Yes, we’re going to be asking the same question everyone else asks just after the Academy Awards, because every year it becomes more and more pertinent. As far as the industry is concerned, it’s all a political play that’s as much a shot in the dark as it is a calculated move. So should we keep watching it? Should they even keep having it?
There are lot of different problems with the Academy Awards, not the least of which is the lack of diversity in the nominations, but that’s the low-hanging fruit in the bunch. So while it is important that this is an especially fatal flaw of the current system, we’re going to be tackling a few other pressing issues.
For one, the animation category has become a joke. There’s the joke that anything with Pixar or Disney’s name is essentially destined to win, which if you look at the academy’s track record is ground in some hard truth. That doesn’t meant that former winners like Beauty and the Beast or Wall-E don’t deserve to win, but more often than not, these films get overlooked the most. If your film isn’t produced by a major studio, and it’s very specific set of standards and trappings, you might as well come to the Academy Awards without a speech. Even DreamWorks more often than not gets the shaft for even some of its better pictures.
And why does this happen? Well that’s problem number 2, the people who are tasked with voting don’t actually watch most of the films. That’s right, the people whose job it is to decide one of the most important awards in the industry, which can literally make careers overnight, don’t bother to see most of the nominees. And if you want to get in on the voting, you have to work in the industry and submit your application for approval…which may never come. Best of luck waiting for that letter.
It doesn’t just apply to animation, though it is the most obvious there, but in almost all categorizes. Ever wonder how they decide for who wins for the technical stuff? Or why Eddie Redmayne beat other the performance of Keaton and Cumberbatch? There’s no rhyme or reason to it because the people who voted for it did it more or less at random. I’m not even sure they knew what Eddie Redmayne looked like.
There’s also a practice of giving awards to actors who deserved it…for other movies. For example, in 2009 Colin Firth gave on of the best performances of his career in A Single Man, for which everyone thought he would be taking home the Oscar. Instead it went to Jeff Bridges, who was probably owed it from some other film. So instead, Firth wins for the highly predictable, bland spectacle that is The King’s Speech, which in turn displaces Javier Bardem and Jesse Eisenberg. It doesn’t even need to be an immediate effect. While Still Alice was a very good film, most people argue that Julianne Moore won the Oscar for more deserving performances, like Far From Heaven. In this case, what’s the point then if you’re just going to give it to the better actor overall rather than for the specific movie?
The Oscars are also as much of a political in-fighting roundabout as you would believe it is. Did you think nominating American Sniper was a fluke? Not at all — the Academy knows how to not attract the ire of thousands of patriotic viewers and Fox News, and even though it was never going to win anything beyond a technical award or two. Also, that rumor that African-American films can’t win two years in a row? That’s not just a rumor — voters are less likely to pick “ethnic” or “radical” films two years in a row. “Important” films are high winners, though what important means is up to anyone’s guess, but it also means no comedies ever. Or musicals. Or the very increasingly popular comic book movies.
Which finally brings us to the final question of relevance: are the Oscars too behind the times, too exclusionary? The truth is that, yes, they are but that doesn’t mean that people will stop watch it. In the end, they won’t stop making it until people are totally sick of it, and most people can ignore the terrible and get mad about the people who they felt won unjustly. Most people don’t know or care about voting and about the politics of the matter. What they want are jokes and celebrities in shiny dresses and tuxes and to have something to talk about the next day. And so, it’ll probably live forever…like Neil Patrick Harris.