The problem with the Oscars


By Wesley Emblidge

The Academy Awards are often regarded all over the world as the highest honor a filmmaker or actor or anyone in the film industry can be presented with. Every year, roughly 6,000 members The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences vote on what they believe were the best films, performances, and other types of work from the past 365 days. However “The Oscars,” as the award show is typically referred to, has become more and more predictable and boring, choosing “Oscar bait” films that may not even be good movies (“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” this year) and avoiding anything progressive or different, but rather picking old favorites (such as Meryl Streep this year) who are already prominent in the industry. One possible reason for this? The academy is 94% white, 77% male, and has a median age of 62 years old.

The Academy Awards have been around since 1929. Soon we’ll be closing in on a century of the Oscars. Over that century, a lot has changed. At the first ceremony, there were fewer nominees and categories. Directing talent was separated into comedy and drama, acknowledging that the two are very different art forms. There was even an award for best title writing.

Today, there are 24 different categories, with typically five nominees per category. These categories range from “Best Actor” to “Best Makeup,” in order to best try to honor all parts of Hollywood.

This year, the big award winner (taking picture, director, and actor, among others) was “The Artist,” a mostly silent black-and-white film, a callback to the films which won awards back at the first Oscars. Yes, “The Artist” is a well made film, a good film, and a very fun film. However, if it was released in, say, 1930, it would have passed by without a notice. The only thing remarkable about “The Artist” is how it successfully indulges in nostalgia, and as a result, swept up the awards season.

The academy is 94 percent white, 77 percent male, has a median age of 62 years old, and 64 percent have never been nominated by the academy.

The winner of Best Picture at the Oscars is typically immortalized as not only the best film of the year, but a representation of where film was at that point. You look back to the ’90s, with classics like “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Titanic” taking home the award, and you see a glimpse of what the award is supposed to mean. Some might argue that Titanic was not the best film of the year, and some hate it. But at the time it was an incredibly impressive technical feat.

So why did the Oscar go to a film that could have been made back when the ceremony first began? Some might argue it was just a weak year for film. I myself struggled to even decide what my favorite film of the year was. There were a lot of very good films out there (some of the best, such as “50/50” and “Take Shelter” were not even acknowledged at the awards) but no truly great films.

A film that would have worked however, was “Hugo,” Martin Scorsese’s “love letter to film.” Not only was it a very good film, and one any film lover should enjoy, but it was an extremely well executed film. This was evident once it swept all the technical awards at the Oscars (sound mixing/editing, cinematography), and when during a time when we are plagued with 3D cash grabs, it was one film that really used the technology well.

Of course what the best film of the year is is really just opinion. In fact one could argue that “Hugo” relies on nostalgia just as much as “The Artist” does. So whose opinion is it exactly that chose “The Artist”? The LA Times recently ran an article analyzing exactly who the academy is. The answer? Old white men. The academy is 94 percent white, 77 percent male, has a median age of 62 years old, and 64 percent have never been nominated by the academy. Of roughly 6,000 members, only 6 percent, 360 people, are non-Caucasian voters. If the Oscars are representing the whole film industry, where are the women? Where are the other ethnicities? Where are the people who generate the most revenue for films, the people without grey hair and hearing aids?

The one thing the academy really hates is progress. In 1982, the film “Tron” was a large technical achievement, using computer technology to create its effects. However, when the Oscars rolled around, the film wasn’t nominated for Best Visual effects, though it was for Best Costume Design and Best Sound.

“The Academy thought we cheated by using computers,” said “Tron” director Steven Lisberger. Today, computers are used for the vast majority of effects in films. That was very evident this year, especially with nominee “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which pushed motion-capture technology to new heights. Actor Andy Serkis has become somewhat of a motion capture god, as the man behind Gollum from “Lord of the Rings” and King Kong from the 2005 remake. In “Rise,” he portrayed Caesar the ape, in what many considered to be an Oscar-worthy performance. However there was no chance for a nomination, as Serkis is technically never onscreen. His performance is beneath the CGI creation, and although some could argue a lot of the acclaim for the performance should really go to the animators, Serkis’ performance is very much still present.

“Rise” didn’t even win the effects award, which went instead to “Hugo.” Motion capture was also discriminated against in the animation category, where Steven Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin” was shut out. “Tintin” was performed on soundstages by actors, and their performances were the applied to CGI characters (Serkis is also in “Tintin,” and the same company produced the effects for both films).

So if the Oscars are no place for progress, what are they for? Nostalgia? “Oscar-bait,” like the 9/11 sadness-porn “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”? Is it simply just a show for us to learn, once again, that Meryl Streep is a great actress? We aren’t tuning in for the celebrities. For that we can watch the Golden Globes, where most of them are drunk and the show is actually entertaining.

So how exactly do we stop this? The only way to get the Oscars to change is to stop paying so much attention to them. Maybe the Oscars never will change, but if that’s the case, then it really does no good to pay any attention to them whatsoever. I’m not even sure I’ll watch next year. This year I barely did—the jokes were stale, Billy Crystal has hosted plenty of times, and everything was too disappointing and predictable. Where’s the fun in that?