Are the Oscars Still Relevant?

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The idea of a meritocracy where you are fairly judged by your peers, is a noble and idealistic notion. It is one that many august bodies aspire to, when they endeavour to honour those they claim to represent. Yet the reality is often quite different from the intended aim. I believe that the Oscars is a text book example of this. Rather than being an impartial and honest award ceremony, the entire events is more a demonstration of corporate leverage and power politics. Furthermore, it would seem that the wider public has fallen out of love with Hollywood as yearly viewing figures fluctuate. Overall this is more of an event for the benefit of Hollywood, rather than a promotion of the art of cinema.

There’s a degree of cynicism associated with this annual event and each years nominations are frequently met with an air of scepticism. “Worthy” titles that have performed well at the box office, or that tick the right boxes make the list. It is all very predictable. There also prevails a “them and us” mentality between independent film makers and the big studios. The academy is a creature of habit and rules, that seldom deviate from their established game plan. Certain genres will never be afforded any acknowledgement and specific actors and film makers who exist outside of the mainstream are effectively out of the running.

kathryn-bigelow-oscar

Kathryn Bigelow. First female director to win an Oscar for best director. The press was more concerned about her dress.

That’s not to say that all academy awards are contrived or unjust. A great deal of talented individuals and quality productions are appropriately honoured. Life time achievements are often honestly given. But the proceedings are still hindered by a very US-centric outlook and a predilection to focus on box office returns rather than broader creativity. Documentaries, short films, animation, as well as genres such as horror and science fiction do not get treated the same as human dramas, biopic, or historical movies. It seems at times that there is almost a formula to achieving an academy award. Perhaps there is truth in Kirk Lazarus’ statement about “Never go full retard”.

It will be interesting to see how well this years live award ceremony will be received. I have a horrible suspicion that even the talented Seth McFarlane may well be hamstrung by the cringe making format, with is staged jokes, contrived banter and fake good humour. Furthermore how much influence does this annual event have on an increasingly independently minded public. It would seem that the traditional critic is now taking a back seat to social media and word of mouth. People seem more comfortable taking advise and recommendations from friends rather than established bodies. If the Oscars fail to have the impact that people such as Harvey Weinstein expect, then there may well be a lot of disappointed venture capitalists, bankers and suits.

Not Patric Stewart

BBC’s Tim Muffett mistakes Ed Lauter for Patrick Stewart at last years Oscars.

We live in times when fans and enthusiasts can easily communicate with each other, create communities and hold events. Often awards and honours coming from these quarters hold more meaning for the recipients. If people feel that the academy is not representing certain sectors or showcasing certain artists, then alternative bodies will emerge to fill the gap. If recent history has shown us anything, it is that niche markets can often grow in to far more substantial entities. We have also seen a cultural shift in which the public feel it important that they have a say in matters themselves. Perhaps the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences needs to consider reinventing itself before it becomes totally obsolete.

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2 thoughts on “Are the Oscars Still Relevant?

  1. Indy says:

    My initial response was ‘Were they ever relevant?’ Well, maybe before people realized they were based more on industry politics than merit.

    That being said, I think you aren’t giving box office returns enough credit. For one thing, it’s an honest measure… there’s probably something worthwhile in a film that convinces a lot of people to fork over money. If they weren’t getting some value out of the ticket price, it’d get bad word-of-mouth and moviegoers would stay away from the film.

  2. Roger Edwards says:

    I think there was a time when they were relevant but I think that was more than several decades ago.
    I do think that box office returns are a dubious benchmark. People will go and see something out of curiosity sometimes if there is a lot of bad press. Plus lots of very bad film do make profits.

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