It would appear that I have recently transformed into an awards-show commentator. Last year’s Oscars was widely criticized for its tone-deaf nominations before the ceremony even began. Yes, Leo finally got his Oscar, but Chris Rock’s hosting gig really brought the show together. Namely, he opened with a skit asking Compton moviegoers if they had heard of any of the nominees that year (they had not).
It would appear that the illustrious “academy” has tried to have a dramatic pivot in tone this year. “Moonlight” won Best Picture – after some confusion – thus proving that the past year has had a series of confusing, last-minute victory changes (refer to: the NBA Finals, Adele, the election, the Super Bowl) – and the wildly average “La La Land” went home with only a handful of trophies from its numerous nominations.
This is probably appropriate, if only because it’s better to see the wealth spread amongst different projects, especially if there is heated contention in quality. Jimmy Kimmel did a fairly good job hosting, with a strong opening monologue.
However, the Oscars, of all awards shows, seems more self-congratulatory than something like the Grammys, where the artists feel they have little influence on the awards. In contrast, all involved in the Oscars have fully bought into Hollywood as an ethos. However, this also makes them a little bit more self-aware, and all of the awards, actors and producers appear to have equal say. Note the way the producers of “La La Land” insisted on Moonlight’s victory and ceded their trophies with an admirable amount of self-control.
The Oscars also generally feel hyper-specific, in the way that the Grammys, Emmys and Tonys do not. That is, there is an “Oscar Season” in the way there is not a “Grammy Season” or anything like that. To wit, Adele’s album came out at the end of 2015, at the beginning of the eligibility period for this year’s awards.
Most Oscar movies (except for things like animated movies and special effects-heavy summer blockbusters) come out from October to January, and films are produced, released and marketed with the Oscars in mind. And, apparently, it takes a lot more to win an Oscar than it does a Grammy, because there is actual campaigning to do, in order to make the movies seen by the elusive voting committee.
The Academy Awards’ main problem recently has been reflective of our social paradigm – one of race, culture, nationality and identity. You can look and find these issues in nearly every realm: music, politics, sports, etc. However, by outwardly denying a film like “La La Land” – a self-congratulatory musical about Hollywood starring white people singing jazz – more than half of its 14 nominations, the Academy has shown that it can leverage specific categories to award a film for its strengths and deny it those where its shortcomings are more apparent, rather than handing over an unnecessarily large swath of them to the same film.
The Oscars are ideologically the most prestigious of the four major entertainment awards; they are the hardest (and most expensive) to acquire. They do not have to be democratic, and the people at large have little voice in them. Rather, society has bought into caring about which films a committee of old, white male movie producers like best, which is fine. If the awards were solely based on box-office numbers – i.e. people voting with their box office dollars – you’d have to say things like “Best Picture: Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” But instead, the Academy appears to have learned that there is something worthwhile in making and awarding diverse, quality movies just for the sake of them. It is good publicity and inclusion makes more money. Go see “Moonlight.”