Opinion: The Legitimacy of Awards in Hollywood #1 (The Academy Awards)

To begin, lets start with arguably the most prestigious award to earn in Hollywood, the Oscar, or Academy Award.

The Academy Awards have had 87 ceremonies with the most recent in February 2015 gaining 37 million viewers in the USA, celebrating the best in film. However while other film ceremonies like the Golden Globes are voted upon by a small specific group or association, the Academy Awards are voted upon by an enormous contingent of people, invited to be a part of the Academy. Most voters are actors, directors, producers and other film related workers, making the Awards very film orientated and a recognition of success from a winners peers. While this highlights an obvious majority, the Academy as a whole and its routine voting has come under criticism for its lack of diversity and ‘out of touch’ mentality. For example, the most recent ceremony celebrated no black actors out of a possible 20 nominees, and while I am not normally one to argue in support of simply choosing nominees based on their background (a nominee should earn their place by their performance, not their skin colour), it does present the question, especially when there were multiple deserving black actors. ‘Selma’ interestingly gained a Best Picture nomination while only securing one other nomination, for Best Original Song, as opposed to other films such as ‘Foxcatcher’ which gained five Oscar nominations including Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and the acclaimed Best Director, yet did not gain a Best Picture nom. Did the Academy specifically nominate Selma for Best Picture, just to say that they had a ‘black’ film in the running, to show they are self-aware of the criticism. I am not saying Selma did not deserve the nomination, it is an incredibly powerful film, though it is just odd when considering films like Foxcatcher were snubbed. The Academy’s need to try to diverse themselves is obviously too forward, or too subtle, a reflection of the ‘mentality’ surrounding the voters.

This so-called mentality relates to the mainstream appreciation of the Academy. While, as I highlighted, the most recent ceremony garnered 37 million viewers in the US alone, the show used to expect at least 45 million viewers each year in the early 2000s, but due to a degradation of respect for the awards, they simply cannot attract the numbers. The main reason for this is due to the lack of mainstream films being recognised. The most famous example was the snub of The Dark Knight, which is widely acclaimed as one of the best films of all time, and arguably the best ‘blockbuster’, also gaining incredible commercial results (making over 1 billion dollars worldwide), however even with 8 Oscar nominations, it could not gain a Best Picture nomination, angering many and causing a boycott of future ceremonies. Again, the Academy, realising the criticism they gained, tried to appease fans in two ways. Firstly the opening of the Academy Award Ceremony included a brief look at the five Best Picture nominations, interestingly also highlighting the The Dark Knight. However the main result came with the Academy announcing they would increase the number of Best Picture nominations from five to a possible ten, allowing for more mainstream films to be recognised. Yet, looking at the nominations since, there are little that could be deemed mainstream, a symbol of the Academy’s possible ignorance or naivety. If we define a mainstream film as a movie that is given a wide release receiving great commercial praise with ‘blockbuster’ type status, than I would struggle to find even 5 such nominees since 2008. The likes of Pixar’s ‘Up’ and ‘Toy Story 3’, should both be considered as mainstream as should be the massively successful ‘Avatar’. These three films did gain Best Picture nominations, yet did not win. You could arguably call ‘District 9’ and ‘American Sniper’ mainstream films, though wildly impactful on theatrical release, both films have lost any standing during their DVD release, in contrast to Pixars and James Camerons behemoths. The only other two films that I would highlight as a balance of mainstream film making and more serious ‘art’ films, would be ‘Gravity’ and ‘Inception’. In my opinion, ‘Gravity’ is the closest any blockbuster film has come to winning the Best Picture award, (an award it deserved for its ability to both surprise with huge box office numbers, and critical acclaim, especially when the eventual Best Picture winner was the slow 12 Years A Slave, though some would argue that at least that film had a story, but that’s another argument). Ultimately Gravity ended up only winning technical awards. This year the question will be whether any of the potential Best Picture nominees can gain any mainstream appeal, (I am thinking possibly, ‘Steve Jobs’, ‘The Hateful Eight’ and maybe even ‘Joy’) or if some of the years critical darling blockbusters such as the very deserving ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ or ‘Inside Out’ will be nominated. We have seen that the Academy love Pixar, and with no film out last year (but two this year), I certainly believe Inside Out has a chance of gaining a nod. Personally, Mad Max: Fury Road, is my favourite film of the year, so I’m gunning for it, as are many, so my interest (again as many people’s) in the Oscars this year, depends entirely on it gaining nominations in some of the major categories. If George Miller does not receive a Best Director selection than something is very wrong!

So I have covered both how the voting, lack of diversity and overall lack of mainstream appeal is definitely a number of aspects damaging the legitimacy of the Academy Awards, however it is key to also identify the impact that the Awards can have on a person’s career. However much the Academy is criticised, the Oscars continue to be the most prestigious awards in entertainment, not only do the ceremonies receive great viewership (though not as much as they previously did), but the international media targets the awards as a key event, opposed to awards such as the MTV Movie Awards, or even the SAG Awards which gets nothing more than a side mention. This is signficant to the awards overall reputation, making the event notable around the world. The effect on a winners, and also nominees, career is unimaginable, with each winner, nearly always, gaining salary rises, increased respect from their peers, and more importantly the fact that they will work for the rest of their lives. The international aspect is also important, as it makes them more box office friendly and familiar around the world. Hardly ever do Oscar winners find themselves without work, even if it does mean sometimes going to TV. An Academy Award winner is someone who will always be seen as more talented and more valuable than someone who has yet to win. To me though, the most important aspect of winning the Academy Award comes in box office appeal, not only for themselves, but for the films they are representing. Whenever someone sees a film trailer boasting an ‘Academy Award Winner’ (and again nominee), the box office potential for such a film rises incredibly. Even though the mainstream perception of the Best Picture winner wanes, this is very different when considering the winners of acting titles, where the Oscars nearly always choose the agreed best performance. Contrasted with say a ‘Golden Globe Winner’, the Oscar winner, will nearly always have better future benefits. This is also due to the smaller nominee pool. While the Golden Globes splits their categories into Drama and Musical and Comedy, the Oscars nominate all into one five man selection (for example Best Actor, rather than Best Actor in a Drama), meaning while the Oscars have 20 nominees for acting, the Globes have 30 (the supporting actors/actresses are mixed). This therefore meaning that the Academy Award is a more difficult award to receive, and thus more prestigious. On top of that, the Golden Globes also celebrate TV, meaning even though a film trailer may say ‘Golden Globe Winner [___]’, this may actually be their first time in a film, winning the Globe for a TV series.

The Oscars are without a doubt the most respected awards in Hollywood, and even though they receive their share of criticism, they continue to be seen (at least by those in Hollywood) as the biggest event in the year, a celebration of the best in film. I agree to a certain extent, while to me they represent a level of prestige and recognition, more than any other film award does, other awards such as the ‘Emmys’ are eclipsing the Academy in diversity and as a reflection of mainstream viability and appeal. It will be interesting to see this years nominees, as I feel like this could be a deciding moment for the awards, while Mad Max doesnt have the commercial appeal that The Dark Knight did, its ability to incorporate genre with ‘art’ style film making is incredible, and needs recognition.

Jamie

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4 thoughts on “Opinion: The Legitimacy of Awards in Hollywood #1 (The Academy Awards)

  1. Interesting analysis, though in terms of telecast ratings it’s perhaps less of an indicator of waning credibility as it is a pattern of the number of big nominees. There are spikes in ratings the years Titanic, Return of the King and Avatar were all vying for the big awards.

    Further from this, the reason mainstream movies (as you define them) do not tend to perform as well is probably a consequence of approx. 20-25% of the Academy membership comprised of actors. Naturally, when the Best Picture vote is open to all branches it will likely be character driven films that do the best. However, technical nominees such as visual effects have about a 40-60% overlap with the highest five grossing films of the year, because the criteria for this is more closely aligned with that of a cinema audience.

    Nice piece though.

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    1. Those are all really interesting points. Yes definitely, theres a corralation between mainstream films being nominated and a higher viewership. With Avatars nomination, the viewership went from 36 million the previous year to 41 mllion. Thanks for the points

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