Now before I get started, the title will sound subjective…and it is.
Every year I do this. I constantly say “oh I don’t care about the Oscars – they never vote for the right films anyway!” It’s a mental contradiction to when I was a kid and would stay up until the early hours of the morning watching it live. Yet despite my cynic attitude, there’s a part of me that still cares.
It’s become an annual tradition. The Academy Awards is the pinnacle of the award calendar for everyone in the industry. When the nominations are announced, all the film buffs in the land debate on who should win, who was unfairly snubbed (this year belonging to Amy Adams) or why this film was nominated (like Passengers). It’s because of the debate that it makes me wonder if there’s a way to address it.
I’m going to be honest with you – not all of these ideas will work. They might not be practical. These are more ‘on the surface’. They don’t cover the potential loopholes, the time constraints or the logistics that might arise.
Whilst they will never see the light of day, these ideas can be viewed as a good discussion point.
It’s important to remember that while there’s some notable and obvious faults with the Oscar format, there is some good. The Academy recognises smaller and independent films that might not get the same attention as a big blockbuster movie for example. An award nomination can raise a profile of a film. Of course the downside is hype going totally overboard to the point of cynicism and La La Land is the 2017 victim. But ultimately, we should embrace the different styles of filmmaking and films getting recognition (even if they don’t win) gives it a suitable platform to make more.
So here goes nothing – here are my top ten ways to fix the Oscars.
10) Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously – Have Some Fun!
We all know that the Oscars is a formal event. So are the other awards ceremonies but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. The Golden Globes are a great example where it doesn’t take itself seriously and Hollywood can have a great laugh at itself.
The Oscars seems to be a hit and miss over the years with different presenters struggling to do what’s natural. Loosen the reigns – it’s meant to be a celebration!
9) Embrace Digital Platforms
Netflix and Amazon have been growing in stature. This year the Oscar nominated Manchester by the Sea was produced by Amazon. Netflix’s effort, Beasts of No Nation was overlooked in the 2016 Academy Awards.
Films eligible for nominations have to abide by a specific rule – they’ve got to have a theatrical release. Manchester by the Sea was eligible, Beasts of No Nation wasn’t – it had a limited run at the cinemas but majority of its viewings came from its on-demand service.
The bigger question is, should it be restrictive? Should the Academy embrace other platforms other than a cinema screen? There are pros and cons of this scenario which I’m undecided but Amazon played by the rules and Netflix didn’t.
The fact is, digital streaming is here to stay. Netflix’s investment in original programming is paying off which is only going to give them the confidence to do more. For example, Netflix documentaries traditionally have been nominated for Oscars. This year Ava DuVernay’s excellent 13th being the latest success. There’s no doubt that Netflix will expand in the film department in search for an Oscar nominated film which Amazon has stolen a march on.
I’m always on the premise that if a film is good enough, it should be recognised. If it’s hard for small films to get a cinematic release, then could on-demand services provide that outlet?
8) Enough with the Technicalities
For 2009 Academy Awards, The Dark Knight soundtrack was disqualified for a nomination. Reason? For having too many composers. This is not the first time. Films like Senna, The LEGO Movie and Blackfish didn’t make the next stage of voting despite the critical acclaim.
Stop looking for issues that will immediately lead to snubs or disqualifications. Soundtracks, screenplays or films should not be dismissed unless there’s been a clear infringement on the rules. Otherwise, as long as it’s been declared, no matter what the creative format, it should be considered. The Dark Knight should not have been dismissed outright when the entire soundtrack was defining as the film itself.
7) Be Brave
In the 2011 Academy Awards, The Social Network and Inception were the two biggest films of that year. They represented a modern reflection of filmmaking and the movie going experience – one tapping into the latest social media craze which appeals to young people and the other, a thrilling sci-fi mind-bending adventure. In the end they both lost to The King’s Speech.
There’s nothing wrong with The King’s Speech. It’s a brilliant film in its own right but the films the Academy picks over time hasn’t had the lasting impact. Other examples include Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan, Titanic over L.A. Confidential and Out of Africa over The Color Purple. Heck The Truman Show wasn’t never even nominated!
These safe choices don’t engage with its audience enough on a mass level. Whilst the general public has never needed any award validation for films we enjoy, but we’re more likely to watch the films that didn’t win over a film that did.
Of course our natural reaction to when our favourite films don’t win is “who needs the Oscars anyway”, but let’s refuse to accept that. There’s nothing wrong with period dramas or films highlighting a disability or an unfamiliar story we’ve not heard about. Those films have a right to be there as any other. But when you get an exception, films that push the progressive boundaries, then surely that’s more of a justified reason for a nomination than an obvious Oscar bait and formulaic film that is out of touch with the rest of the world?
The 2017 nominations whilst were predictable to a certain extent, the omissions of Amy Adams (Arrival) or Martin Scorsese’s Silence (no Best Picture or Director nomination, only in cinematography) were notable absences. Was it because Silence was too challenging? Was Amy Adams performance missing an Oscar defining moment? If it came down to those thought processes, then it’s narrow-minded. If films are meant to be reflection of our society and challenge what we know then we should not accept that there’s a singular way towards a nomination. Braver films and braver choices is what we need.
But all is not lost. We’ve seen in the last couple of years where the Academy have gone against the grain. When everyone thought Boyhood was going to win, it went to Birdman. When everyone thought The Revenant or Room was going to win, it was Spotlight. Even The Hurt Locker won over Avatar (and rightly so).
Could we see the same trend again this year?
6) Sync Up the Release Slate
This is a difficult one as the Oscars is an American award ceremony and therefore dictates the calendar year. But wouldn’t it be awesome if the public could see all the potential nominated films before the nominations and the ceremony itself?
I’m sure there are legitimate reasons why the release schedule is out of balance due to scheduling, distribution rights or how many cinemas can run the film between the US and UK for example. However, it presents an unfair advantage. Of course when it comes to films, critics and bloggers (including myself) are a guidance and in most cases will never, ever dictate your cinema tastes. At the same time, there’s no guarantees that if films were released at the same time it will have a direct outcome on how the nominations are decided.
But every year, there’s always a case where films are nominated, applauded by critics…and yet no one from the general public has actually seen it…because it’s not out yet!
In an ideal scenario, it would be cool to have that opportunity for the going public to see films at the same time as everyone else. It’s natural of us to be cynical especially when it comes to hype which leads to unfair backlash. But maybe our expectations can be adjusted allowing everyone the same opportunity to judge a film. This applies to the UK release slate so we don’t get situations like Still Alice. The film that gave Julianne Moore her Oscar was not released until a month later after the awards ceremony!
5) End the Oscar ‘Window’
There’s no coincidence that there are films released with the intention of being noticed for the Academy – films that tick all the boxes of a winning formula. Don’t believe me, ask Kate Winslet!
But there’s also a no coincidence that films released between late September to January have more of a chance of being nominated. Given how films are campaigned like an election (e.g. the For Your Consideration ads), the attention for those films are greater.
In 2016, films like Captain Fantastic, Sing Street and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (films all on my watchlist) have been critically acclaimed both by critics and fans alike and yet very little attention has been made. Could a reason be that they were not released during a favourable time?
Having this small window where majority of these films go on to nomination success is limited and not a true reflection of the entire cinematic year. Of course there’s been exceptions – Summer blockbuster films like Mad Max: Fury Road and Inception have made it through on occasion but at the same time, it’s inconsistent, practically changing every year.
We are blessed with so many films and the nominations should be a reflection of that.
4) Embrace Technological Innovation
What do Andy Serkis and Zoe Saldana have in common? They both played roles with the aid of motion capture technology.
Again, this is a longshot, but if a performance is good and excels the boundaries, then it should be considered. You can argue that motion captured performances belongs in the same field as Best Visual Effects. But in the particular case of Andy Serkis who has played Caesar in the rebooted Planet of the Apes films, his performance has been the heartbeat of the film’s success. The same argument could be use when Serkis played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films. Technology enhanced it but it’s not a disadvantage because the actor is still putting on a performance.
Another great example is Walt Disney – he was awarded an honorary award for the creation of Mickey Mouse and the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Snow White was the first feature-length animated film. The debate is, for a film that broke boundaries, did it deserve something more than an honorary award?
Surely it’s time for innovation to catch up with the Academy. No more special awards or labelling technological advances as part of the visual effects category. Recognise the acting performance. Recognise the technological achievements.
3) Reduce Best Picture Nominations Back to Five
For a long time, the Oscars had a strict rule of picking five films for Best Picture. Then around 2009, the rules changed. The Academy opened up the category to accommodate ten films. The reasoning behind this was so more films could be recognised, invoking an old tradition when around 8-12 films were in competition. Whilst it was a great idea initially, it’s slowly losing its original purpose, especially as not all the slots have been allocated.
Since its introduction, there’s been two occasions where the ten count has been filled (2010 & 2011). Every year after that, the number fluctuates between 8-9. Does it become a waste when the full allocation is not used up? Are we saying there weren’t any other good films that year?
It also raises further questions about Best Director category. Directors see their films nominated for Best Picture and yet nothing for Best Director. Is that fair? If we enjoyed the film then surely we must have enjoyed the direction? This was the same argument used for Inception when the film was nominated but Christopher Nolan missed out on a deserved nomination.
Whilst it might be harsh, it’s best to go back to the format it originally was. The next point attempts to address the emptiness.
2) Introduce Genre Categories
This is a pipedream but a good pipedream.
If the Academy wants better engagement and balance for the films nominated, then introducing genre categories could be a step in the right direction.
I’ve always like the format the Golden Globes adopts because there’s a better variety and competition for the nominated films. By reducing the Best Picture category for dramatic performances, genre categories can expand the selection. Can you imagine a Best Comedy Film award? Or a Best Sci-Fi/Horror Film award? Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy? Notable omissions can have a chance to be recognised.
Another argument for the genre categories is sci-fi and fantasy. In recent years, sci-fi and fantasy films are starting to get their dues. District 9, Gravity, Avatar, The Martian, Inception, Mad Max: Fury Road and in 2017, Arrival joins that inclusive list. Only ONE has taken the top prize which was The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. It is a criticism with the Academy that sci-fi films are often snubbed when there’s clear and obvious favouritism towards the drama films. The most that sci-fi and fantasy films get is the technical awards when they are more than that.
Obviously this can go totally out of control so naturally you want to keep the genres down to a specific number along with the applicants to fill in the slots. This may lead to extended run times or it may never stop the debate that if a film is good enough, should it be restrictive to its genre. However, it’s a risk that we should take.
1) More Representation
No matter who wins the Academy Awards in 2017, the nominations have been a great success. This year has been the most diverse with Moonlight, Hidden Figures, 13th and Fences gaining positive reviews and recognition.
However, it shouldn’t stop there. The forward thinking progression needs to continue so that this year doesn’t become a one-off. This is not just about race. This should be opened and included for all nationalities, backgrounds and genders. Also this is not an Academy thing – this appeals to all levels of the industry. We are all storytellers and it’s important that our voices are heard. If we see cinema as a mirrored-reflection of our society and the internal truths, then our varied and eclectic stories should embrace that. That movement starts with us.
What would you do to change the Oscars? Share your thoughts below.
Have a great Oscars season!