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Like a lot of young film fans, I loved the Oscars when I was young. They seemed at the time to take seriously what I assumed was just a very strong hobby of mine. Back then, movies I had watched or wanted to because they looked so cool like The Departed, No Country For Old Men and The Hurt Locker were being showered with awards. Seeing that, it felt like it validated my obsession.
Growing older, though, one begins to understand the politics at play. The realisation starts to dawn that movies with money to splash on distribution to be seen and Oscar campaigns to schmooze voters more likely will be favoured over those that don’t. For example, one of the best films of last year (no 2 on Headstuff’s end of year list) Sorry to Bother You was completely shut out of the ceremony. All the more strange, given the lukewarmly received Bohemian Rhapsody and Vice earned best picture nods.
While this was disappointing for the indie film’s die hard fans, writer-director Boots Riley said: “The largest factor as to why we didn’t get nominated is that we didn’t actually run a campaign that aimed to get a nomination for Screenplay or Song.” Writing on Twitter he elaborated: “We didn’t buy For Your Consideration ads in the trade magazines and we didn’t service the whole academy with screeners.”
While there were some campaign events held for Riley’s picture, they were minor in comparison to the push some studios make to fight for actual nominations. With Roma – a similarly non-mainstream picture – Netflix is reported as spending over $20 million over awards season, resulting in 10 Oscar noms for the black and white Spanish-language drama. This is $5 million more then the movie is believed to have cost to make.
According to business media outlet Fast Company, this campaign included sending journalists and members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association gifts such as Oaxacan dark chocolates, an $175 coffee table book based on the movie and an official Roma poster signed by its director Alfonso Cuarón. Meanwhile, the drama’s public events in Hollywood have been hosted by the likes of Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron. Netflix even ran a two-minute advertisement for the film during CBS Sunday Morning that alone cost approximately $170,000.
This should be no surprise given the streaming service recently recruited strategist Lisa Taback. The award season PR Guru worked with Harvey Weinstein and Miramax back in the day, carrying films like Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient, and Chicago to Best Picture glory. In recent years, she even helped Moonlight and Spotlight win top honours.
Reading these statistics, it becomes clear film fans should take Oscar nominations with a pinch of a salt. Maybe they are not the true signifier of what is truly great. If movies like Hereditary, Leave No Trace and You Were Never Really Here – widely considered the best of last year – do not get nominations, it is probably because there was a decision by their studios not to heavily campaign for them.
While this has been going on for a long time, what makes this year’s Oscars truly unforgivable is that the Academy do not seem to care much about the art form they are meant to celebrate. Already in the midst of a controversy surrounding the lack of a host for the ceremony, just last week they revealed the awards for cinematography, editing, live action short, and makeup and hair would not be televised, handed out during commercial breaks instead.
While the Academy has since backtracked on this due to huge uproar from the filmmaking community, the fact they had even thought about going through with the plan, implies how little regard they have for cinema. After all, movies can exist without actors, but they cannot without cinematography and editing.
Further Reading | Oscar Snubs | 6 Movies and Performances Ignored By The Academy
When asked whether the Oscars would incorporate Jimmy Kimmel style everyday people vignettes into this year’s ceremony, lead producer Donna Gigliotti is reported to have replied: “Everyday people don’t get me ratings.” Perhaps, this sentiment also says a lot about the Academy’s efforts to gain viewers after their lowest audience figures last year. They are making a conscious effort to push stars, as opposed to artists. This may be why they planned to introduce a new best popular film category last year, which they also decided not to go through with amidst backlash.
All in all, this Oscar season proves the Academy has lost touch with its roots which were to ‘recognize excellence in cinematic achievements’. It will be curious to see whether everyday film fans will tune in this Sunday.