With Oscar season right around the corner,
Growing up, I remember my family would always watch the Academy Awards. My father would print off a list of the nominations and check off his predictions and the actual winners afterward. As a kid and teenager, I usually didn’t see many of the nominations, so my guesses were just blind shots in the dark, mainly on the name. Later, I figured out how my dad was picking his nominations and getting a better win rate than I, even though he saw about the same amount as I.
He would take into consideration stuff outside of the movie itself. For actors and actresses, he would look at their track record, who has or hasn’t won yet, who’s been nominated the most and are they Meryl Streep. A modern example of this is Leonardo DiCaprio’s win for The Revenant. Yes, he deserved a nomination for it, but when you compare it to some of his recent nominations like Wolf on Wall Street or his best performance - in my opinion - Django Unchained he would have had an Oscar already. Even his performance in The Revenant was under the shadow of Tom Hardy’s jaw-dropping performance in the same movie.
So, why did DiCaprio win for a good performance but not one of his best performance? Outside factors. Many voters finally felt like he was due a win and of course, for your consideration campaigners. Check out this clip from Adam Ruins Everything for more about that and how companies will spend ten million dollars on marketing just for a nod as that can get them twenty million more at the box office.
Now, if this were completely true, then the biggest movie of the year would win the Oscar every time, but they luckily don’t because they aren’t what some would say “Oscar stuff.”
What I mean by that is two things: First, the Academy loves movies about the movies. A great example is the 2012 Best Picture winner, The Artist. Personally, I love the film and think it deserved it, but I can’t deny the targeting the movie was doing. The film is a silent film about a silent actor during the age when talkies were coming into the market, and silent actors were fading into the background. It is a beautiful film that pays homage to films from the 1920s to the 1940s and to older actors that were brought up during that time; it’s sort of a no brainer why it wouldn’t win. The Academy sadly likes to stoke its own pride.
Second, the Academy likes to be a hipster. The example for this one is La La Land. It was similar to The Artist as it was a movie about actors and actress and paid homage to movie musicals of the 1940s and 1950s, and like The Artist, it is a great movie, but it had one thing going against it that it couldn’t shake. It was popular. Starting only in New York and L.A. and no marketing at all, it quickly spread by word of mouth because of the quality of storytelling, and before you know it, everyone saw it. This became a hurdle it couldn’t jump even when everyone “thought” they won in the greatest Oscar blunder. Moonlight, of course, was the winner of that year which lends to a bonus point on being “Oscar stuff” tone.
You can answer this quickly by watching the trailer and asking the question, “does this look Oscar-y?” Mainly, is it a historical movie? Does it romanticize the film industry? Does it look artsy? And biggest of all, is it a drama? Drama is the genre with the most nomination and wins for Best Picture than any other genre.
You may be asking now, “Is the Best Picture winner really the best picture of the year than with all these factors?” Maybe unsurprisingly, not really.
According to Metacritic, from 1994 to 2014, only three of the Best Picture winners were also the highest rated film of the year. Seven other years the highest rated film was nominated but didn’t win, while the other ten years the best-reviewed movie of the year wasn’t even nominated. A good example of this is the 2005 awards with Crash winning but was one of the weakest reviewed movies of the year.
With all that said, should we throw the Oscars out as some sort of Hollywood pride as they promote their ideas and egos? If you want to, I won't blame you, but I’m personally not going to throw it away yet. With all the flaws it has, the Oscars I still find fun by looking at the nominations and guessing who will win while still rooting for my own personal favorite. Yes, sometimes we get politically stuffed-acceptance speeches that aren’t really enjoyable to hear, but they have that right as anyone else does. Or we get a year like 2005 where there just were not that many great films up for nominations or just a lack of diversity every once in a while. But then we get a good year, like 2007 when we had several great films up for Best Picture: There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, and Juno. Or you get a great, funny, family-filled speech from J. K. Simmons encouraging people to call their parents and tell them you love them. Or a genuinely surprised and humbled speech from an underdog like Eddie Redmayne who was truly surprised at winning when he was up against the acting titans of Michael Keaton, Steve Carell, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Bradly Cooper.
In the end, even with its sea of flaws, I still have fun watching the Oscars or looking over the winners, but in the end, you should never let them tell you what you should think is the best picture of the year. If it were me, I would say each film in The Lord of the Rings would win all the Oscars. The Academy helps us spawn conversations on what our favorite movie of the year is and not just follow their wins as law. It should help us look into why we think one movie is the best, examine them and ask questions. Because, the more we ask, look into, and learn the art of film the more we are inclined to appreciate the films we consider best picture even more.
Thanks for reading!