Chad Hartigan was born in Nicosia, Cyprus, and attended the North Carolina School of the Arts, School of Filmmaking. In 2008, he wrote and directed his first feature, Luke and Brie are on a First Date, which premiered at the Hamptons International Film Festival and was remade for Latin American audiences in 2013 as Luna en Leo. His second feature, This is Martin Bonner, premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Audience Award for Best of NEXT and went on to also win the John Cassavetes Award at the 2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards. His third feature, Morris From America, starring Markees Christmas, Craig Robinson and Carla Juri, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016, where it won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and a Special Jury Award for Robinson. It was released by A24, and received both Gotham and Independent Spirit Award nominations.
Folks, I know it’s not cool to care about the Oscars. Art is subjective, the best movies never win, it’s more about marketing budget size than quality, the actual show is a boring disaster every year, yada yada yada. All very true. But all the same, I’ve been watching every year since 1992 and I do care. Sure, there was a stretch that involved Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Neil Patrick Harris and Seth MacFarlane that almost became too painful to bear anymore, but then something insane happened. My friends and collaborators were nominated. And they won! For a great film that will actually stand the test of time! And it appears very likely that more friends will be nominated this year. For more great films! What is going on? Have I become part of the establishment and adjusted my taste accordingly or is the Academy actually starting to embrace better taste themselves? My bank account highly suggests it isn’t the former.
So now that the Oscars have me firmly back in their grasp, I’d like to propose a few ideas on how to make the whole damn affair better. Because I care too much!
Change #1 – Get rid of the Best Original Song category. The official rules state, “There must be a clearly audible, intelligible, substantive rendition (not necessarily visually presented) of both lyrics and melody, used in the body of the motion picture or as the first music cue in the end credits.” When this category was introduced in 1934, I’m sure that covered over half of the films released by Hollywood, but it is clearly a relic of a bygone era now. There simply aren’t enough instances of good films using good songs to make this category relevant. Instead, it is where films like Junior, Kate & Leopold and Country Strong can sneak their way onto the list of Academy Award-nominated movies. And then to make it worse, we’re forced to suffer through five oppressive performances during the show. Think of how much time I’m saving us all! But Chad, you say, that Justin Timberlake number that opened the show last year was pretty fun. You’re damn right, it was! So if there’s ever a song from a film that would actually improve the telecast by being performed, let them! That still falls under the umbrella of celebrating the year in cinema. We just don’t need the competitive category anymore. Sorry.
Change #2 – Combine the two sound categories. Look, I make films and I’d be hard pressed to tell you the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. Not conceptually. I get that. But to ask me or anyone else to watch a finished film and determine superlative work in one versus the other is tricky. It’s not like there’s separate categories for Best Cinematography and Best Color Correction, although there arguably should be. It would simply be impossible to judge from a finished film. Doesn’t matter how different their craft is, there should just be one award for overall sound design. These categories almost always have the same nominees and winners anyway, so let’s consolidate here!
Change #3 – Don’t televise the short categories. Controversial, I know! I love that the Academy honors short films, I really do. But those are three guaranteed snack or bathroom breaks in the telecast. I’ve never heard of the filmmakers, I’ve never seen the films, I never will see the films. Best we can hope for here is some funny presenters making a good joke and the speech ending up somewhat interesting. But those are easy prices to pay for just jettisoning these to a separate ceremony. We already did that with the lifetime achievement awards. Why not combine these two? The Academy celebrating the old and the new in one evening where students can mingle with legends. And I don’t have to watch it. Everybody wins.
Phew! We’ve already cut five categories and five musical numbers from the show. We’re really cooking here, gang. Which brings me to the final, and craziest, proposal.
Change #4 – Go back to five Best Picture nominees. I understand that the Academy felt like they fucked up when The Dark Knight wasn’t nominated and that the intention was to broaden the field so well-reviewed blockbusters and tiny indies both had a better chance to get in. But all that’s happened is that truly forgettable titles like The Blind Side, An Education or Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close get in. Even when a film like District 9 makes the cut, which is probably what they initially hoped for, nobody actually remembers it as a Best Picture nominee, because it was never really in the race. Going back to five, keeps it competitive and keeps it special.
But! What if we had more Best Picture categories? We already kind of have two. Best Picture and Best Foreign Film. Some of my actual favorites of the year would land in the latter category – The Square, Suntan, The Workshop. So what if there was one more that split the difference and represented how the current filmmaking landscape is changing? What if there were awards for Best U.S. Production, Best Co-Production, and Best Foreign Production?
I know this opens up a can of worms on eligibility and category fraud, but this isn’t a subjective separation like the Comedy/Musical vs. Drama nonsense at the Golden Globes. Basically, any film made entirely with U.S. money and backing goes in the first, any film made with a combination of U.S. and foreign money goes in the middle, and any film made with no U.S. money or backing goes into the last.
Think about it. Using that system with the batch of films currently leading the race this year, you end up with something like this:
Best U.S. Production
The Florida Project
The Shape of Water
Blade Runner 2049
Call Me By Your Name
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Best Foreign Production
A Fantastic Woman
All great categories. More films get to compete, but everything actually stays competitive. Once again, everybody wins! Who would get the actual bragging rights to a “Best Picture”? I don’t know. I don’t care. I would think that films and studios would be happy to have more chances at using that marketing hook.
There you have it. We’ll be in and out of the next ceremony in three hours tops! Please elect me President of the Academy so I can get to work.
Picture on left, showing Chad Hartigan celebrating Moonlight‘s victory at the A24 Oscar party, courtesy of Chad Hartigan.