It’s about time for another Academy Awards ceremony. This means much campaigning by nominees who have little chance of winning (as with every year, each category has its clear-cut favorites), and, if you happen to live in the LA area (as I do), a lot of excess traffic. Then, of course, there’s all the bitching about who should have gotten such-and-such award.
Amid all the entertainment award ceremonies the Oscars are in many respects the nerdiest and most out-of-touch of the lot (it was the Oscars, let’s not forget, that last year provided a musical tribute to THE SOUND OF MUSIC), yet also the most prestigious. You just don’t hear the type of passionate arguments about the Tonys, Grammys, Emmys or Golden Globes that you do each year after the Academy Award nominations are announced: people, it seems, really take these awards seriously.
It’s hard to tell if the sniping over the Oscars is in fact more intense now than in past years, but in recent weeks there’s been an annoying abundance of it on and off the net. I’m sure that by now we’re all aware of the “Oscars So White” controversy over the lack of non-white nominees in the acting categories and the fact that STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON was denied a Best Picture nomination (a “controversy” that probably speaks primarily to the media’s ability to turn a relatively minor spat into a revolutionary furor). Other complaints have resounded over THE HATEFUL EIGHT, about which we should apparently be “outraged” that it got subbed in the major Oscar categories, and also the alleged snubs given CAROL, BEASTS OF NO NATON, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, THE MARTIAN, etc.
Amid all the bitching, a rare voice of sanity came from STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON’S producer and principal subject Ice Cube, who on the GRAHAM NORTON SHOW provided perhaps the most clear-headed and insightful viewpoint on Academy Award recognition: “If the industry gives you a pat on the back or a trophy it’s nice, but it’s not something you should dwell on…It’s like crying about not enough icing on your cake.” Such insight, however, has been rare.
More typical were whiney conclusions like that reached by a January qz.com article, which viewed the “pointed omission” of Todd Haynes’ CAROL from the Academy Awards Best Picture race as symptomatic of “how sexism operates in the world, and in the Academy specifically, as the refusal to see women as protagonists and agents of desire.” I think it could also possibly mean that Academy voters simply didn’t share the author’s viewpoint that CAROL is “one of the greatest films of recent years” (I don’t either)–and anyway, if the film is truly so “great” it shouldn’t matter if the Academy recognizes it or not.
For the record, I agree that STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON and THE HATEFUL EIGHT should have gotten more love from Academy than they did, but it’s not something I spend a lot of time thinking about, much less worrying over. The Academy’s decisions have rarely ever made much sense to these eyes, from its awarding of 1981’s Best Picture Oscar to ORDINARY PEOPLE over RAGING BULL, or its 1990 one to DRIVING MISS DAISY over every other movie released in ‘89, or its complete dismissal of my own favorite film of 2015, the Russian import HARD TO BE A GOD, whose total Academy award nominations add up to zero (something you won’t hear me crying about).
Being the cloistered, largely geriatric organization it is, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has always been predisposed to make odd decisions. Why would you expect it to start making sense now?
Being part of the horror/cult movie scene, I have no problem separating a movie’s worth from its Oscar count. The kinds of films we horror fans tend to enjoy, after all, don’t usually get recognized by the Academy. Okay, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS accomplished that feat back in 1992, winning all the major Oscar categories, but that was a never-to-be-repeated anomaly. More typical is the case of Roger Corman, who in 2009 had to make do with a Lifetime Achievement award from the Academy, or David Lynch, who in 1981, 1987 and 2002 was given Best Director nominations everyone knew he was going to lose (not unlike MAD MAX: FURY ROAD’S George Miller in the current Oscar race).
The Horror-verse of course has its own honors, of which the Stoker, World Fantasy and Saturn Awards ceremonies are perhaps the most prestigious. None of them, however, exert much pull outside the horror-verse, just as in a sane world the Academy Awards wouldn’t have any worth outside their immediate sphere.
Wishful thinking, I know. The Academy Awards, it seems, will always have a transcendent prestige regardless of whether it’s deserved or not. Even horror fans aren’t immune to Oscar’s allure: it wasn’t too long ago that I witnessed, during an afternoon panel at an L.A. Fangoria convention, KNB’S Howard Berger unveiling his Academy Award for THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE to stunned gasps from a jaded horror-hound audience. Still, I insist that it’s best to decide for oneself what’s worthwhile and what isn’t, with no concern about how Academy voters might cast their ballots. Trust me: there are far more important things to worry about.