Last week, Vin Diesel predicted that the newest installment in the Fast & Furious franchise, Furious 7, will win Best Picture at the Oscars (Variety). This prediction drew something of a collective chuckle from movie fans around the world, given the Academy’s seeming apathy toward genre films. So, that got me thinking about the relationship between The Oscars and action films.
What makes a movie “Oscar-worthy?” Is it the directing? Surely that can’t be, for there are several films that get Best Picture nominations despite getting zero in the directing department. The same goes for writing, acting, and pretty much every other category. Just look at Ava DuVernay’s most recent Selma, which received a sum total of two nominations: one for Best Picture and one for Best Original Song. It is my belief, that for a movie to be deemed Oscar-worthy by those whose opinions actually matter for the Oscars, it must look and feel like, for lack of a better term, an “Oscar” movie.
In 2008, fans erupted in anger as Christopher Nolan’s crime epic The Dark Knight was snubbed out a nomination for Best Picture. I firmly believe Nolan’s superhero opus deserved a nod. However, it’s not entirely surprising that it was shut out. It’s an amazing film, but The Dark Knight just isn’t an “Oscar” movie by any means. It’s a big budget popcorn flick. Sure, it’s a big budget popcorn flick that happened to be Great, but it wasn’t a biopic or sentimental historical drama, so it really shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone that it wasn’t nominated. The next year the Academy opened up the Best Picture category up to ten films, almost as a direct reaction to the backlash. At first, this did indeed seem to make the films chosen more diverse and interesting. In 2009, two sci-fi films, an animated movie and a hyper-violent Tarantino movie, both out of character for the cateogry, were included in the Best Picture race. It seemed different, interesting. Alas, old habits die hard, and the Academy was up to its old tricks very soon. One only has to look to the most recent Oscar race, with some of the most boring nominees in history, to prove this. Expanding to ten nominees simply seemed to make more room for bland “Oscar” movies like American Sniper or Philomena. Is there ever a chance for action movies to make it at the Academy Awards? Yes and no.
A few years ago, Inception was nominated for Best Picture. At the time of its release, Inception was universally lauded for its originality and exciting concepts. But for perspective,it should be noted that, aside from a few standouts, 2010 was a relatively weak year for film. And despite the new expanded Best Picture category, the award was still given to the literal definition of an Oscar movie, The King’s Speech. Throughout the years there have been almost no straight films to win and a markedly few nominated for Best Picture. There’s always an element of something else. Action-like nominees are either wildly original critic’s darlings, like Inception, or very loose action movies, like 1927’s winner Wings or 2007 winner The Departed. Yeah, one could cite the French Connection, maybe, but, but one could just as easily point out that the 80s and 90s, two standout decades for straight-up action, saw zero Best Pictures winners of straight up action fabric.. For an action movie to be seriously considered by the Academy, it either has to star Daniel Day-Lewis, hide inside of a dishonest historical epic, be directed by Scorsese, or do something really, really different while keeping one foot in another genre. Action movies traditionally cater to big crowds and bigger screens. As a result, they often make sacrifices in other measures of accomplishments. Films like Mission Impossible 4 may be ridiculously fun and well executed, but are they truly Best Picture worthy? A better question might be: Are they “Oscar worthy?”
If an action movie is good enough, it should be nominated for Best Picture. However, I think it has to be “good” by the same measurement of other films that compete in the field. Your average Marvel film can be fun, but if you measure quality by the same standard, maybe it shouldn’t be getting awards recognition. The Academy has been conditioned to react strongly to “Oscar” movies. If it’s somber, based on a true story, or deals with “issues,” it might catch the right eyes and increase its chances of getting a nomination or two, even if it barely rises above mediocre. One only has to look to past awards contenders like Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom or Crash for proof of this.
It’s a well known fact the Academy isn’t kind to non “Oscar” movies. This is unfortunate, and I would prefer this not to be so, but some things just are. The Academy should open up their categories to more diverse films, and it certainly would be cool to see Furious 7 or some similar film get a nomination, but the likelihood of this happening is small. But it’s also just as unlikely that a horror film or a documentary will get this level of recognition. More likely, The Academy will continue being The Academy. And we can cry about the snubs of The Dark Knight, The Lego Movie, Hoop Dreams, Furious 7, Inception, The Avengers as much as we want. The Academy does not care. And to be honest? Neither should we. How many times has the average film fan rewatched Slumdog Millionaire? How many times has that same average film fan watched The Dark Knight? I say stop stressing about awards ceremonies and just enjoy them for what they are. I’m far from the first person to propose this, but I think it’s a very reasonable and stress-reducing mindset to adopt. If the trend doesn’t reserve any time soon, we’ll all still be allowed to love and cherish these films. And you know what? That’s good enough for me.
Featured Image: Furious 7, Universal Pictures