Like Michael Jackson’s death and the capture of Osama Bin Laden, I will always remember where I was when I learned the news. That would be the 96thStreet subway station, a dingy underground transportation hub that, because of its suffocating stand-still heat in mid-August, can only be described as the MTA version of hell. I scrolled through my social media feeds, hoping to distract myself from the icky feel of my makeup dripping down my face. Then I saw the news. I had to read it a few times just in case the sauna-like confines had caused my brain to short circuit. Then I reacted as if a child just struck the third rail: What do you mean the Oscars added a Best Popular Movie category?!!!!!!!
I’ve now read nearly a dozen passionate think pieces from various Oscar experts. The unofficial consensus is that the “Best Popular” category is a desperate, pathetic attempt to take a dip in the fountain of youth. Because you know, those MTV Movie & TV awards ratings are en fuego!!! If the Academy gives a special consolation prize award to Black Panther (the surefire winner) then those Gen Zers will tune in in droves and boost the bottom line for ABC. It’s a terrible idea, period. And the word “popular” just adds to the cringe factor. My junior high school didn’t even have the gall to include a “Most Popular” category in its yearbook, LOL KIT.
Here’s my radical idea: Instead of trying to skew younger, the Academy should just skew older.
I’m not talking about including Book Club in the Best Picture conversation. I want to see movie stars at the Oscars. As in… people so damn famous that my grandma, my mom, my sister and my 25-year-old hipster cousin could identify them as soon as they take the stage. Ansel Elgort and Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer and Zendaya and Gina Rodriguez and Oscar Issac and Kellie Marie Tran, who all presented at the 2018 ceremony, do not fall into this category. Look, I respect their talents — but none of these actors or actresses have ever opened the movie at the box office. Why would people tune in to see them open an envelope?
The Oscars are, ahem, the most popular awards show on the planet. Ratings may be down, but the 90-year-old show still pulls in nearly 30 million viewers a year and that is no small feat in this fragmented TV market. That should be a good enough reason to lure in the, ahem, most popular stars over the past 50 years. That means Tom Cruise presents the screenplay awards. Denzel Washington gives out Best Director. Sidney Poitier carries an envelope. So do Robert Downey Jr., Will Smith, Sharon Stone, Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, Jennifer Lopez and Michael Douglas. Where ever Meg Ryan has been hiding, rein her in to give out a Best Costume Design trophy. Or pair her with Tom Hanks or Billy Crystal because those Nora Ephron rom-coms never were properly apprecriated in that context. There will still be enough presentation gold left over for the newbies and for Jennifer Garner. Promise.
In 2017, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway memorably presented Best Picture in honor of the 50thanniversary of Bonnie & Clyde. Great. But the Academy missed out on an opportunity to commemorate the 30thanniversary of Witches of Eastwick — don’t roll your eyes until you picture Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer and Cher standing at the podium. No way in hell they would have let Envelope-Gate become a thing.
I have a secret for the Academy. Movie stars are still a big deal. Cruise’s Mission: Impossible Fallout has been a bona fide smash for weeks and its 56-year-old leading man literally plays a big role in that. And though I thought Book Club was embarrassing, Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen still pulled enough weight to generate nearly $70 million at the box office. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again and Equalizer 2, which opened the same weekend, were hits as well even though the combined age of Washington, Meryl Streep, Cher, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth is, like 874. (I don’t do math). In an age of 24/7 uncertainty, don’t underestimate the appeal of someone who’s been an above-the-title star for decades.
Movie stars don’t just read from the teleprompter or plug a movie. They don’t give a crap if the show is running long. They make heartfelt, off-the-cuff monologues a la Eva Marie Saint and quip jokes about Streep a la Jodie Foster and refer to Idina Menzel as Adele Dazeem a la John Travolta. We love their movies and we love to re-watch them on Netflix. Ant-Man & The Wasp came and went. I guarantee that a rare reunion of the five stars of The Breakfast Club will generate more curious eyeballs than watching Black Panther and Mission: Impossible 18 vie for Best Achievement by a Popular Film that Grossed $1 Billion Worldwide.
We have six months to make this happen. Anyone have the phone number for movie star Ruth Bader Ginsburg? I have a train to catch.
Also published on Medium.