They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?
A Final Look at the 88th Academy Awards
By J. Don Birnam
March 3, 2016
What lessons did the 2015 Oscars teach us about Hollywood, the Academy, the predicting game, and the future of movies? We put a bow to this rather fun Oscar season after Spotlight’s ultimate victory, and consider what it may mean for the future of this crazy game called awards season.
My Annual Defense of the Academy
Every year I find myself having to defend the Academy from critiques from all over the place. Normally the critiques have to do with the length or boringness of the show. Last year, it had to do with the nature of the movies selected — they were not picking artsy enough movies, but at the same time they were not picking popular enough movies. I will get to how that criticism played out over the last season, but, first, let’s consider the big Oscars’ controversy of the year.
As you know, that was the return of the #OscarsSoWhite critique. I have already laid out in full my view that it is somewhat myopic to blame the Academy for a problem that is clearly broader than it, and that is endemic to all of Hollywood and, arguably, vast portions of the entertainment industry. Suffice it to say, in this space, that I found the message by Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the President of the Academy, at the Oscars, to be right on point. The purpose of inclusiveness in this context is so that the culture standard-bearers and deciders accurately reflect the society they serve. There are ways to ensure that that is the case.
At the same time, the Academy, which, by a stroke of pure luck, had tapped Chris Rock to host the event before the controversy boiled up, was well-served by Rock’s presence at the show. And I don’t mean because he was the token minority host, but rather because he presented a nuanced and exact view of the problem. He took the easy jabs at the lack of diversity at the Oscars, but he also pointed out the lack of diversity in movies. At the same time, he pointed out, correctly, that not every controversy is about race - it wasn’t fair, for example, that Will Smith got paid $20 million for Wild Wild West. And, he added, some black audiences could not care less about who gets nominated for an Academy Award. In essence, then, the issue is infinitely more nuanced than 140-twitter characters could permit, and the Academy pointed this out subtly but assuredly during the broadcast.
As for the nature of the movies nominated well, the Academy did nominate two immensely crowd-pleasing movies - The Martian and Mad Max - as well as another movie that audiences responded to quite well in The Revenant. Sure, they did not go all out and nominate Star Wars (it may have broken/screened too late), but the inclusion of Ridley Scott fare once more indicates that the big studios are slowly but surely getting back into the Awards game. Again, as I said last year, I do not think that is necessarily a good thing, but, there you have it, for better or for worse. In my view, the Academy is never going to be able to please both the genre-picture constituency and the art-house crowd. It should stop trying.