The Academy Awards: A Grouchy Cynic’s Take


Hi. My name is Jonny and I have an obsession with film.

Obsessed is perhaps the wrong word, but let’s just say I’ve seen enough films to be labelled as such. In my youth, I would peruse the aisles of mysterious, hovel-like film abodes looking for staggeringly cheap box-sets of Andrei Tarkovsky, Ken Russell and Federico Fellini. Nowadays I have aspirations of joining those detestable film critics, even if the job will inevitably mean that I get spiteful and often dangerous comments regarding my lack of understanding of a particular title. You’d therefore realise that my passion for film is something that defines who I am. I love all aspects of it, even the generically scripted, financially centred unoriginal pigswill that Hollywood so often churns out these days. It’s both entertainment and art, in equal measure.

However, there’s something I’ve always had a nagging dislike for, and that’s the way in which the majority of major film awards present themselves, namely the Academy Awards. I’ve always felt sad that so many great titles get overlooked. Perhaps my problem lies with the way the awards ceremony elevates certain films above others, transcending a title into the supposedly upper echelons of film. For example, does Million Dollar Baby deserve an Oscar over Sideways? Does Amadeus demonstrate any more value and inherent worth than The Killing Fields? Not really, yet they are given a reward that seems to make it so.


How the mighty…

Now at this point you’re all probably preparing to make a point about it merely being an awards show and that realistically it means nothing, except it does mean something. In fact, if we’re to respect a whole look into the spectrum of winning an award, then the outcome can be both spectacular and disastrous. If a director ends up winning an Oscar, then what do we think will happen? Presumably, the majority of people assume that that particular director will end up on a clear path to both critical and financial success. However, this isn’t necessarily true. It’s similar with actors, who either catapult to stardom and have the rest of their catalogue compared to their greatest success, or they never make a decent film again. F. Murray Abraham, as an obvious example, was unanimously lauded for his portrayal of Salieri in Amadeus, yet the rest of his career was catalogued with unusually low key titles, such as Muppets From Space.

So while many would think that these internationally recognised awards would be one of the greatest moments for someone, they can often ruin the career of a director or actor. Amongst the inner circle of film critics, this is renowned as being what is referred to as the “Oscar Jinx”. Whilst this may seem like hokum to many of you, it does actually contain some substance as a term denoting the often poor long term effects of winning one of these awards. It even branches out into the realm of behind the scenes. When cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond won the Oscar for best cinematography on Close Encounters of a Third Kind, he admitted that afterwards he didn’t get much work for a long time because directors and studios just assumed he would be either too much of a big-head, or far too expensive. Of course, this wasn’t necessarily ever the case, but the presumptions start to come to the fore once you’re spotlighted as supposedly being the best in your field.

As for the films themselves, it’s not as easy to point out examples and prove that often the long term success can be blinded by that of the short term. Nevertheless, one can observe and note the difficulty in accepting one film as better than another. Personally, I don’t think a film loses its value at any point due to this awards ceremony, but it can often become the spotlight for comparison. Arguably, the least deserving winner of all time is Crash. Now, first and foremost, let me say that it is actually quite a good film. However, throughout the process and the intense scrutiny, films can’t always live up to the intense pressures surrounding peoples’ opinion of it. Crash is almost certainly looked down upon because people don’t think that it deserved the accolades that it received in 2005. The irony being, naturally, that a film is selected by an inclusive committee of people, almost all of whom are male Caucasians with a median age of around 60. Therefore, people’s protestations should be better founded when aimed at the committee, which like many of the world’s pre-eminent organisations is highly secretive and incredibly cautious.

Crash (2005)

Crash (2005)

If you’re still with us at this point, then you’d notice the trend in progression that this piece has taken. As seems apt, the final sections will focus on the core of the Academy Awards, which is the voting process and the individual categories. This is likely the part at which I view the awards as a distinct negative. The above, through deep discussion and analysis may prove understandable, but this next bit is the part that really gets my goat.

There are two specific categories that really sum up my feelings on the matter. The first is the Best Foreign Film and the other is Best Documentary. Both are linked in the following criticism. Firstly, to the idea of a foreign film not being eligible for a full Best Picture Oscar. If a film is accredited with having enough merit and enough inherent promise and is critically well received, then what is the point of a Best Foreign category? True, some people will argue that if we allow foreign based films to enter the main prize draw then there will be far too many films for the committee to siphon through. Nevertheless, if that’s the case, then why did The Artist and Life is Beautiful seep through into the main draw in past years. At this point, one could divulge into a full blown rant against Harvey Weinstein and company, but that will be swept to one side in an attempt to stay vaguely pertinent.

Habla Con Ella 2002

Habla Con Ella (2002)

Surely, the idea of a best anything in film is ridiculous, but the idea of a best foreign film just seems horrendously patronising. It’s almost as if you’re put in a separate category, because the voting committee don’t think you’ll be as relatable due to linguistic barriers. That, of course, is tripe. I guarantee readers that Habla Con Ella is more understandable in the themes it deals with as opposed to any number of recent Best Picture winners. That’s neither here nor there though. The real issue is one that envelopes many categories, such as the two highlighted here. The rules are obviously stringent for each category, but for Foreign and Documentary categories it’s beyond reasonable. For a start, films need to adhere to nationality and location promises, then they have to have been shown at a particular showing, normally in Los Angeles, USA. Furthermore, perhaps the actual issue is that there are such a collection of vast and diverse titles that it’s a bizarre thought to think that the committee, containing no more than 5,500 members, has to collate the best of the best.

Films made abroad are often completely ignored for the simple fact that the committee is based in an English-speaking country. The Oscars may be an American event, but they represent the world and all that it has to offer in terms of creative and inspiring film. The message that the people behind the scenes profess is that the awards are a recognition of excellence in cinematic achievements. Therefore nationality should have little to no emphasis.

Now, I understand that the above demonstrates a certain hostility to the Academy Awards. Perhaps my love of every type of film has blinded me from the obvious, but it seems that it is in fact a horrendously biased ceremony based on nationality, creed and colour. My one concern has always been that of film, and when I see it being pulled apart at the seams and not being allowed to progress naturally, masked committee members interfering, then it truly angers me.

As I’ve already said though:

My name is Jonny. I have an obsession with film.

Oh, and I’m not a fan of The Academy Awards.


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