It begins every October with the Gotham Award nominations, but the Hollywood awards season (mercifully) comes to an end this Sunday, February 28th, saving its biggest golden bash for last – the Oscars!
We asked our entire writing staff for their thoughts about the 88th Academy Awards – completely open topic – and this is what they each came up with…
Michael Muniz, Los Angeles voice:
We all knew the statistics before January 14, 2016 – the day Twitter dusted off the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag from the year before when the same thing had happened and minorities were shut out from all of the major above-the-line Oscar categories. Going into that day, it was already well known (by anyone who really cared) that the Academy’s demographics consisted of 94% whites, 76% male and average just a couple of years below the senior discount age at Taco Bell. It’s premature to fully examine how effective the “sweeping changes” made to Academy membership, stemming from an emergency session called by the Board of Governors (people outside the film industry must hear that, laugh and shake their heads), really are at this point. However, it was an aggressively progressive move from an institution that doesn’t seem like it much fancies rapid change even if it maintains the artificial appearance of such.
Nevertheless, inclusion shouldn’t come at the expense of alternate exclusion. In an open letter to the Board of Governors penned by screenwriter/producer Patricia Resnick in The Hollywood Reporter, she cites that the Academy voting changes were nothing more than a form of sexism and ageism. While many entertainment professionals agree with her points, it’s also worth considering: if you haven’t been active in show business since Julia Roberts was a Best Actress nominee for Pretty Woman, can you really offer much insight into or have a pulse on contemporary cinema? After all, star power doesn’t even put audiences’ butts in seats anymore as it once did back in the 90s – the overall quality of the film’s content (which must compete with the current Golden Age of Television) does. I’ll also never understand why, if the Academy can nominate up to ten films, just settle for eight? Beasts of No Nation and Creed were certainly worth acknowledging or – as criminally reductive and insulting as this is to two great films – worth throwing bones to. They did for the very mediocre The Blind Side back in 2010! And neither Beasts nor Creed will be nearly as easily forgotten.
Cori Heyman, New York voice:
I used to wait all year for the award shows. As a teenager, I loved the Grammys, Oscars, MTV Awards, and even the Kids’ Choice Awards on Nickelodeon – all of it. After a lot of thought, I wanted to get down to the bottom of why I still kind of get excited about them. Yes, I know that the Academy Awards are under the microscope for being antiquated racist bastards, which means no one should watch them, but I’m still going to. Why are you being so white and archaic, Cori? It’s because, guys, all the thinking brought me to the realization that I just love when a bunch of (and sometimes my favorite) stars get together and interact. It’s a huge spectacle. I watch to see Eddie Redmayne flounder and introduce his new son in the same breath as swearing to polish and answer the beck and call of the little Oscar statuette.
Honestly, I was going to talk about why I don’t care about the Oscars, but it just didn’t ring true when I put pen to paper, or rather fingers to keyboard. It’s important to watch— not that it matters who wins— but if we don’t watch then our opinions are void. I have my own thoughts about which awards are deserved by whom (not that you shouldn’t have your own) and since we’re speaking our minds, here’s what I think: I don’t feel that it was the best of the year, but The Revenant was my favorite film on the Best Picture nomination list out of the options available, so that’s what I’m sticking to. That said, Leo or Eddie will snag the award for Best Actor. I think Brie Larson should be a shoe-in for her performance in Room just as Mark Ruffalo should win Best Supporting Actor for Spotlight. His performance as a hunched, damaged reporter was a choice he committed to and stuck with. Do I want Leonardo to win an Oscar? Yes. I think it means something to him and he deserves it. Do I care about the diversity? Absolutely. It’s not about the awards themselves to me, just the famous and beautiful people sitting around with their families and enjoying an honored spectacle. It is also the perfect catalyst for catching up on movies I didn’t get to see last year.
Austin Sanders, Austin voice:
The Academy Awards don’t matter. But, then again, they do matter. It’s a conflicting dynamic – no, awards for art don’t really matter. If a film is great, history will recognize it as such whether or not it is nominated for or wins any award. Often, great films – like Netflix’s Beasts of No Nation, which somehow evaded a single nomination – don’t get recognized at all by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Clearly, this year is no different. Between #OscarsSoWhite blowing up on Twitter and prominent black industry leaders boycotting the ceremony, Academy leadership has received tremendous backlash for their failure to nominate a single person of color in any of the four acting categories.
So, the Academy gets these things wrong pretty often. In that way, they don’t matter. However, an Oscar is the highest level of “official” recognition that a film can receive in the industry. Even if the awards don’t matter to art, they matter to general audiences who may not get to the theater often – an Oscar win can go a long way in selling a ticket or DVD – and that definitely matters to studios. New doors may open to a fresh Oscar winner. In that sense, the Academy Awards do matter. There is reason to be upset, then, that critical and commercial successes like Straight Outta Compton, Creed, or the smaller but equally award-caliber Beasts of No Nation, wind up under-nominated or completely left out in the cold. When you take it a step further and recognize that those three movies were created by, star and feature stories about minorities – primarily black – it’s clear that the Academy Awards can get it wrong so badly and offensively, that they shouldn’t matter. But, they kind of do.
Patrick McDonald, Chicago voice:
CHICAGO – Gather ‘round, kids, as Grandpa Pat tells you what Oscar used to be like.
When I was a kid, it was a huge TV event, with the opportunity to see the movie stars outside the big screen, being real people! And saying funny things! Well, the old internet tubes, the proliferation of awards shows and the sheer size of movie media (it must be big, they let me in) has reduced Oscar to a tiny golden man – but not its genitalia, it has none! By the time Oscar comes around, we all – even the general public – have awards fatigue.
Before I became a “professional critic” (ha-ha, that’s rich), I still loved the Oscars, despite all of the above. But now, sadly, it’s been reduced to an afterthought, as in “aren’t I done with 2015?” I still think it’s the most prestigious award one can receive in entertainment – there is just something about the symbolism of that statue and what it represents. So I will be watching, perhaps tweeting, and looking forward to congratulating Leo, Brie, Sly and Jennifer in an upset (I’m insane, and may change my mind by Sunday) and the good people of overrated The Revenant. That will happen at the after party – my private after party, the one you don’t want to know about. Here’s a hint…JEB!
Stephanie Huettner, Austin voice:
Some years during the Oscars, I just watch to watch (and because my friend, Jennie, throws an amazing Oscar bash). This year, I’m rooting for a couple of things, in particular. Carol, Todd Haynes’ emotionally and visually gorgeous adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel, The Price of Salt, is up for six awards. It came as quite a shock to those paying even passive attention to this year’s awards season that the film wasn’t nominated for Best Picture (oddsmakers gave it a 99.9% chance of that one) or Best Director. I’m fairly certain that Best Cinematography is going to go to Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki for the third year in a row (for his work on The Revenant), but I will hold out hope that Todd Haynes’ masterpiece will otherwise take a small bite of the Oscar pie. I can only eagerly look forward to his next beautifully crafted, intricate piece of work full of great performances (that’s how all of Haynes’ other films have been, so I assume it’ll be more of the same).
The next one that means quite a bit to me is The Look of Silence. I put Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary at the top of my list of films I saw in 2015. The companion piece/precursor to this film, The Act of Killing, was nominated at the 2014 Academy Awards and lost to the feel-good Twenty Feet from Stardom. Nothing against that movie, but Killing is just a far superior work. This year, it’s likely that another music doc, Amy, will collect the Best Documentary trophy. While I was a big fan of Asif Kapadia’s portrait of the late pop/jazz singer, I’m really pulling for Silence to take this one home. It’s a monumental work of art and humanity. While not nabbing the statuette wouldn’t make it a lesser film, winning would expose it to a much broader audience and perhaps bring attention to the current situation in Indonesia.
Lauren Marie Paterson, Portland voice:
It’s so perfectly fitting that as Hollywood ramps up to celebrate itself this February 28th, researchers from the University of Southern California released a study after analyzing over 400 films and TV shows and thousands of characters from September 2014 through August 2015. They took into account a variety of representations, from gender and sexuality to race and ethnicity.
Perhaps what they found shouldn’t be all that surprising to us. Despite being half the population, only a third of characters with speaking roles are women, and not even thirty percent were of minority ethnic groups. Less than four percent of directors in the film industry are female, half of TV shows and films had no speaking roles for Asians, and a fifth had no dialogue for black characters. LGBT characters came in at just two percent. Congratulations, Hollywood! This year’s award show may actually be interesting to watch, considering how much the Academy has to swallow. Chris Rock will be hosting, so let’s hope he’s done his research.
Agree or disagree with any or all of them? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments section below!