago, the Academy of Motion picture Arts and Sciences announced some proposed changes to the annual Academy Awards ceremony with the intention of both shortening the telecast to under three hours and reverse the show’s declining ratings. One of those suggestions – introducing a new “Best Popular Film” category – was roundly derided and quickly withdrawn. But in the shadow of the Kevin Hart hosting debacle, one of the other changes has quietly been moving forward.
In order to shorten the ceremony, the Academy proposed announcing the winners to some of the categories while the televised show is in a commercial break, and then presenting edited highlights from the winners’ acceptance speeches. This suggestion too was criticized, the least of which for the shabby treatment it gives filmmaker crew members who very seldom get recognition as it is. But now film journalist Mark Harris is hearing that one of the categories that will not be presented live is one of the more important ones in terms of the art of filmmaking itself – cinematography.
As we move closer to one of the most misbegotten "reconceptions" of the Oscars ever, a thread with a scoop–they're not showing Best Cinematography this year. Stupid, wrong, won't help what needs helping, will hurt what doesn't need hurting. https://t.co/02yNP0hJlQ
— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) January 28, 2019
First of all, I am at a loss as to why the category of Cinematography would be considered of such little interest that one would think that the general public would just be content with an edited highlight of the winner. But in the larger view, cinematography is the most important category in terms of film-making. Cinematography is the art and science of capturing an image on film. It is the most basic key component possible of visual storytelling. If there is no picture, it is not a film! To consider banishing the award to a commercial break not only seems monumentally foolish and short-sighted, but leads me to wonder if the producers of Oscars telecast actively hate movies.
What is especially baffling about this decision is that John Bailey, the president of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences is a cinematographer himself, having shot such films as American Gigolo, Ordinary People, That Championship Season, Groundhog Day and many more. I have to believe that he was out of the loop on this decision because surely he would raise his voice in defense of the category, right?
But this year, there is some real Oscar race interest in the category. Director Alfonso Cuaron, who often serves as his own cinematographer, is nominated in both the Best Director and Best Cinematography categories. It is just two of the ten nominations that his film Roma received including Best Picture. It is also the first time that a director has been nominated in both the directing and cinematography categories simultaneously. (We’ve already discussed the rarity of Roma being nominated in both the Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film categories here.) If that wasn’t enough, Roma is one of two black and white films in the cinematography category alongside Cold War, another rarity.
It has always been our contention that cutting any category out of the Oscar’s live telecast is a bad idea and an insult to the hardworking people nominated. But beyond that, the possible decision to relegate the Best Cinematography category to being handed out during a commercial break is just head-scratchingly stupid. Hopefully it is a decision that the Academy is rethinking right at this moment.