Can event honor non-stars and still attract audience?

Many critics have mixed feelings about the way the Oscar telecast is undergoing more nip-tuck procedures than an ageing actress.

For example, will the removal of some industry-insider awards (now relegated to the Governors Awards) leave the show looking gaunt and hollow? “It very well might,” says “Entertainment Tonight’s” Leonard Maltin.

I actually care about who wins the best cinematography award and animated short, so I seldom find the show boring,” Maltin adds, “but it can never be a TV special or piece of entertainment when its goal is to honor work by people who aren’t movie stars.”

But even ardent fans recognize that the show’s too long. L.A. Times TV critic Mary McNamara acknowledges: “Any effort to streamline a three-hour show is greatly appreciated. That said, I must admit that the honorary awards are often among the most touching and glamorous, and I hope that Lauren Bacall will not only be present at this year’s ceremony but that the clips the producers have said they will include do her justice.”

Several critics, including McNamara, agree that axing bloated musical numbers would greatly improve pacing. “They should kill them all – it’s not the Tonys,” notes Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers.

I think people tune in to see their favorite movies honored and their favorite stars crack a few jokes, shed a few tears, maybe make a gaffe or too — in other words be human, or at least as human as you can be in couture onstage at the Kodak,” McNamara adds.

There’s less agreement on whether doubling the number of best picture contenders is a good thing. Says Travers: “It’s incredibly stupid — it’s not 1939! If their intention was basically to do it so they’d get nominations for ‘Transformers 2′ and other popular movies, they’re crazy. This is still the Academy, and I think they’ll be picking movies that hit them in some way — that aren’t just commercial. So maybe ‘District 9,’ maybe ‘Star Trek’ have a chance. We’ll have to wait and see.”

It’s a bad thing,” says NY1’s Neil Rosen. “I struggle all year to come up with a top-10 list, so I think it’s more of a commercial move.”

Ten nominations dilutes the best picture Oscar,” says KNBC’s Jeffrey Lyons. “I suspect it won’t last many years.”

But the L.A. Times’ Kenneth Turan and others strongly disagree. “It’ll hopefully open the Oscars up to a broader spectrum of films and get people more excited about the show again,” Turan says.

Adds McNamara: “I like the idea of there being more nominees for best picture and even, in the future, perhaps for the acting categories because it is an overdue expansion of how we define excellence and will, with any luck, allow the Academy to better reflect the movies that touch and thrill audiences.

You have to give proper due not only to the nominees but to the celebration of film itself in a manner that keeps people interested for such a length of time.”

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