The following was commissioned by Flickering Myth
Henry Bevan on why we shouldn’t dismiss the Oscars as out of touch…
Yesterday, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced the 89th Academy Award nominations. As expected, La La Land led the pack. As expected, there were a few surprises like Amy Adams not being nominated (HOW?!?!). As expected, the nominated movies showed how out of touch the Academy is, with no blockbuster being nominated.
Of course, quality wise, the Academy should award some popular movies. The obvious example is The Dark Knight, a blockbuster that broke the billion-dollar ceiling, whose cultural impact is felt nine years later and whose exclusion caused the Academy to change the number of films eligible for the best picture prize. The idea was to nominate more blockbusters, but apart from Mad Max: Fury Road and Inception, the Academy just nominated more obscure flicks. The fact films like The Imitation Game receive more nominations than Guardians of the Galaxy make people call the Oscars obsolete. They do not represent what the people watch.
Now, in the above case, it is disappointing the Academy nominated The Imitation Game over Guardians. It is as bland a film as Guardians is vibrant, but to nominate a movie that is great and popular defeats the point of the Academy Awards. The awards allow Hollywood to congratulate itself, but more importantly, make money. As the great Frank Capra said: “The Oscar is the most valuable, but least expensive, item of worldwide public relations ever invented by any industry.”
Pseudo-events like the Oscars exist to sell movies and nominating, or advertising, a billion-dollar-grossing movie goes against the ceremony’s constitution. It is all about putting the business in the show. The awards, no matter what they pretend, are not about celebrating the year’s best movies. For a subjective medium, the awards bodies and critics circles have a habit of nominating the same movies because they are about getting you to watch the films they think deserve more money. Nominating a film thousands of people have already seen is a futile attempt at increasing the overall amount of money the industry generates annually.
There is no denying the Oscars are great PR. Yesterday’s nominations were quickly dissected. Comment pieces about snubbed recipients, surprise nominations and the award’s purpose popped up all over the internet. The websites who pretend to hate the Oscars write copy about the awards because they bring traffic. This article falls into the publicity trap the Oscars create. Best of all, a visibly bemused Hugh Edwards introduced a report on the nominations on the Ten O’Clock news. La La Land‘s haul received more airtime than the current Syrian peace talks in Kazakhstan.
The Academy Awards generate so much coverage, their impact is felt. Moonlight is already starting to expand the number of cinemas it is playing in off the back of its nomination. On average nominated movies gain an extra $14 million over snubbed films. The Oscar bump is real and it widens a film’s potential audience. The Oscars give people the opportunity to search out a film they would normally miss. Anything that gets a wider audience to watch a movie like Moonlight is important.
Also, the show has a moral responsibility. Whilst it is unfair to blame the Oscar’s for having all-white nominees, it does act, however reluctantly, as a Petrie dish for the industry’s progress or regression. Without the previous two years’ #OscarsSoWhite controversy, there wouldn’t be the record number of people of colour nominated this year. As Meryl Streep showed at the Golden Globes the awards stage is a social and political platform. They may just be privileged celebrities, but the traditional, and social media, reach of the Oscars gives them a microphone for what they believe in. They may not nominate the best movie, they may not nominate your favourite movie, but they are still important.