The Oscars Just Reminded Us Why They Are A JokePosted: January 17, 2015
Yeah, I know I’m a little late on this, but with my anniversary coming up gift preparation came first. But I’m sure you all saw the Oscar nominations the other day, and I hope that you are just as stuck between stunned and resigned as I am. Once again, the Oscars have operated on their own bizarre wavelength of logic and taste, resulting in some ridiculous snubs and a ton of boring final choices. From The Lego Movie to Jessica Chastain to Channing Tatum to Ralph Fiennes to Gillian Flynn, there are a ton of great films and nominees being buried under much more boring and uninteresting choices (Robert Duvall really needed to get nominated for The Judge? Really?). But in the end, perhaps the perfect summation of why the Oscars are an absolute crock comes down to the contrasting fates of two films: Foxcatcher and Selma.
Let’s look at Foxcatcher first. The film was nominated for Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay (among others) but somehow did not warrant a Best Picture nomination in the eyes of the Academy. How does that even make sense? If a film numbers among the top five directors, actors and scripts of a given year, how could it also not be one of the 5-10 “best pictures”? For comparison, there are only two other films this year to have been nominated in all three of those categories, and both of them (Birdman and Imitation Game) were nominated for Best Picture. And none of the other Best Picture nominees placed in more than two of those three major categories. You’d think that would put Foxcatcher ahead of all of them, but apparently not. As far as the Academy is concerned, the individual parts are worthy of recognition, but the whole film is not, which is obviously ridiculous. If a film having so many great parts isn’t worth being celebrated as a whole, then why bother celebrating the whole in the first place?
Meanwhile, on the exact opposite end of the spectrum is Selma. While it did snag a Best Picture nomination, it didn’t receive a single other nomination of note (yeah, Best Original Song, but I mean, whatever). Aside from Grand Hotel in 1932, this would be the fewest overall nominations for a Best Picture “contender”. This is the anti-Foxcatcher; how could a movie be worthy of a Best Picture nomination and not be worthy of any other awards? No Best Director for Ava DuVernay, no Best Actor for David Oyelowo, no Best Screenplay for Paul Webb, no Best Cinematography for Bradford Young? Again, how does that even make sense? What this disparity really suggests is that Selma’s nomination is just tokenism: the Academy saw how much frustration there was over the lack of awards consideration for Selma and a bunch of people put it on their ballots just to undercut potential complaints about the film being ignored. There is no real chance that Selma would ever win Best Picture, even though in many people’s minds it is more than deserving (via Rotten Tomatoes, Selma is actually the highest-rated of the Best Picture nominations: it sits at 99% with only two negative reviews).
The question at this point becomes why couldn’t Selma get more awards traction? Why wouldn’t it get more consideration for its individual contributors? Many are of course writing it off as racism (one theory is that the Academy got their Black People Movie of the decade with 12 Years A Slave last year, so they weren’t interested in supporting another this year). But the most publicized explanation is that Paramount sent the DVD screeners out late, and only sent them to Academy members and none of the Guilds. So, to rephrase: industry “wisdom” says that Selma wasn’t nominated for many awards because not enough people got DVDs delivered to their houses. And THESE are the people we expect to judge the big films of the year? People who can’t be bothered to, yknow, GO TO A FUCKING MOVIE THEATER AND WATCH A MOVIE?
Sigh. Part of me doesn’t know why I’m bothering to address this; as I wrote last year, I think the opinion of ol’ Oscar is absolutely pointless and meaningless in the grand scheme of this art form’s history. But on the other hand, particularly in this case, maybe it’s worth reminding people how ridiculous it is to put stock in this collection of predominantly old white men to have the final say in which movies are great or good or not. Selma and Foxcatcher will not earn a Best Picture Oscar, or many other Oscars for that matter, but that won’t diminish their quality or long-term legacy. So the old white dudes can keep their American Snipers and their Imitation Games, and the rest of us can stay with the movies that are actually worth the celebration that they won’t be getting.