How the Oscars became the very thing they were supposed to prevent, and how to fix them.
When the Oscars were first introduced the general idea behind a big, prestigious awards ceremony celebrating the craft of filmmaking wasn’t an industry patting itself on the back but rather an opportunity to connect with the general public and movie-going audiences. Hollywood feared it had become too out of touch and it wanted a way to prove they were not.
It’s ironic, then, that we seem to have come full circle the other way in recent years, with the Oscars themselves (and by extension the Academy and Hollywood as a whole) becoming a go-to example of just how outdated, privileged and up its own arse the film industry has become.
There are lots of different reasons for this, from the membership of the Academy to the fact that they frequently award a certain type of film while ignoring others, to the fact that said type of film has become almost the exact opposite of what general audiences watch these days, to their own insistence upon prestige when, truth is, most people really don’t care about the Oscars.
I mean, look, at this point Oscar Bait has all but become its own sub-genre of drama, right? You can spot the wannabe nominees a mile away. And while the Academy have taken steps to remedy their problems here in more recent years, it always feels more like lip-service than it does anything real or substantial.
What’s more, there seems to a genuine issue with the way in which certain awards are perceived, both within the Academy and by audiences.
Let’s take Best Picture, for example.
Best Picture isn’t an award for the Best Picture that was released that year. It can’t be. That literally doesn’t make any sense, whatsoever, because the whole idea is purely subjective. So, is it simply what the majority of Academy voters think is the Best Picture? If so, then who cares? If you’re a member of the public does the fact that a bunch of rich, self-important movie people decided they all preferred Green Book over five other films picked by them in the first place really mean that you didn’t think Infinity War or Mission: Impossible – Fallout was the best movie you saw last year?
The whole concept of it doesn’t make any sense. It’s too vague. Too subjective. If the Academy really want to start shedding their reputation as being out of touch and old hat, then they need to overhaul everything about the ceremony.
When filmmaker’s like Steve Spielberg (who, and let’s get this out of the way now, is arguably the greatest living filmmaking the world has, and is an exceptional storyteller) rally against popular streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, calling their output out for somehow not being “real” movies because they weren’t released in a cinema, it doesn’t encourage people to cancel their subscriptions and go watch BlacKkKlansman at the cinema, it turns them off the entire “Hollywood elite”.
Like it or not the movie-watching experience has changed, and it’s changed forever. The effortlessness of being able to watch a film on your phone while commuting to work, or on your tablet while led in bed, will always, for most people, trump the effort of having to get up, go out, and pay upward of £8 for two-plus hours in a dark room with a bunch of strangers eating over-priced popcorn.
And it’s not because the experience of watching the movie on your phone is better, or that people don’t like the cinema (I bloody love the cinema, it’s always been my favourite thing to do), but because it costs less and it’s easier.
And if we really want to get into it, it’s because the options are better, too. I haven’t been to the cinema in weeks, because I really don’t care about any of the films that are currently out.
Ignoring all the amazing, inventive and interesting work that is happening on streaming services like Netflix is all part of the problem. But actively attacking it for not being “real” is downright arrogant. It undermines that work and it automatically makes the people doing this look outdates and, yes, out of touch.
Let’s return to Best Picture for a moment. This year Black Panther was nominated for the Award. It didn’t win, but that’s besides the point. When the nominees were announced the fact that Black Panther sat on the list was the source of contention for a lot of the general public and movie-goers in particular. Not because Black Panther is a bad film but any stretch (and I’m not going to go into the racist arseholes who like to hijack things like this for their own personal agenda because… well, fuck those people), but because it felt insincere for it to be there.
There are arguably lots of reasons Black Panther should have been on the list. Personally, I was pleased to see it get the recognition. Not only was it hugely successful, but it was historically and culturally significant in a way that was, until it’s release, unprecedented. And what’s more, it took big, hefty themes of race and isolationism and weaved them into the structure of a crowd-pleasing, accessible blockbuster.
I don’t know about you, but to me those are pretty good credentials. Credentials, in fact, that I’m not sure any of the other nominees from this year can even come close to topping.
Which brings me back to my point; the entire basis of the ceremony is flawed and needs an overhaul. Best Picture can’t simply be the Academy’s favourite film by majority, it just can’t, not anymore. And they can’t look down on one genre or one release strategy because they don’t see it as “worthy”. They need to open themselves up and broaden their scope. They need to accept that the world of movie-watching has changed, and they need to change with it.
They need to set some guidelines here. What is Best Picture? Why that film? What did it achieve, what did it mean? And so on, and so on. They need to be clearer, they need to be more transparent and they need to celebrate clever, inventive, thoughtful and successful filmmaking, regardless of whether or not it ticks their boxes for what is “acceptable cinema”.
I like the Oscars. Or, at least, I like the idea of the Oscars. But if they plan to stick around for another 91 years then things need to change, and maybe they could do well to remember why this big, prestigious awards ceremony existed in the first place. Because, as it currently stands, the Oscars don’t engage with anyone, they push them further away, and they’ve become a symbol of the very thing it was originally designed to fight against.
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