The Academy Awards
As opposed to posting my predictions, ideal winners, or even fantasy Oscars, I’ll take a different route primarily because I am as uninterested in those things about myself as you are. Instead, I’ll lay out briefly my issue with the Academy Awards and how, if I were omnipotent, I would fix it.
There are a plethora of supposed issues with the Oscars, from the feverish campaigning, to the bizarre winners and nominations, et cetera, et cetera. There’s the issue of the Academy itself, made up of a majority of old white people, mostly men, who themselves have never won an Oscar. And, finally, and possibly most “glaring” of all is the issue of the “snubs”. When your favorite film gets shut out of the race, not even acknowledged on technical awards never mind for any of the major categories. It seems that expanding the Best Picture category hasn’t really helped. This was originally done, supposedly, to make up for the lack of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight in the Director and Picture categories. That year, the first time that the Best Picture nominees racked up to ten since the studio era, had stuff like Avatar and The Hurt Locker, The Blind Side and Inglourious Basterds, and Up and District 9. The following year, (2010) had a very odd array of stuff from Toy Story 3 to The Fighter, from Black Swan to Winter’s Bone, and from Inception to The Social Network and The King’s Speech. The next year, the Academy changed the rules again, stipulating that, as opposed to ten films being the total number of Best Picture nominees to “anywhere from 5 to 10”, which basically meant nothing. So, there was The Artist and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Moneyball and War Horse, and The Help and The Tree of Life.
What is clear about this method, or any method of nominating a specific number of films (still even evident in this year’s nominees, with picks like Amour and Les Misérables) is that there’s always the exclusion of “better films” and the inclusion of “lesser films”, or, at least films that one wouldn’t normally think of as Best Pic material (I loved Toy Story 3 as much as anyone else, but Best Pic? Really?). And with the inclusion of such films and the exclusion of others, the race becomes more and more obvious, indicating that your favorite will probably not win.
The same can be said of all the other categories, from the tech ones, featuring people who’ve been nominated 9 times and never won (I’m lookin’ at you, Deakins), to the acting categories.
And another issue comes down to the politics of it all. In a world where Doctor Doolittle, the unmitigated disaster from 1967, can score a Best Pic nomination over, say, In Cold Blood, I sense a problem. Do we really live in a world where winning these things is so important that you have to campaign for them? And they have smear campaigns? Yeah, essentially the Oscars have just become career boosters and good PR, but really? That just feels really desperate to me.
And finally, the Academy members themselves: old, white, mostly non-Oscar winners. So, their tastes aren’t exactly contemporary, they like sap and nostalgia and very shallow explorations of social issues. (Some exceptions, though, include Midnight Cowboy winning and being the first and only X rated film to win Best Pic.) If the industry is about trying to appeal to you young audience (with so little attention span, mind you), why are your Academy members so old and pretty much blah?
So, I have a solution. Mind you, it’s democratic, kind of sappy in and of itself, but if I were running the show, I would ideally fashion it a certain way.
My first move would be to make a Cannes style jury vote on the films each year. This technique, of a dozen or so people within the industry vote on certain films in competition, isn’t just limited to the legendary Cannes Film Festival, but remains, pretty much, a staple of most film festivals. So, why not make the Oscars the same? A rotating jury for the major categories, and the smaller juries for the smaller, tech, short, and foreign categories (maybe have some members overlap). These jury members, though, wouldn’t vote on one film. Instead, they would be asked to list their, say, 10 to 15 favorite performances, films, technical accomplishments in film that year. The lists would be compiled together. And the final 25 that received the most votes would all get plaques! Yeah, it may not be as prestigious as a golden boy (maybe a mini Oscar would be a substitute if people are that fussy), but imposition of restraint works against the idea of recognizing great films. Also, as I mentioned in a previous post, I’m indecisive.
Another rule would be: absolutely no campaigning beyond the usual screening and post-screening question and answer. Go away, Weinsteins! We don’t need your pandering. (Maybe there should be a rule against Harvey setting foot near the jury members? And no baskets of mini muffins either.) Again, if this is supposed to be a celebration of great film, there really shouldn’t be any need to start running weird ads whining about factual inaccuracy or affairs.
So, in my Utopia, where I run the Oscars, everyone would be happy. Hopefully. I mean, you can’t please everyone, but we can at least do the art the favor of recognizing it appropriately without what feels like corruption. Celebrate film!
(For the record, I’m totally on #TeamHaneke.)
P.S. I’m just glad that, when it ends, people will forget Les Mis existed and I hopefully will never hear the words “Argo fuck yourself” again.”