The majority of Oscar nominations and winners are bullshit. I was going to ease into this, but there’s no way around it. Instead of nominating films that bring about discussion on the merits of film as art, often disposable “Oscar bait” products receive accolades before falling into the forgotten cinematic landscape. Remember how The Artist won best picture, but something like Drive wasn’t even nominated? I couldn’t even remember what won in 2011. I had to look it up. That was only four years ago. For an award that has a prestigious air about itself, you would think there would be better choices. You’d also be wrong.
Obviously people will always find something to disagree on when it comes to movies (Example: I don’t like Birdman), but as a community looking to discuss film from all walks of life, the most popular movie award show should reflect that. But who am I kidding? This year’s lineup of award shows is whiter than Wonder Bread. It makes the current Avengers lineup in the MCU look tan. Along with the inherent racial prejudice, the qualifications for which films receive nominations seem to be: A) Which is the most politically correct film? B) Is it based on a true story? C) Do most people know about it? D) Is it a serious movie? And E) Does it involve struggles of race or sex?
A: Political correctness is boring. I’m not saying to use this as an excuse to make racist/sexist remarks or to make films supporting unethical agendas. I’m just asking us to open our minds to different kind of moviemaking. In a perfect world, something like Under the Skin would receive a Best Picture nomination, regardless of its execution in storytelling. It’s not a traditional movie with a structure going from Act 1-3. Under the Skin is an exploratory tale of loneliness and isolationism. That’s not to say something like The Imitation Game doesn’t deserve to be on the Best Picture list because of its ordinary approach to moviemaking. The problem is that it is too ordinary.
I’m not sure where a Best Editing nomination came from for this movie. As several characters stand around a room discussing war and Alan Turing’s homosexuality, the camera sticks to basic “cut to character A. Now character B.” The Imitation Game is now championing itself as a shining light to support homosexuality during its race to the Oscars. It’s the equivalent of those tumblr posts that say “If you don’t reblog this, I’m unfollowing.” To that I say: a hearty fuck you. Don’t you dare demean the man to a slogan of “Honor the man, Honor the film” just to win an Oscar. Alan Turing was a great man and a hero. What happened to him was beyond tragic (the movie makes the poor mistake of not committing to his suicide to opt for the safe, traditional biopic ending); don’t disgrace him by falsifying your support of him just to win an award for your pretty good, not great, movie. Movies should take risks, and the Academy should follow suit.
B: True stories don’t mean shit. Josh gave his thoughts on why historical accuracy is meaningless, so I’m going to let him take it from here: “Movies aren’t real”
C & D: The Oscars are simultaneously both a popularity contest and the furthest thing from it. Not quite hipsters who say, “I liked that before it was mainstream” but not on the level of complete seclusion either. The Dark Knight, Drive, and The Lego Movie are my choices for most flabbergasting exclusions from the Best Picture nominees of the 2000s. They both blew their respective genre doors of their hinges when they were released and are almost universally loved (always the naysayers). So why weren’t they nominated? Because they’re not perceived as serious art. What is art anyway? I’m going to risk getting too existential for my own good here, but I don’t care. I happen to perceive art as someone sharing a piece of themselves with the world; something that only each individual person could make.
Could anybody else have made The Dark Knight? Plenty of other people have aped the Nolan style and tropes years after its release, so I’m going to say no. Would another director have been able to elevate the straight up B-Movie concept of Drive (I like the consensus that it’s The Transporter with style) into a pure piece of Winding’s pathos on superhero films? No. I won’t get started on The Lego Movie because that’s a whole issue in and of itself.
All these lack of approval stamps from The Academy are perplexing to me because Avatar was also nominated for Best Picture. Just because a movie doesn’t deal with a true story or heavy political themes doesn’t invalidate its existence. (This isn’t to say the lack of awards approval invalidates a good movie. It’s just nice to see good work rewarded.) I’d go as far as saying a film like The Avengers could be Best Picture worthy. It’s a giant entertaining piece of popcorn entertainment that mostly fires on all cylinders – which is more than I can say for something like American Sniper.
E: Here’s where the topic gets tricky. Discussing race and sex is always tricky, but they’ve never been more important. I’ll just keep saying tricky until I’m ready.
Since the internet age allows for immediate interconnectivity and access to the vast array of society’s ideas, we have an opportunity to forego the negative tendencies of previous establishments as we move forward in society and how we consume art. An entirely white group of nominees is just no longer acceptable. There is blatant ignorance of talent when there is not a single person of color nominated for Best Supporting Actor/Actress, Best Actor/Actress, or Best Director. If Robert Duvall can be nominated for The Judge, then Tyler Perry more than deserves recognition for Gone Girl. If Steve Carell and Bradley Cooper scored nominations for their roles, then David Oyelowo has earned himself a nomination twice over. If Morten Tyldum received a nod for The Imitation Game, Ava DuVernay is entitled to a nomination for her work. Selma was at least nominated for Best Picture, though some have commented that it’s The Academy’s equivalent of “I’m not racist! I have a black friend!”
Rather than making waves with positive change and honoring the plenty of talented people of color already struggling to have their voices heard in the industry, we have Meryl Streep nominated for Into the Woods (a movie I generally liked and thought she was fine in). Following the Best Picture nominations from 2013, I thought we might start seeing a drastic change in what is considered Oscar worthy, but 2014 nominations have proved me so, so wrong. It hurts, but the previous batch of nominations and winners still inspire hope. 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture. Gravity won best director. The two major nominations were given to non-white males. Even dating back to 2009, Kathryn Bigelow won Best Director and Best Picture for The Hurt Locker.
This doesn’t just pertain to the film industry. The Oscars are a platform to bring attention to serious issues in the world. There is an endless list of topics worth discussing from 2014 alone, from the abuse of police power to a disgusting refutation of institutionalized racism. These topics are not just relevant, they have the potential to be changed for the better. The comedy bits are good fun, but when there are millions of people watching around the world, why not call upon people to join a cause worth fighting for? We need more of this:
The struggle for change isn’t easy when The Academy is made up primarily of old white men who thought The King’s Speech was worthy of Best Picture. Like politicians, there should be a specified amount of time for Academy members to stay on the board. If you saw Steamboat Willie and The Lego Movie in theaters, you shouldn’t have the right to vote for the Oscars. (That was a joke I stole from a friend, but you get the point.) If you’re tweeting THIS out the day before a big announcement, you’re probably self-aware that you’re terrible at your job. And maybe, just maybe, if The Academy changed every decade or so, we could have a community of film lovers who understand the current climate of cinema.