They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

A Final Look at the 2015 Academy Awards

By J. Don Birnam

February 26, 2015

Eddie Redmayne has not let his success go to his head.

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Another year of Oscars has come and gone. What did the 2014 Oscars tell us about the Academy and Hollywood? Let’s take a final look at the sometimes unpredictable 2014 Oscar race and finally put the season to rest.

My Annual Defense of the Academy

Several headlines populate the news following the Academy Awards. Two of them seem to repeat like clockwork each year: that the Academy has abandoned the audience and movie-going public with its rejection of superhero movies, and that the Academy has ignored critically acclaimed darlings. Both statements, I believe, are true, but neither is exactly novel.

The Academy has clearly been tearing itself between two fundamentally incompatible masters for quite some time now. On the one hand, it wants to be respected and have its choice respected by those who control in part the industry’s narrative of what constitutes a great movie - critics. On the other, it wants to be popular and attract as many viewers as possible to stay relevant. But in this age of comic book and superhero movies standing alongside small indie productions, this task is probably impossible to achieve.

The result is that the Academy kind of goes somewhere in between, recognizing big budget movies if they are prestigious enough for whatever reason (say, they have a big name director like Steven Spielberg or James Cameron), but gravitating towards mostly safe smaller choices.




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Is this such a bad thing? Imagine the alternatives. You could have an Academy that went all out for the critics and instead of the already mostly obscure movies (to the public) that you saw nominated, you’d get Goodbye to Language, Under the Skin, and The Badabook in the last year. Or you could have a capitulation to the ticket-buyer and your Best Picture lineup would read something like American Sniper, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, The Amazing Spiderman 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy. But the critics have their awards, and the public rewards movies with their dollars. Why do we demand that the Academy go for either extreme?

The problem of course, is that in constantly trying to do appease both sides, they end up making silly choices. The Best Picture expansion is a clear example of that, and it hasn’t worked - for the most part, the same type of movies get in. The Board of Governors may change a rule, but the composition of voters stays the same.

A better solution may be to create a “Best Effects-Driven Film” category that would consist mostly of summer blockbusters, and that would recognize these films outside of the Best Visual Effects or Best Sound Mixing ghetto. It’s unclear if that would bring audiences back to the show, but at least it would debunk the idea that they don’t respect those movies.

But make no mistake about it: The Academy’s coronation of Birdman is a clear sign of its exasperation at this impossible situation it finds itself in. The movie brilliantly skewers the cynical, bitter and selfish critic, while expressing the anxiety of the performer who wants to make serious stuff that he realizes does not sell because art has been commercialized. Birdman’s triumph is both the Academy’s saying “Screw you” to both sides, as well as a subconscious betrayal of its deepest anxieties at the moment.


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