Andrew here, to talk about the Oscar nominations. It’s been one week since they were announced and are we all talked out? Of course not. The Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences can't catch a break from its loudest critics each year. People often view the Oscars as some kind of monolothic entity and not as a group of individual persons with specific tastes, which grants them the aura of sinister agenda like a Bond villain. And given the weight of the crown -- Oscar remains the most significant film award -- they're subject to the sort of ardent scrutiny that would reveal flaws in even the most ostensibly immaculate of things.
Whether you're a lover or agnostic on AMPAS, there is no denying that they provide fodder for movie conversation the way few other things do. But there's one frustratingly circular and inescapable bit of criticism which comes each year that I find particular exasperating. I'm referring to the complaints which always follow a critically maligned film earning Oscar laurels, specifically for technical proficiency. “Did you hear The Lone Ranger earned as many nominations as Inside llewyn Davis.” or “The Transformers trilogy has earned more collective Oscar nominations than the Before trilogy.” or “The Wolfman has an Oscar, Peter O’Toole does not.” And so on. I almost always think it’s meant facetiously, until I realise these lazy claims are used as legitimate attempts to illegitimatise the worth of the AMPAS (an entirely different topic altogether). It’s all part of a yearly unchanging cry from movie lovers, “How can X (Terrible Film) be an Oscar winner/nominee when Y (Great Film) is not?" [more...]
Ignoring the most obvious folly in this argument, which is, the Oscars are no bellwether of general taste but the subjective opinion of a specialized group in the first place, the more pervasive issue is the insular concept of awards such a claim reveals about the moviegoer. At its best, AMPAS hopes to recognise excellence in film and in film crafts. One, sometimes fair, criticism lodged against the Academy is the blinkered way that they sometimes focus – with impunity – on only best picture contenders. A picture frontrunner gets a possibly suspect citation in sound mixing, or production design as a presumed coattails nod. But, despite the complaints, the technical branches are often doing great work when they focus on craft work they find impressive regardless of pedigree. Like, the 2000 costume design ballot which had the critically reviled 102 Dalmatians and the hardly prestigious The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The latter received a second nomination and win for its makeup. Receiving a single nomination the same year, the critically lauded Requiem for a Dream.
Typical criticisms imply that AMPAS should be embarrassed at putting those two films of varying qualities on "equal" footing - judging just by the number of their nominations. But when we cry, bad films should not get Oscar nominations what are we arguing for, or against? Is the argument that, by right, good quality only comes from "good films". Or, good individual work in a bad film should be penalised for the film it appears in? What of the alternative if the Academy chooses 25 films worthy of Oscars overall and only allows those to contend for technical prizes. Has the validity of the ceremony grown by ignoring proficient sound teams of Lone Survivor for a legitimate film like Twelve Years a Slave? Regardless of your thoughts on the film could you honestly deny the work of the visual team in The Lone Ranger or the complicated makeup work on Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. Isn't it more commendable, not less, when voters look outside of the usual suspects of "contenders" films when choosing nominees for prizes which are not called "Best Picture"?
If we aren't willing to recognise inspired craft work in films which are not excellent on the whole what does it say about our dogmatic ideas of what aspects of films deserve praise. This blinkered disavowal of the "good" within "bad" movies every year only reveals the same stolid narrowness of thought that critics suggest that monolithic sinister AMPAS is guilty of.