The Academy Awards show will be the talk of the world tomorrow. Unlike most programs on television (even awards programs) the Oscar ceremony is not presented for the people watching it on TV but the live audience in the room — the movie business insiders.
And as in all awards shows (and many other facets of life) I am against competition. We have turned everything in our lives into a contest with winners and losers, and a decision on who is the best.
But — does the Oscar itself matter?
Do you think the Oscar award goes to the best movie or actress or director? Well then you probably believe in the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny. The Academy awards are presented
not for the people watching it on TV (fans who go to the movies) but the live audience in the room — the studio, crews and cast of the movies.
Oscar has a long history of disappointing movie fans as well as the movie industry. Like high-school student body elections (and national politics — but let’s not go there) it is a popularity contest, as well as an industry-insider conspiracy.
Interest is manufactured by pitting one against another, and the media thrives on numbers — more viewers, more clicks equal more revenue. It’s that simple.
It does us — the outsiders wanting entertainment — no good at all.
What is presented as recognizing merit devolves into grudge matches and sympathy and a reward system.
Be thankful you aren’t a judge having to make difficult decisions. Imagine trying to choose between Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson. Many think that Al was robbed when Jack won the Oscar for his work in Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).
Oscars are supposedly handed out for the actor’s performance on screen, but Academy voters (in the movie industry) often vote for older stars who have never won despite a long record of excellence.
Henry Fonda won for Best Actor in 1982 (On Golden Pond). But by that time, he was too ill to attend, so the award was accepted by his daughter, Jane Fonda. A few months later he died. This was a beloved actor who made movies for over 50 years — classics such as 12 Angry Men, The Grapes of Wrath and Mister Roberts. But none of them won him the award
Elizabeth Taylor won for Butterfield 8 (1961), but many thought she was awarded for surviving a serious bout of pneumonia that delayed her starting the epic movie Cleopatra.
Peter Finch and Heath Ledger were each awarded Best Supporting Actor posthumously. You could make a case that their work was indeed top class. But did sorrow over their deaths push the voters over the edge to vote out of sympathy? Coincidentally, these were the only people to win an award after their death, and both were Australians.
Fortunately, one doesn’t need to die to get an award. Although there is a formal Lifetime Achievement Award, it often seems that some artists are given an Oscar for the body of their work, rather than the specific film named on the base of the statuette.
Katherine Hepburn’s win for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) was a sympathy vote welcoming her back after a long absence from the silver screen, and after losing her longtime lover Spencer Tracy.
And many say the same thing about John Wayne’s award for True Grit (1969).
Who cares about money? Awards aren’t given for big box-office receipts — even though that reflects how enjoyable the film was to the public.
Oscar voters like to pat themselves on the back and will reward prestige movies (often called “Oscar Bait”).
(AHEM! … The King’s Speech in 2011)
Gandhi (1982) was deemed more worthy than E.T., Tootsie and Blade Runner — all considered classics in their respective genres. Gandhi is simply considered tedious and preachy.
Remember How Green Was My Valley (1942)? Of course not — nobody does. But do you remember the movie it beat: Citizen Kane (generally regarded as the greatest film of all time)?
Kramer v. Kramer (1980) was an intimate movie with an all-star cast. Who could argue against Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman? But do you think it deserved the Best Picture Oscar when compared to the grand scope of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now?
What was the best picture of the 80s? Most critics have listed Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1981), but the award that year went to Ordinary People.
Scorsese made masterpiece after masterpiece but wasn’t recognized by Oscar(until later). His greatest work (arguably) was Goodfellas (1991) but the politically-correct mock-historical Dances With Wolves walked home with the prize.
Steven Spielberg has suffered as much as Scorsese or more, but his masterful Saving Private Ryan’s loss to Shakespeare in Love in 1999 caused howls that are still resounding today.
Jaws, ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind were not the kind of movies Oscar would ever notice, but Oscar made up for lost time in 1993 when Schindler’s List won seven Oscars, including best picture and director. Spielberg had been nominated as a director three times, for Close Encounters, Raiders of the Lost Ark E.T. As a producer, he had been nominated twice, for E.T. and The Color Purple.
At the risk of criticizing Forrest Gump, I am going to humbly suggest that The Shawshank Redemption (voted the number two film of all time on IMDB and the highest rated film on Yahoo Movies) and Pulp Fiction had at least as much merit (or more) for top honors for 1994.
Spotlight, based on investigative journalism into the Catholic priest sex scandal, blew away the odds-makers who favored The Big Short and The Revenant for best picture.
Although various tastes go in and out of style in voting, it seems that offbeat movies please Oscar, even if the public stays away in droves.
PICTURES NOBODY WATCHES
As a matter of fact, several Best Picture winners were box office flops. Occasionally a blockbuster will win best picture, like The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).
But mostly it is either something historical, or offbeat, or with a foreign setting/cast.
Unsurprisingly, audiences are baffled:
Birdman is one of the lowest grossing Best Picture winners ever, and it beat out Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper which was riding on a wave of patriotic fervor.
Crash (2006), a baffling film about people who get sexual thrills out of car crashes, won over Brokeback Mountain.
The Artist 2011 beat The Help (one of the movies praised for diversity) in competition to be “the best.”
“Popcorn” movies seldom win the top Oscar honor.
The Hurt Locker (2010) is the lowest-grossing film ever to win best picture — but beat Avatar (highest grossing movie of all time) for the Oscar.
Movies recognized now as classics were snubbed by Oscar, yet The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) won Best Picture and is today generally recognized as one of the worst movies to capture the top prize.
John Ford’s The Searchers (1952) had no nominations in any category in 1952 but don’t feel sorry — Ford won four Oscars for Best Director.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) lost to Oliver.
Directors who have become legend had a hard time getting Oscar to notice them.
Hitchcock himself never won an Oscar. His classic Psycho (1960) wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, but Hitchcock was nominated, as was Bernard Hermann’s influential film score. Of course, Academy Voters (all members of the film industry) reportedly found Hitch difficult to work with.
Stanley Kubrick and Robert Altman were two other directors with no Oscars but each has a rabid fan base.
Scorsese was finally rewarded with Best Director and Best Film statues with “The Departed”
In acting, Peter O’Toole (8 nominations), Geraldine Page and Richard Burton (7 nominations each) never scored the gold man.
Legends such as Cary Grant, James Dean and Greta Garbo are Oscar-less. And how did we let Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland get away without the big award?
And if you really want to talk travesties, then there was the Hollywood blacklist. Writers, directors and other talent were forced out of the business for being “un-American.” But that is another article.
Now we get to the ticklish topic of — Diversity.
There is no safe way to discuss this, and one risks being virtually tarred-and-feathered and literally forced off of social media and into hiding from cyber bullies and trolls for even daring to bring it up.
However (takes a big breath) — here I go.
Prejudice, intolerance and racism are not only inexcusable, they are incredibly stupid.
For several years the fact that white people are in the majority of people who are in positions of power, who get work and who make the biggest money in the movie business has been a big, important story — at least during Oscar season.
But if we trace the roots of this problem, we find that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences didn’t create this problem — the studios did.
But the Academy catches all the heat from the activists and the media. So they typically do exactly the wrong things just to show they are doing something.
They may not admit it, but the policies they have instituted for eligibility of nominees are intended to eliminate older voters. But deep-rooted problems have to be solved by changes in the entire industry, not just adjustments to the nomination rules.
It is obvious that AMPAS (or OSCAR for short) only regards diversity as a problem with African Americans. Each year we hear a bit more about Hispanics and Asians and Women (and to some extent, GLBTQ).
The problem has been around a long time. Over 50 years ago Lawrence of Arabia (1962) won the Best Film award but there were no female speaking roles. The biggest part for a female went to a camel named Gladys.
Look at the demographics — the average voting Academy member is 63 years old but
the average frequent movie-goer is age 12-17.
Chris Dodd, the head of the MPAA, said social networking sites and mobile phones are the biggest factors driving box office receipts. “Word-of-mouth no longer exists,” he said. “It’s now word-of-text.”
Movies are made for young people and Oscars are voted on by old people. Older voters didn’t avoid all those Medea films because they’re all racists. In fact, I would wager that they are not.
Probably they don’t vote for movies concerning social dynamics and musical genres that they don’t care about. How many white senior citizens went to see Straight Out Of Compton?
You may not realize this, and you may not care, but the ratings for the Academy Awards TV broadcast have been steadily dropping year by year. And if you have any interest in box-office figures, the movies winning best picture have been steadily doing worse at the box office. Look aback at what I said about Birdman and Hurt Locker.
The Oscars — the rulers of AMPAS — are not as relevant today and are losing relevance each year. Soon all of the old-guard will be gone and the newer members will try to catch up.
It takes a while to catch up. Up until Elvis invented rock and roll (I’m KIDDING!) in the 50s, all Oscar-winning songs were from Tin Pan Alley. There were no rock songs, or blues songs or soul songs winning awards until the 70s when “Shaft” (1971) broke the streak.
Since then, we’ve heard Dylan and Springsteen and Eminem on the Oscar broadcast.
Trivia — There is a category that is never used because there are no contestants: “Best Original Musical” (Except Prince’s “Purple Rain” in 1984). There is just “Best Song” and “Best Score.”
So although audiences are getting more diverse, the Academy just doesn’t make progress very quickly, and each year they get further out of touch.
They have been made aware of this, although the decreased ratings and revenues make more of an impact on them than protests like #oscarsowhite. They just don’t know what to do, and their actions are actually making things worse (like limiting who is nominated and who votes).
Audience popularity and Oscar awards should not be mutually exclusive. Right now, most of the movies getting the big awards are about the movie business (like Argo, Birdman and The Artist).
Soon, perhaps the genre movies that make the most money and attract the most audiences will win awards. But if not — the awards are not really relevant unless you are standing on the stage giving an acceptance speech.
The truth is, the most power for determining “winners” is held by a small number of elderly white people in the movie industry who vote for movies they see during the Christmas season.
And that is why I don’t believe in competition or winners in the arts and entertainment.
We should have a continual stream of greatness and excellence. This should always be the goal. It doesn’t matter which superlative is more superlative. It just doesn’t matter.