Today I’ll be talking about my own thoughts on the Oscar nominations, movies and performances that go completely overlooked, and why I might not actually watch them this year.
I’ve been watching the Oscars for a few years now, since I really knew what they were about. I have to give them some credit – the early years of my movie learning career were inspired a lot by movies that had won Academy Awards, simply because that marketing – “WINNER OF 5 ACADEMY AWARDS” – caught my eye. I didn’t know much about anything at that point, but I do have to say, the Oscars led me to a lot of movies, and for that I am grateful.
But last year when Scarlett Johansson did not get any recognition for her voice work in HER, I almost gave up on them entirely. It wasn’t the final nail in the coffin, nor was it the first. I’d been dissatisfied with them for a while, being the snobby hipster that I can be. They are fun, after all.
And the only reason I watched DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, which ended up on my top 10 for the year, was because it got nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Editing, so there’s that.
As Jonathan pointed out, superhero movies, science fiction, motion capture, fantasy and for that matter even comedies rarely get any recognition by the Academy. A lot of the time I get it. There’s not a lot of truly funny movies that really stay with me the same way a big prestigious movie might. I love some good sci-fi but I do find the budget usually overshadows the craft. Horror movies are too often just cheap knock-offs, and fantasy is a mess most of the time. But superhero movies? There’s an interesting category.
IRON MAN 3, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, and THE DARK KNIGHT are barely “superhero movies.” Rather they’re movies. With superheroes. What more can you want?
My point however, is that despite genre conventions, there is a lot of work that just doesn’t get any recognition… anywhere. Andy Serkis continues to be snubbed for acting better as a monkey than most people act as a… whatever they’re acting as. Nobody ever wins anything for convincingly talking into a microphone and bringing life to an otherwise inanimate object. Melissa McCarthy got a nomination for being sidesplittingly funny but that is rare.
The Oscars, of course, are designed to celebrate a particular type of movies. “Oscar-bait” only came after people started cuing in on this. So would it really be fair for the Academy to include movies that fall outside of their style?
Well yes, if it’s good enough. Obviously the Academy should have a standard, but that standard should be one of craft and skill, not one of feeling-like-a-certain-thing. Oscar-bait movies are intuitively and intangibly similar, and they don’t actually hold a metric up to determine what a “good” movie is.
Not to mention how political they are. Harvey Weinstein anyone?
The Academy always makes a half-hearted attempt to seem relevant. The Little Indie Movie That Could? Yeah, that’s a thing (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE SIDEWAYS, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, now WHIPLASH). The Giant Blockbuster That Gets Nominated For Visual Effects Even Though They Were Definitely Not The Best Visual Effects? Check. The Socially Conscious Movie That Is Kind Of *Coff Coff* Actually Just A Way For White People To Reassure Themselves That They Are Awesome? Getting arbitrary at this point.
Oh sure, there’s some great surprises. THE ACT OF KILLING, for example, never felt Oscar-y at all. I was sure the score for THE SOCIAL NETWORK would go overlooked but it didn’t. Charlie Kaufman won an Oscar. So did SKYFALL. All recent examples though, but all good ones of the Academy branching out slightly into very different territory.
This year, there’s a few problems.
Besides the obvious completely backwards whitewashing of the nominees and the rampant and unfair sexism – obviously a woman shouldn’t be nominated just because she’s a woman, that would also be sexist, but there are a lot of extraordinarily talented female directors working right now, and none of them got a nomination? What about female writers? Editors? Cinematographers??? – the biggest problem I have with this year’s nomination list is that I can pretty much tell you who’s going to win right now. I won’t, because *spoilers* and also because I don’t actually know yet, but that’s how predictable they’ve become.
Last year I guessed 21 of them, I think. I’m not trying to brag, I’m just saying that’s how easy they are to figure out. The Academy is so obvious. Too obvious.
This year I don’t even know why I’m bothering. Force of habit, I guess. Maybe I’m just obsessed with the idea of winning one myself someday, or some crazy dream like that. It’s a fantasy. I’m not sure if I would even want to win one if they keep going down this trend. It would feel more like an insult. “Oh, you won an Oscar? Errrrrr… that’s… good?”
We should be able to recognize good work when we see it. That doesn’t mean we should be completely subjective, there are experts in this after all, but it does mean we should stop with arbitrary selections that box in the nominations to a few pre-picked styles and overlook the rest. Try out the little substitution trick of swapping “Best” for “Most” and you’ll see what I mean.
And the Academy Award for Most Movieness goes to…