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The Unbearable Whiteness of Oscar
I got up early and turned on ABC in hopes of seeing the announcement of the nominees for the 87th Annual Academy Awards. Aside from mentions of Dick Poop, it went pretty much as everyone expected. Reporters had to get up earlier than normal, the announcers lifelessly announced the choices (again, 5:30 a.m. PST), and critics such as myself immediately judged the proceedings based on what was and what wasn’t nominated. And boy, do I have things to say about this.
Now, to be fair, getting upset about award show nominations the day they are announced is generally a bit ridiculous. Most of it is just a person looking at the list and judging it for not being to their standards. Yes, things are going to be left off the final list, but it would be too complicated if every conceivable nominee was in the running. There were 83 submissions for the Best Foreign Language Film category and 79 songs were up for Best Original Song. So yes, Lana Del Rey won’t get an Oscar nod this year, but it’s not worth caring that much about. Honestly, I’m really glad there’s eight nominees for Best Picture instead of nine just to make things simpler.
There are honestly more important things to worry about when looking at the Academy Award nominations. Namely, the fact that the Academy is 94 percent white and 77 percent male. Believe it or not, that tends to play a big deal in what gets nominated and what doesn’t. For the most part, it means that there can be a lack of representation in the proceedings. This is mostly an aspect that is brought for the major awards, particularly acting. It’s been sixteen years since all twenty acting nominees were white.
What is important going into this Oscar race is to look at how the decisions are made and what greater implications are presented through this. I’ll examine the major awards and then look at miscellaneous snubs in order to analyze why the nomination list turned out as it did.
· American Sniper
· The Grand Budapest Hotel
· The Imitation Game
· The Theory of Everything
As of this writing, I’ve only seen five of the films nominated for Best Picture (that will be changing before the ceremony, trust me). Of the eight nominees, seven of them received more than five nominations. The only one to fall below that was Selma, which only received this and a nomination for Best Original Song.
There aren’t any real major issues with the films nominated for this category. Most of them did have the traction in the weeks up to the nomination announcement that they could all conceivably be up for the award. All of the films are above a 70% on Rotten Tomatoes, with Boyhood and Selma being in the high 90’s while American Sniper and The Theory of Everything are in the mid-low 70’s, so it’s not like there’s a real critical dissonance with what was nominated like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in 2011.
If there had to be some films left out that are notable, it’s usually because they’re more about where the Academy tends to leave films out. Gone Girl is probably the most notable mainstream rejection for the category. It had a lot going in its favor, from director David Fincher to the box office success (if Gone Girl was nominated, it would probably have been the highest grossing film in the bunch), so for it to be left off is somewhat weird.
At the same time, it’s around this point where the Academy’s exclusion of foreign language films from the Best Picture category tends to become apparent. Films like the Dardenne Brothers’ Two Days, One Night from Belgium, We Are the Best! from Sweden, and even some of the films nominated for Best Foreign Language film like Ida are often left out of the Best Picture race, when there really should be no reason why Academy members, who you think would have ready access to these films, would ignore them.
Sadly, I think these eight films are simply part of the usual Academy trend of “the public will probably recognize it, so let’s pick it.” A lot of these films are fresh on the public conscious (with some outliers, particularly The Grand Budapest Hotel and Boyhood, which were released months before the other nominees), and so it’s not hard to believe that the voters would think of these films first when they had to think about what notable dramatic films came out in 2014.
· Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel
· Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman
· Richard Linklater for Boyhood
· Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher
· Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game
Let’s get this out of the way: why wasn’t Ava DuVernay nominated for directing Selma? Ignoring the possibility of seeing an African-American woman nominated for Best Director for the first time, it really is weird she was left out. The Academy Awards do love to make a statement, and this seemed like a good chance for them to do so.
Then again, Best Director is often a boy’s club, so it’s not. Sadly, the Best Director nomination tends to go a few ways: the director made the most notable dramatic film, or a director who did tons of technical achievements to make his film got a nod. We didn’t have a Life of Pi or Gravity this year, so they chose the former option five times. Anderson is probably the closest to the latter option considering how many models and sets were used in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but that’s not really why he was chosen. Wes Anderson is a fairly popular director who is known for his style, so it’s not shocking that they’d pick him when he has some recognition with the public.
Three of the directors are nominated for the first time (Anderson, Linklater, and Tyldum), while Iñárritu is the only non-white person nominated. Miller and Tyldum also have the smallest filmographies of the bunch with only four films each. If anything, this year will be somewhat more difficult to decide since the directors chosen are less recognizable to the public. I really thought directors like David Fincher and Clint Eastwood would have gotten nominations for their films. Admittedly, if Eastwood was nominated, I would have been more upset about DuVernay not getting nominated, since I did think there were some weird directorial decisions in American Sniper. I also thought Damien Chazelle should have gotten nominated for directing Whiplash, which really was such a tightly made film that I’m surprised he didn’t get recognized more for it.
Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor
· Steve Carell for Foxcatcher
· Bradley Cooper for American Sniper
· Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game
· Michael Keaton for Birdman
· Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything
· Robert Duvall for The Judge
· Ethan Hawke for Boyhood
· Edward Norton for Birdman
· Mark Ruffalo for Foxcatcher
· J.K. Simmons for Whiplash
I’m putting these together so that it is easy to discuss how they nominate men for these awards. A lot of what I’d say would be repeated, so let’s just get this out of the way. The nominations for Best Supporting Actor, aside from trying to make a Hulk vs. Hulk match, are pretty weak. Simmons is probably the strongest contender here, his win at the Golden Globes a sign of what’s to come, while the other four seem like strange choices. None of them were really notable (who actually saw The Judge?), and while some did get some attention, none of them were really that game changing.
Granted, I am saying this without having seen two of the five roles, but I think the Supporting Actor role is sorely missed here. A supporting role usually means we get to see something a little more different than the main role. This is where we see the villains and the comic relief, and for these five to be the options is a little weak in the spreading of roles. Again, Simmons is probably the standout since he was the villain in his film and was very integral to the story. Norton plays an interesting part in Birdman, but he's completely left out of the third act of the film. Hawke does a decent job, but it was ultimately very similar to his other work with Linklater, so there wasn't anything particularly great about it.
This is a category where there can be a chance to find the real diamonds in the ruff. What about Tony Revolori in The Grand Budapest Hotel? Tyler Perry was decent in Gone Girl, where is he? Inherent Vice had numerous interesting supporting roles, so why wasn’t Josh Brolin considered? What we have are five roles where only one is a real challenge for the actor and the other four are largely forgettable in their actor’s resume.
This is where Best Actor needs to be more important. This is the role that needs to hold the movie, the one that people will think of when they think of the movie. Unfortunately, this is where some weird trends start to emerge. Steve Carell is a comedian getting a nomination for an acting role. Eddie Redmayne is playing a person with a physical disorder. Cooper and Cumberbatch are nominated for roles the Academy has seen a few times, playing the shell shocked veteran and the genius who society doesn’t understand respectively. Keaton is probably playing the most unique role of the five, and the one who probably has the best chance of winning at this point.
I am upset that most of these happen to be super serious roles. Ralph Fiennes did fantastic in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but was ignored here. David Oyelowo is the biggest miss for his work in Selma. Even Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice would have been an interesting choice. I feel a lot of these choices are boring because they’re very predictable choices. It’s a checklist of things the Academy wants to see and so they’re giving it to them for fulfilling that role.
Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress
I’m not a complete ball of cynicism and chai tea when I look at the supporting nods. I’m actually pretty okay with all of them. I know, I know, Meryl Streep is nominated again, but who cares? She’ll probably not win. I really like this one because the other four are good actresses who should be recognized more for their work. Like the supporting actor, this category allows for more comedic and strange parts to be nominated. These aren’t all comedic nods, but a few of these actresses are more known for comedic work, so to see them nominated makes me happy (yay Laura Dern and Emma Stone!)
If anything, I also don’t have a ton of people I think should be in this category. Carrie Coon from Gone Girl would have been interesting, but I can sort of accept her not getting nominated. What is weird is that I think the probable winner, Patricia Arquette, didn’t get to do enough in the film. It’s a great role, but it’s one that’s very much pushed to the back of the film and should have gotten a little more prominence in the story.
Best Actress is a different story. Some of these women are nominated for work in films that are very much female driven, with the actresses playing the main character and the character we see on screen most of the time (Cotillard, Moore, and Witherspoon). Hell, the fact that they nominated Cotillard for a role that is not even in English is pretty fantastic (and rightfully so. Between Two Days, One Night and The Immigrant, ignoring Cotillard would have been a huge miss). Pike was in a film that she had to share with Ben Affleck, but it was a role where she ultimately took control of the story and managed to pull all focus and attention towards herself. Jones is probably the weird one since her role is dependent on being Eddie Redmayne’s figure of support in The Theory of Everything.
The ignored women this year are some sad misses. Scarlett Johansson had one of her best years ever, particularly in Under the Skin, so to leave her out was somewhat disappointing. If people really wanted to see representation in the nominations, they could have easily looked at Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who had two good roles this year (Belle and Beyond the Lights) that were ignored. I guess I’m not too upset at this category, although I feel that, like last year’s win for Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, it could go to someone for a role that will probably not be as remembered years from now (Pike is probably the best choice to avoid that, but that remains to be seen).
Miscellaneous snubs and notable nominations
I’m going to do this next part in list format so I can reach my point quicker:
To be honest, I don’t really have too many issues with these nomination. Yes, it is a shame that there wasn’t more representation, and yes, I really wish they had considered that. However, I’m starting to just look past the gold sheen of the Oscar statue and accept what this show is. The show is very unlikely to cover all bases and give the viewers what they want. But why should they? It’s an awards show that is celebrating what they think is relevant, and it’s very much clear that it’s one group’s opinion. It’s the group that pretty much put a trademark on movie award credibility, but even that is strained.
Luckily, there are plenty more award shows to choose from. The Critic’s Choice Awards, the Director’s Guild Awards, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards are often better at representation and awarding non-white males. They’re not always correct, but they often have better records.
Sadly, what this mostly comes down to is campaigning. It’s all about if a studio believes in a film and a role enough to try and get as many people to know about it. They’ll send the screener for critical review out long before the film is released to the public, they’ll put ads in Los Angeles magazines, and they’ll make sure TV spots recognize certain roles. Some films and roles do have festivals to help make their nominations make sense by giving them added advertising and prestige, hence why they can remember to nominate Mr. Turner for four awards after its successful run at Cannes.
Ultimately, anyone who is going to pay attention to the Academy Awards should do so with the knowledge that they are very likely to be disappointed. The awards are not the perfect representation of artistic merit and achievement, but it’s the most public and apparent. That’s why people are upset whenever people and films are ignored or voting tends to skew towards certain groups. They know this is what is most likely to be seen, and it’s clear that it’s not entirely accurate. Thus, there’s going to be some disillusionment with the process, proving that, no, everything is not awesome at these Academy Awards.
(Thanks to Zack Budryk for the title of this piece.)
#Real #Oscars #Movies #Film #Cinema #Whiteness #Oscar
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