Every year around this time the same talking point arises and it’s this:
The Oscars are stupid. Giving awards for artistic merit is like ranking your favorite sunset against the best Beatles song ever written. The whole idea is crass, pointless and probably impossible.
Like many things in life, there’s a lot of merit to this thought. It’s also horseshit. As a minor Emmy-Winning Filmmaker™ and amateur bloviator (hoping to go pro, fingers crossed!) I think we can agree on this:
Some studios and creative teams work to bring us Charlie Sheen in “9/11” or the industrial-grade cynicism of “The Emoji Movie. Others work to bring us the charmed delights of “La La Land,” the fraught genre thrills of “Get Out” or the beautifully observed human portraits in “Lady Bird” or “Moonlight.” Giving the makers of the latter SOME recognition is meaningful.
Making good things is hard. Doing it in Hollywood is nearly is nearly impossible. You’ve seen and forgotten “Justice League.” You know what I’m saying. Pushing against all the forces of pabulum and economics to bring us something like “The Shape of Water” or “Coco” gives us all something to celebrate. When done right, the best movies can last for the better part of a century.
But the Academy Awards as they stand give recognizing cinematic worth an awful name. Harvey Weinstein has more Oscars (one) than Stanley Kubrick (none. NONE!). This is a system that pitted “La La Land” against “Moonlight,” “Schindler’s List” against “The Fugitive” (?!) and “Star Wars” against “Annie Hall.” How are we honoring greatness when each of these movies has stood the test of time as some kind of classic (okay, fine, a minor action classic for The Fugitive…)
Add to this Hollywood’s insufferable level of self-regard when it comes to bestowing gold on worthy movies. Some years it seems the more depressing and bleak, the better your chances (“Ordinary People,” “Schindler’s List,” “The Deer Hunter,” “The Killing Fields”…). If you’ve got a British person with problems, even better (“Theory of Everything,” “The King’s Speech,” “A Passage to India,” “The English Patient,” “Chariots of Fire” and probably 30 more). If they can wear frilly costumes, you’re almost there (“Shakespeare in Love,” “Dangerous Liaisons,” “Howard’s End,” “The Piano” and “Remains of the Day” BOTH in1993…).
Of course, those movies are worthy respect. But they’re a sliver of human experience. We laugh, we sing, we imagine, we get frightened, and we enjoy the thrills only film can bring us. But you wouldn’t know it from the Oscars.
Tim Dirks (@AMC_Filmsite) at Filmsite.org has written up a fantastic analysis, so I’ll link it here and hit the toplines. As far as The Academy goes, comedies, animated films, musicals, science fiction, fantasy horror and family movies need not apply. Think about how much of filmmaking that encompasses.
Only one musical has won best picture since 1970. More silent films have won best picture (two) than science fiction films (streak remains unbroken at ZERO). Only one comedy has won since the 1970s — that famous laugh riot “The Artist” (2011). “2001: A Space Odyssey” wasn’t even NOMINATED for best picture. Horror classics like “Psycho” (1960), “Alien” (1979) and “The Shining” (1980) also weren’t nominated. The closest thing to an action movie to ever win an Oscar is “Titanic” (1997).
So we’re going to have to take this down to the studs and totally rebuild it.
That’s Part 2.