Happy New Year all! I just realized that this is my first post in the Year of our Lord, 2016. Which makes me happy and sad – happy because, well I have finally gotten around to it and sad, because the subject of this post is to do the recently announced 88th Academy Award nominations.
When I originally outlined my notes for this post, I was looking forward to waxing poetic about why I prefer the nominations announcement to the actual ceremony. Sure it is a cool idea to celebrate and honor the collective and individual achievements in cinema. My problem has always been with singling out one above all in such a heavily politically driven process. Film appreciation is subjective in that generally, what one loves is in the eye of the beholder – one man’s Citizen Kane is another man’s Plan 9 From Outer Space. Go figure.
Recent years have been a boon for many smaller independent productions and this year has proven no different. How many people would have seen Room (by Frank director Lenny Abrahamson) or Brooklyn or Ex-Machina for that matter, if not for the buzz surrounding their potential award-worthiness? But I digress and am entering a territory that leaves me frankly exasperated.
There are a few problems afoot here – two I would like to discuss particularly in this post; I will mention the “easier” of the two first – it’s to do with the question of what it means to be awards ‘worthy.’
With each passing year, I look at the cinematic calendar, and have grown more and more accustomed to the following pattern forming …
- Jan-Feb = Meh. The occasional film I do enjoy, but in general not much to recommend.
- Mar-late April-ish? = It’s getting interesting. Spring has sprung and we are rapidly approaching the “summer season.” There are always a few surprises that get me in the theater. This is the warm-up for the main event …
- May-August (mostly) = Popcorn and 3D specs time, y’all it’s blockbuster season! No further explanation necessary.
- September can be a bit of a lull until we arrive in OCTOBER. From here on in, it is “look at me and take me seriously because I am a serious film” time. And then the rush to get the films for award consideration out by the end of the year.
Granted, this is an approximation because as studios are trying to carve out larger shares of the annual global box office, they are littering some of their potential money makers at less “conventional” times of the year (e.g. big budget Batman v. Superman is scheduled for release at the end of March).
That current aberration aside the above leads me to my first point – #1 – we now have a situation that essentially takes the guess work out of what should be in contention for awards consideration. Sure, there are a few buzzy films that come out during the calendar (can’t predict EVERY cinematic success) but it would appear that the closer a studio gets its film out to the end of the various awards eligibility windows, the better since it is clear that these films will be foremost in the mind of those who vote. In other words, this predictability has taken some of the fun and a lot of the mystery out of the alchemy of who gets nominated for what.
And now for #2 – the (un)surprising lack of diversity once the nominations do come out. Much like the past two national elections have proven not to be the racial panacea for a country that has a difficult time embracing the great, the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of its history, so too the awards success 12 Years a Slave two years ago and a lot of behind the scenes shuffling of the decks at the Academy has seemingly done nothing to “solve” the Academy Awards’ diversity “problem,” particularly in the acting category.
Of course, if you take the swath of world cinema over the course of the year, there are many, many folks who should be considered for accolades. In fact, this article on mic.com cites 8 worthy performances for your consideration. Now I would venture a guess that a few of these received many votes in the nominating process, but sadly not enough to make the final list. One could also initially glance at this list and (wrongly) speculate that maybe these performances did not the films themselves were largely overlooked. But alas, every one of these performances is attached to a film that has received a great share of recognition/ press from other entities, or, as in the case of Creed and Ex Machina, is honored with some love from the Academy this year. So clearly something else is going on.
And then there is the matter of the Hollywood pipeline. Doing the festival circuit has been a cold comfort for me. As it gets (relatively) cheaper to make a film, the idea is not so far fetched that any aspiring auteur with a device that can capture quality video (remember Tangerine was shot on an iPhone) can get their picture made. This commodification of quality tech will go a long way in closing this gap in the storytelling. However, there seems to be a bottleneck at some point, where the path gets rather narrow, preventing many from ascending through the ranks. Every year, it seems like it is someone else’s turn to carry the baton for a new wave of cinema …
And this is just two points that I wanted to highlight here. So where does this leave someone like me, who LOVES movies, but is a little less passionate about this side of things? Right now, I just don’t have the answers …
Post script: this article on deadline.com also points to the problem tremendously: among the ‘snubs’ they list is a whole demographic, not just an individual.