I was recently reading a mediocre article on EW.com about the greatest Oscar snubs of all time, and it got me thinking about how much I have lost interest in the Academy Awards. I used to live for articles like this. **(If you want a really good one for this year check out Grantland’s arbitrarily set up bracket that has been putting all the oscar travesty’s against each other in a competition to see which one takes the cake.) When I was younger I loved watching the Academy Awards. My mom would always cook a special dinner, I would get to stay up late, and I was easily susceptible to the charm that Hollywood put on with good nominations, funny hosts, and a well produced show. A part of me wants to say that what you are about to read stems from me being older and more cynical, but that is false, the truth is that the Academy Awards have failed at a handful of critical moments, and have now lost the interest of my family, most of my friends, and above all yours truly, Max Berger, former #1 fan. When did this all begin? Well that’s simple let me take you back to March 5th, 2006 when one film ruined it all…
1. Crash wins Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain….Crash wins academy awards PERIOD.
“So be honest? Who did you kill to make this happen?”
In the history of the Academy Awards there have only been a handful of huge best picture upsets (and of that handful even less awards were highly critiqued at the time, yes Pulp Fiction should have won, but don’t blame the people of 1994 who fell in love with digital removal of legs and and Tom Hanks sitting on a bench), but Crash might take the cake for the biggest upset of all time. First off Crash is a pretty mediocre movie, the whole film is super on the nose, and the multi-character interchangeable plot lines had been done a number of times before in much better ways. Next, look at the nominations that year: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night Good Luck, Munich, and Crash. Just to get the nomination in the first place it had to beat out Pride & Prejudice, The Constant Gardner, The Squid and The Whale, and Match Point. Then we have to take into account that it beat out a monumental film, Brokeback Mountain, directed by Ang Lee (who wins the award for best directing!), and is a film that delicately takes a very critical look on homophobia in this country. I think that few articles really mention that Crash shouldn’t of won any academy awards. The other two golden statues the film brought home that year was Best Original Screenplay and Best Editing, both of which were fully undeserved. I think any of the other 4 screenplay nominations could of taken the award: Good Night, Good Luck, The Squid and The Whale, Syriana (a better multi character film…) or Match Point (ok well maybe not Match Point since its a remake of A Place in the Sun…did I mention I am an Oscar nerd!). Editing could of gone to Munich or The Constant Gardner (Both editors has won awards previously, but still, they are better edited films).
I was 18 year old when Crash stunk up the Oscars, and in a lot of ways that gas has not passed, it has just gotten worse…
2. Mediocre films with “stellar” performances
In the last 8 years we have seen a rather unfortunate trend develop in which Actors/Actresses seem to win an easy academy award for easily forgettable films. A lot of the time you will see critics claiming that these performances are what make the film worthwhile, but I usually find myself thinking that I am watching a bad movie, only made watchable by a good performance. So basically I am calling shenanigans on Forrest Whittaker, Kate Winslet, Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock, and Meryl Streep (not to mention a bunch of undeserved nominations). To start with The Last King of Scotland/The Iron Lady represent the most egregious examples of bio-pic = Academy Award. The Last King of Scotland only received one academy award nomination, and in terms of critics lists that year it ranked 37 out of 40 for top 10 lists in 2006. The Iron Lady is even worse (53% on Rotten Tomatoes) which gets grouped in with The Reader (61% on Rotten Tomatoes) as truly mediocre films with “great performances,” oh and let the record reflect that Kate Winslet beat Meryl Streep in Doubt (a much better film with a much better Streep performance) and Anne Hathaway for Rachel Getting Married (which I would bet a million dollars if she had won we would not need to see her win this year for Les Miserables, another mediocre, critically panned, academy award nominated film). This cycle of people losing when they deserve to win only to be paid back by a worse performance later is a classic staple of the Academy Awards, but it gets particularly annoying for acting awards. Why is it particularly annoying…oh I don’t know, lets say your a big Jeff Bridges fan, and so you go see this movie called Crazy Heart (which functions as both a mediocre country music star film and a bad recovering alcoholic film) to see Jeff Bridges do a super watered down version of his drunk buffoon act, you know the kind of role that made him pretty famous in the first place. Jeff Bridges beat out Colin Firth in A Single Man…who then the next year beat out Jeff Bridges better drunken buffoon in the remake of True Grit…the irony. Oh and last but not least Sandra Bullock wins for the super mediocre Blind Side, which if it had been a year where only 5 films were nominated would have never received a best picture nomination, and she beat out Carrey Mulligan in An Education and Gabourey Sidibe in Precious, 2 of the best films of 2009. Don’t worry I am sure Mulligan and Sidibe.
3. How did that not get nominated!?! Oh right people campaign and spend money towards these things…
I wanted to avoid this subject since for so many categories (Documentary, Foreign, Animated) it seems to be a given that there will be indiscretions every year. Probably because the “voting process” for the nominees has never been a good system, and for each category they have their own set of crazy rules. However, I had to touch upon this subject because of the “outrage” that occurred when the 81st Academy Awards announced their nominations. Crash winning is a black mark, but 2009 marked a year that left the Academy struggling to find a balance with what the “masses” want vs. the industry vs. the majority of old white guys that get to call the shots. In 2009, despite The Reader having mostly mediocre reviews it received a nomination for Best Picture of the year (according to Rotten Tomatoes it was at the time the lowest rated film ever to receive a best picture nomination), while two highly praised films Wall-E (96% Rotten Tomatoes) and The Dark Knight (94% Rotten Tomatoes) were overlooked for Best Picture. Now indie studios could count this as a “score one for the little guys,” but really this was just an example of Oscar expert Harvey Weinstein knowing how to perfectly manipulate the system, and taking advantage of a system that highly favors serious dramas over any other genre of filmmaking. I don’t want to go into too many details with it, this Fast Co.Create article does a pretty good job breaking it down for this years race, but basically every movie that you see that gets nominated for academy awards has a PR team that is at work day/night for months in an attempt to get their film to win. In general no matter which way you cut it good campaigns often have good results, and it is the first place to look when your scratching your head about a nomination or a victory. Getting back to it, while in 2009 the conversation surrounded Wall-E and The Dark Knight, there were a ton of movies that could have taken The Reader’s place (Doubt (4 acting nominations/screenplay nomination), The Wrestler, In Bruges…anything). Guess they couldn’t compete with the Weinstein nomination express.
But have no fear, The Academy worked up a plan! Following the 81st academy award they decided to make the ceremony “less exclusive” and expand the best picture nominations to 10! 10! 10! They counted it as an ode to when the Academy Awards first started, but really it was more the soggy band-aid to the backlash over the 2008 nominations. Now, I don’t really have a problem with there being more then 5 nominations, let movies slap on the nominated for best picture label and get those DVD sales up! My problem lies in the fact that expanding the nominations has only exposed more that there are certain film producers/studios that are just excellent at campaigning, getting nominations, and winning awards. These studios focus on high-end dramas, and the chips are stacked in their favor. So lets do a count. There have been 38 nominations for best picture since the expansion (now its a weighted system so less then 10 can be nominated) 24 have been dramas, 6 comedy/musical (and this is going by Golden Globe standards where DRAMAedies like Silver Lining Playbook and The Kids Are Alright count as straight comedies), 3 science fiction, 2 animated, 2 Quentin Tarantino Movies (have to give them their own category, although this might be as close to “action” as it gets for the Academy Awards, Skyfall/The Avengers did have better reviews/better box office then Django Unchained), and 1 Western. Oh and during that time a movie beat The Reader for worst reviewed best picture nominees, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (47% on Rotten Tomatoes!) So instead of evening out the playing field we see even more of an opportunity for mediocre dramas to get nominated, some of which would never have been nominated if they had just stayed the course with 5 nominees. Last year it was 7 Dramas, and 2 independent high-brow comedies, hence this rage comic…
(Not that I really had a problem with The Artist, last year had pretty terrible nominations anyway… wait how was Rise of the Planet of the Apes not nominated!)
4. Those old white male voters! …and the sub-par films they vote for!
While I do blame the companies that are pouring in immense budget for the campaigning for certain problems, I am also frustrated with the voting demographic still being mostly older white men (http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/movies/academy/la-et-unmasking-oscar-academy-project-html,0,7473284.htmlstory). When you see the demographics so heavily leaning in one direction, it can’t be all too surprising when new groundbreaking work gets overlooked for standard fair academy award oriented films. After all, a number of these films are being produced specifically in an attempt to win academy awards and appeal to older audiences in the first place. Now after Crash there have been 2 best picture decisions that have really upset me. The first was Slumdog Millionaire, which a part of me still wants to believe that Danny Boyle was just experimenting with the formula to win an academy award and accidentally came up with one of the greatest examples of audience manipulation in recent years. Also Milk, would have been a really good opportunity to make up for Brokeback Mountain, and maybe even give the super deserving Gus Van Sant an academy award (after all he has won the Palm D’Or, but lets forget Cannes because they function in a world where ridiculous people get honored like…David Lynch…and Terrance Malick…and Werner Herzog …and Paul Thomas Anderson…and Robert Altman…OK ILL STOP ILL STOP!)
Regardless Slumdog Millionaire had arguably weak competition, however I can’t forgive 2011 where David Fincher’s The Social Network was robbed by The King’s Speech. Speechless. Look at the facts of top 10 lists compiled by critics in 2010, The King’s Speech was featured on 182 lists, and recieved number #1 on 17 of those lists. Impressive right? Not really, The Social Network was featured on 421 lists, and was #1 109 times!!! It was the best reviewed film of the year, it won countless critic awards, oh and lets forget those kind of accolades since it was the “it” film of that year. The Social Network instantly falls into the ranks of worst best picture decisions of all time. It has been 2 years, and to me The King’s Speech seems instantly forgettable (as in people sometimes struggle to remember what even won best picture that year) while I have watched The Social Network a million times. I also think that down the line we might see The Social Network as David Fincher’s magnum opus, and they will ultimately give him an academy award for some watered down lesser version of his previous great films. Oh also letting these young hooligans up on stage just would have been preposterous!
But here is the real truth. At least to me, The Social Network represent the “young” peoples best picture nominee. Here was a drama that younger audiences really liked, it wasn’t animated or action or science fiction, it was a drama produced by someone famous, directed by someone famous, written by someone famous, that in a smart critical way critiqued where we are as a culture right now. Even with it demonizing younger generation in a number of ways audiences really liked the film. Instead the academy ended up voting for yet another film that friends of mine who are not big film people would just sleep through. So The Social Network seems like a good place to point towards a departing moment of younger audiences being interested in the Academy Awards. I was certainly a lot less interested last year, and am pretty ambivalent about this year’s ceremony. What used to be an event for me might boil down to eating take out and watching the awards streaming online.
5. Tired of things not going my way, and ceremonies void of “fun.”
So this Sunday marks the 85th academy awards, and I should be excited because it was really one of the better year for films. I enjoyed a lot of movies this year and a good number of them at least scored nominations at the Academy wards. However, I am going to be a little bitter because the movie that I think should be winning best picture won’t because it was too political, too controversial, and apparently not the sort of challenging film that should be winning the award. I would of at least liked to believe that Zero Dark Thirty was going to put up a fight for best picture, but it is really hard for me to believe given that Kathryn Bigelow got super snubbed for a Best Director nomination. I had this crazy notion that the academy would keep pushing their progressive campaign, and stand behind the only women to ever win best picture/director, but I guess not…also Zero Dark Thirty was the best reviewed film of the year…
But really my main problem with the Academy Awards now is that even if I am to concede that “you can’t always get what you want” out of the actual award segments of the ceremony, it seems that we have been in a downward spiral in terms of hosts and how the ceremony is generally produced. I grew up spoiled watching Billy Crystal, Whoopie Goldberg, and Steve Martin; they hosted almost every ceremony in my lifetime up until 2004. Since then we have seen a lot of mediocre hosts (Chris Rock, John Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres) and then some debacles (James Franco/Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman) and they brought back Billy Crystal and Steve Martin but both times it seemed pretty forced, and it made me a little sad to see them so much older. I have very little confidence that Seth MacFarlane is going to turn this all around. In the mean time the Golden Globe ratings have been on the rise with great hosts such as Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey/Amy Poehler (wouldn’t that have been a good idea! Oh wait, brain flash, 2014 Academy Awards get Lena Dunham to host the awards! Then you can get the young people!) Also, I can only blame the hosts so much, after all a team of people put time and energy intro producing these award shows. They cut out performing Best Song in 2010 and 2012 (also this category could be utilized better in general to get people interested, I was pretty disappointed to not see Beck/Metric/Broken Social Scene get nominated for any of their work on The Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). Also, while I have never been too critical of the Academy Awards being too self congratulatory they clearly had a big misstep in 2009 when every nominee for best actor/actress had current/former co-star of a film give a monologue about how much they love that said actor/actress (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AAZCNd3Cj4) I felt like Colin Farrell talking about Jeremy Renner was 10% genuine/nice and 90% a pitch that was like “look at this guy, he is amazing, he is such a nice guy, if I was a studio executive I would pay him a lot of money to be in next years big action thing!”
They axed the actor introduction the very next year, and Adele will be performing this year, so the new tradition of watching the Academy Awards trying to get back the good ole standard Oscar fun continues. I wish them luck this year. I would love nothing more then to see MacFarlane knock it out of the park, and maybe a couple flashy James Bond Tributes/possible Beasts of the Southern Wild upsets (Hey can’t stop a guy from dreaming!) will spice this year up and bring the Oscars back to my heart. Oh and as for the take out, I might be axing that plan, because I am going to try to win me a 90% off bar tab at some Oscar hosted party near my house! Perhaps, that will become my new found glory! I will post up my predictions on all categories for all who are interested Saturday night! Till then I will leave you with this: