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5 Ways to Improve the Oscars

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Even with the plethora of award presentations (SAG, WGA, DGA, Golden Globes, Independent Spirit, People's Choice, et al) occurring before the Oscars (February 26) -- and, unfortunately, diminishing much of the attendant surprise and drama -- the Academy Awards are still the best show in town. Hey, they're the Oscars. Not to disrespect the Golden Globes, but ask any actor, director or writer which prize they'd rather win -- a Globe or an Oscar -- and see what they tell you.

But as good as the Oscar presentation is, it's not perfect. There are ways to improve it. Some years ago I heard a comedian (alas, I've forgotten his or her name) suggest that in addition to the "death montage" (where we're somberly reminded of all the industry people who've died the preceding year), they should have a montage of people who are still living but whose careers have died. While that was said in mordant jest, there definitely are ways to jazz up the Academy Awards. Here are five of them.

1. Show screen tests. People love seeing behind-the-scenes, "insider" stuff. Open up those film libraries and show us some of the famous screen tests we've all heard about. Apparently, James Dean tested for Rebel Without a Cause, and Lucille Ball tested for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (would it be too optimistic to hope that Desi Arnaz read for Rhett Butler?) There have to be hundreds of screen tests just like these lying around somewhere. Dig them out of the vault and show them.

2. Squelch the jokes. Why do the Academy Awards have to be so unremittingly funny? There's not enough humor available to us already? With all the network and cable sitcoms, comedy specials, romantic comedies, buddy movies, gross-out movies, neighborhood comedy clubs, late night talk shows -- not to mention the hundreds of humorous blogs and funny animal pictures on the Internet -- we couldn't watch a relatively staid three-hour awards show without requiring joke after joke?

3. Show alternative scenes. Because we've all memorized our favorite scenes, we'd love to see outtake footage -- real outtake footage, not the mistakes and so-called "bloopers" we regularly see on TV (where actors get tongue-tied or forget their lines). Show us some actual scenes that were initially shot one way and then, for whatever reason, were discarded and replaced by another version. For example, instead of that famous "I'm the king of the world!" line from Titanic, how cool would it be to see an earlier version where a deliriously happy Leonardo DiCaprio is seen shouting, "I am buoyant with self-confidence!"

4. Give the writers a bigger role. Have a 4-5 minute bit where a writer recounts the evolution of his script -- where his or her idea came from, how it got expanded upon, modified, reversed, amplified, abandoned, retrieved, recalibrated, etc. Give the viewing audience an inside look at the creative process that goes into delivering a final script. Granted, they can't do justice to this endeavor in just a few minutes, but they can give us all a rough idea.

5. Invent new categories. Throw in a couple of eccentric and good-natured "new categories" Announce that a group of studio executives got together and chose such things as Scariest Movie of the Year, or Funniest Scene of the Year, or Most Romantic Scene, or Grossest Scene, or Best Explosion, or Best Ending, etc. You don't have to give an Oscar for these categories; simply mention the names of the people involved and the name of the movie, and move on. More than anything else, the Oscars are supposed to be a celebration of the movies. Right? So celebrate!

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor"), was a former union rep. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net