Get your glad rags on, practise those speeches and hire a limousine, the Oscar (Nominations) is upon us. Make your way to the nearest unreliable live stream and wait impatiently for the list of lucky lads, lasses and boss babies.
This year’s list of best picture nominees is a plan in course correction, an answer to their recent troubles. They have got the art films covered with the likes of ‘BlacKkKlansman’, ‘Green Book’ and ‘Vice’. They’ve covered foreign cinema in ‘The Favourite’ and ‘Roma’ and, most importantly, they’ve included popular films ‘Black Panther’, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘A Star Is Born’, each film of huge cultural interest. But it all looks a bit sorry, a porridge of feature-film ambivalence.
Where’s the vibrancy? Where’s the diversity? Where’s the excitement?
‘Free Solo’? ‘Leave no Trace’? ‘Sorry to bother you’? ‘Mandy’? ‘Hereditary’? ‘You were never Really here’? ‘Annihilation’? – A multitude of films covering all styles and celebrating the whole of cinema, not just a dusty corner.
Best Picture Nominees
‘A Star Is Born’
It’s no secret that the reputation of the Oscars ceremony is in decline. Once held triumphantly in high regard, recent years the Academy has experienced several hiccups, a fit of hiccups if you will. From the prominent #MeToo movement arising from the shamed Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, to the most recent fiasco involving the lack of a host, a once treasured position for any late night TV host.
Hollywood, and in the film industry in general, is going through a cataclysmic shift and if the Oscars are anything to go by, it isn’t coping all that well. Netflix, once Hollywood’s noisy neighbours, have evolved into entertainment titans. A company more diverse, more exciting and more innovative than anything LA’s flashy lights and studio complex’s could conjure. An annual entertainment package, updating on a daily basis and providing you with all that you need in the touch of a button is proving an appeal to strong to resist. Why spend the absurd admission price to the cinema? Why bother to get off my sofa at all? No wonder the Marvel Cinematic universe has found so much success utilising a similar release structure. Every film is essentially a feature long ‘episode’ culminating in a season finale that caps of the series, or ‘Phase’.
But if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Hollywood has invited the noisy neighbours over to their illustrious party and one can only assume that they’re going to barge in and consume all the sausage rolls and hummus dip before anyone else has the chance. ‘Roma’, Alfonso Cuarón’s critically acclaimed film on the life of a middle-class family in 1970’s Mexico, is nominated in several categories and tipped for much awards success. These noisy neighbours aren’t going to be silenced anytime soon, however, with several directors preferring the flexibility of working with independent studios Netflix and Amazon; Lynne Ramsay, Martin Scorsese, Dan Gilroy, Cary Joji Fukunaga to name just a few.
Seemingly, the only way to combat this new threat is for Hollywood to become much more accessible, a lot more diverse and a lot more compelling than it’s currently being. When viewing figures for the annual award show dropped in 2008 and worries of irrelevance seeped in, the Academy responded by increasing the number of best picture nominees from five to ten. Where previously there was no space for box-office titans such as Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ whose omission stirred much controversy, now general audiences could be represented by the films they watched and loved. Last year’s ceremony saw the lowest viewing figures for the show since records began and a similar card was played, this time the implementation of a new ‘Outstanding Popular Film Category’. Largely criticised by an overwhelming proportion of the industry as a drive to improve viewing figures, the Academy quickly withdrew the category.
You can almost feel sorry for them. Anything The Academy attempt to make the ceremony more accessible to the average viewer gets dismissed and ridiculed. They’re being tugged in one direction from the elite who wish to only award films of artistic merit and pulled in another by those who believe popular films, voted by the wallets of the general public, should get the recognition they ‘deserve’. The creation of the now abolished popular film category was an obvious move to discern good film deserved of the top prize, from popular popcorn flicks, thus keeping all parties happy. But of course, just because it is popular doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve artistic merit. Case in point, ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ which deservedly earned a nomination in 2015, both a box office success and cinematic innovation. The crux is that the whole industry seems inaccessible. It continues to fail to represent minorities. It often ignores fan desires and displeasures. The films themselves lack creative diversity. It is ultimately losing the trust of the viewer.
Their intentions are clear in their most recent list of nominees. The films carry a mass appeal and cover several bases but not to a specifically excellent degree. The reason for ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’s’ inclusion are transparent. The academy’s intention is to seamlessly combine popular film and art film, but if this is their aim, then nothing will change unless one of these popular films win. This may well happen. Black Panther would be a perfect fit, a diverse and highly talented cast, a film loved by both fans and critics and a company deserved of box-office recognition. It would reconnect the audience and industry, the Oscars turning into an awards ceremony voted by the wallets and voices of the audience. It would be an interesting move, not necessarily a wise one, but one which would make them somewhat relevant again
During a ceremony like the Oscars however, the common ground between the audience and celebrities is the host. Often represented by late-night hosts, radiant personalities who speak the truth; about themselves, about current affairs and about the room of celebrities. They break the facade. They are the audience’s voice on the night, and without one the ceremony risks turning into a variety show of talent. A conveyor belt of celebrities with a badly scripted paragraph to awkwardly read, and more dangerously, one big orgy of ego petting and smug Instagram posts. With the lack of a host, the ceremony could indeed be, as Peter Bradshaw stated ‘a gang show of grisliness’. The red carpet needs to be cut in half, the dim lights need to be raised, they need to be ridiculed. Without it, they risk irrelevance.