And the Award Should Go to...
by Tommy Delp | published Mar. 5th, 2020
Awards season has come and gone once again.
For the first day or two after the Oscars, water coolers and classrooms alike are full of chit-chat about the biggest Hollywood event of the year. Yet, the ceremony seems constantly embroiled in some sort of controversy. No one ever really seems excited about it.
Constantly battling for relevancy, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can’t seem to catch a break from the general public, the most unruly and unhappy of audiences. I’d like to make a case for both the event’s importance and unimportance though. Just like any other artistic industry, the indicator of success shouldn’t be completely black and white. Yet today, the general public relies much too heavily on the Oscars to provide their year in film.
If you’ve ever seen the films nominated, they clearly aren’t the normal crop of movies you see at your local multiplex. The Academy has much different tastes than everyone else. This shouldn’t necessarily be considered a bad thing, but more often than not the Academy tries to bend over backwards to pique the interests of the general public. In doing so, the organization comes off as even more unaware and old-fashioned than they actually are.
While it may not seem like it, everything the Academy does, it does for us; the viewers. Yet we’re usually pretty ungrateful for the changes they make to their rulebook in their endless quest just to appease us.
How much does public perception plays into the making, and following outrage, of these events though?
A Masked Culprit
Our first moment of contention comes from the distant past, 2009.
The nominees for best picture used to be topped at five total. The films nominated at this point in time were much more straightforward.
Due to the lack of space, there were never really any nominees that snuck in by surprise. You never saw deserving genre flicks or smaller artistic passion projects hustle their way in.
Awards season, overall, was much more predictable, as you could always assume a sturdy lineup of Oscar-bait would make its way to the stage. One film in particular changed this system though, and surprisingly it’s 2008’s "The Dark Knight."
When they announced the nominees for that year on January 22nd, 2009, and "The Dark Knight" didn’t land a nomination in the show’s biggest category, people were shocked and outraged. By the next year, the Academy had expanded the best picture pool from five to ten, and two years later they decided on the current system. Between five and ten films are now honored every year.
Whether you agree or disagree with the best picture worthiness of Christopher Nolan’s superhero epic — I believe it should have been up there — it surely changed the game.
The increased nominee number has led to some fun and unique surprises almost every year. The echoes of the change can be felt even today. Although, some people still wanted more.
The Respectability of Best Picture
The Academy is not known for taking criticism well. At the slightest hint of controversy, the organization will quickly try to make amends — sometimes though, maybe too quick. A lot of the time, their solutions look and feel like band-aids meant to cover up greater issues.
Just last year, the Academy announced the introduction of a new category, “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film,” or as most people called it, best blockbuster.
Even with the increase in best picture nominees over a decade prior, there was still a lack of true crowd-pleasers for some people.
Surprisingly though, the public was not amused by the Academy’s new concession. And neither, did it seem, were most members of the Academy. Both sides ended up feeling slighted by the announcement. Everyone ended up feeling like both the best pictures and the blockbusters would be cheapened by the new category. I don’t believe it was a completely terrible idea though.
In my opinion, there truly is a certain quality to a best picture winner. It should be artistic, thought-provoking and on a more personal scale. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe movies like “Black Panther” or “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” don’t fit that bill. They’re certainly worthy of recognition. I just don’t know if all of them are worthy of best picture recognition.
Do They Really Need It Anyway?
Blockbusters are celebrated year round. The Oscars are the one night a year people spend celebrating dramas and character pieces. Films like the ones listed above, inspire people and allow them to dream on a massive scale. Yet I believe that a lot of the time, they’re really more achievements in scale than art.
People often forget, a movie doesn’t have to win any Academy Award for it to be liked. Sometimes, a film can just be straight entertainment.
In trying to give blockbusters their own category, I thought it was a nice way for the Academy to acknowledge their importance while still preserving the distinctiveness of best picture.
The Academy rushed the decision to appease people though and clearly didn’t think about the full consequences of their actions.
What happened once the decision was reversed though? The Academy found itself under fire for being weak-willed and bowing to critics. For some people, the ceremony will just never live to their standards.
Don’t Knock It ‘Til You Try It: Alternatives to the Oscars
When it comes to the films themselves, the Oscars can sometimes seem like a mixed bag, even to me. I love the show, but there have been years where I can’t stand the night’s biggest winners. Other times though, I’ve found that in preparing for the show, I watch movies I maybe would have never experienced otherwise.
Every year, there are dazzling performances and strikingly artistic pieces to be found on screens across the world. While not all of them will be celebrated on the big night, you can be sure to find quite a few of them on display.
If you still haven’t been convinced to give the Oscars another shot though, that’s okay too. For some, the movies the Academy awards just aren’t their cup of tea. Acknowledging that is a great step. You have no reason to agree with their opinion.
Remember though, film, just like any other medium, is really about artistic expression. Just because someone, or even a whole group, doesn't fully agree with your opinion, it doesn't mean they're necessarily wrong. Everyone has a right to like something different, and we can all come together on that at least.
So enjoy your blockbusters! Enjoy your trashy comedies! Enjoy your arthouse cinema! Every movie is made for someone!
Hopefully though, the Academy can soon find some semblance of balance between what it is now and what people want it to be. While I’m fine with how things currently stand, the Oscars and its ratings are suffering. If the ceremony doesn’t find its way out of trouble soon, public perception may be the least of the Academy’s worries.