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What Happened to the Oscars?

Feb. 27, 2019 at 6:28PM

Sorry for the pretentious rant, but The Oscars are just not what they used to be.

It was the morning of Monday, March 5, 2018 and everything was well in film critic land. That’s because what should’ve happened at the Oscars award show the night before, happened.

“The Shape of Water” rightfully won best picture, alongside many other praise-worthy films that could’ve also won the award. Best actor went to Gary Oldman, who finally won the award with his stellar rendition of Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour.” And Frances McDormand stole the show - winning best actress and delivering a stunning acceptance speech.

Cut to the morning of Monday, February 25, 2019 and… wait… what just happened? You’re telling me that “Green Book” won best picture? Yeah, “Green Book” was no doubt a good movie, but was it really best picture material? And Rami Malek wins best actor? Malek, rightfully so, is one of my favorite actors, but even I know the award should've gone to Willem Dafoe (and I’m not just saying that because he’s a fellow Wisconsinite). And First Man won best visual effects despite including hardly any visual effects? And not to mention the show just felt weird, right?

But it wasn’t just these snubs that fueled my disdain for the Oscars this year. It’s rather what was nominated, and what wasn’t. When the nomination list came out last month, I literally thought it was a joke. “Black Panther”…. “Black Panther”… was up for best picture. Once again, a great movie - I enjoyed it and it was well made. But does “Black Panther” belong in the same sentence as “The Shape of Water,” “Moonlight,” “Spotlight,” or “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” - winners of the award the last four years? I can answer that question for you. No. No, it does not. And not to mention that “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “Vice,” both received remarkably low scores on Metacritic alongside “Green Book.”

The most shocking thing about this awards season is what wasn’t nominated and how little people cared - such as the critically acclaimed “First Reformed,” which should have thrown Ethan Hawke into the limelight again for a best actor nomination (at least he won Best Actor at the Spirit Awards). “The Old Man and The Gun,” and “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” were also snubbed - alongside “At Eternity’s Gate,” “Leave no Trace,” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” - all critically acclaimed films that should have won awards from Best Actor, Cinematography and Best Adapted or Original Screenplay… not to mention Best Picture.

So what were the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences thinking with these nominations? Clearly, the Academy made a very straightforward choice to try to negate the scandals of #OscarsSoWhite - and for good reason, as there was obviously a lack of diversity in the Academy’s membership. I applaud them for the effort. However, it is my thought that the Academy also made a choice to cater to the more average movie fan in an attempt to boost viewership of the Oscars and remain noteworthy. After it was reported that the 2018 Oscars show had a 19 percent decline in viewership from 2017, and 39 percent drop from 2014 - it was clear that the Academy wanted to grow their numbers. It’s all about money right? And let’s be honest - what average movie fan would have seen “Phantom Thread” or even “Call Me by Your Name,” last year? Answer; not many. It is true that the Oscars does boost viewership numbers for these films, but only the most obscure film critic and fan are aware of some of the nominations before they are announced - as they often are not widely released until close to the show.

The Academy showed early indicators that they wanted to make big changes this year with the introduction, and then withdrawal, of the category “Most Popular Film” - a truly awful idea (they knew it too). Then they chose to narrow the screen time of certain categories during the ceremony, such as cinematography and editing, which are two very important parts of filmmaking. Even though they also took this idea back, it was and is very evident that their goal is to make the show more interesting and fun to watch for a wider audience. When the academy decided to even consider these ideas it showed their true intentions.

So we’ll have to answer this question to analyze the future of the Oscars - do you think the Oscars should cater to the wider public and more regular movie fan, leaving it to Sundance and Cannes to nerd out about the optics of the more obscure films? Or should the Oscars continue to nominate and appreciate films that push the boundaries and are critically acclaimed? This is a question that you’ll have to ask some of the newcomers to the Academy that were announced last summer - names that include Dave Chappelle, Mindy Kaling, George Lopez, Amy Schumer, Kendrick Lamar and Sarah Silverman – yes, you read that right.

And I’ll be honest - I never cared about the performance aspect of the Oscars or the show itself. That’s all added fluff to the main importance of the Oscars - the winners. Yeah, it’s entertaining to watch comedians and singers perform on stage for the audience’s approval. And although I was sad when they first announced they might not televise certain portions of the show, I didn’t care in the long run because I only care about who wins – not how it’s presented on TV.

But is it the Academy’s job to boost ratings and numbers in order to pad pockets and make the Academy culturally relevant again… or is it their job to appreciate the best performances in filmmaking from that particular year? Once again… you’ll have to ask them, but my answer is the latter. Until they change their thoughts, I guess we should get used to seeing films honored by the Academy that break the bank over films that break the mold of traditional filmmaking.

Photo courtesy of Guilherme Almeida.

About the author

Evan Casey

Evan Casey is a freelance journalist who has been covering the Greater Milwaukee Area since early 2018. He writes for the Racine Journal Times, Shepherd Express, Milwaukee Courier and Bay View Compass and covers city hall and local issues across Milwaukee and the region. He loves to travel and attend local concerts in his free time. He is also a diehard fan of the Milwaukee Brewers and runs a hardcore/punk zine titled "Zing Zine."