The Oscars. I basically hate them. Oscar voters are notorious for not watching the films, and instead voting based on what their friends liked. And it took two years of fierce organizing online (April Reign’s #OscarsSoWhite) and offline for the Oscar voter base to expand and diversify. But as fake, absurd, and even gross as the Oscars can be, they still represent an important career milestone…and they present one of the year’s best spectacles. So, let’s talk Oscars.
Do you see signs that the Oscars are making positive change? Either in terms of transforming the voting base to better represent Hollywood, or in terms of nominating and awarding more diverse films?
Veronique Emma Houxbois: I don’t think we’ll be able to really say until the envelopes get opened at the very soonest. A big slate of better nominations that don’t actually lead to wins in those categories wouldn’t be progress of any measurable kind, and even in a best case scenario, how will two years of incremental progress look five years from now? Ten years from now? That, unfortunately, is when I think we’ll really be able to see if this year’s nominations are outliers or part of a larger trend.
Clara Mae: We’re definitely starting to see more diversity in who’s getting nominated (but like Emma said, we’ll have to wait and see if this is an upward trend). Mudbound’s Rachel Morrison is the first ever female cinematographer nominee. Dee Rees is the first black woman nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. Strong Island’s Yance Ford is the first trans director nominated. These are all important milestones.
Kat Overland: I think there have been some forward-looking changes for the better recently—like making sure all voting members receive screeners, new membership requirements (an invitation gets you 10 years of membership and then you can reapply if you are still “active” in creating films, after 3 stints you are conferred with lifetime membership), and a code of conduct for members. These, along with the Academy’s focus on finding new, diverse members to invite, seems to be slowly working to change the face of the average Oscar voter. What that means in the long run is definitely still up in the air, and I don’t want to take this year’s more diverse crop of nominees as a symbol of some great change just yet, but they’re doing something.
Rosie Knight: I think that it’s a strange moment in the history of the Academy, as they’re obviously attempting to do more in regards to representation like Kat referenced, whilst still conforming to the elitist, racist structure that the Academy has all represented. I feel like the fact that a film like Get Out can be celebrated alongside a racist mess like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a great microcosm of where the Oscars are at.
Jazmine Joyner: I feel like any advancements in the Academy are wishy-washy if the diverse nominees aren’t the ones also winning the awards. It’s one thing to be invited to the table and another to not be served once you get there, if that analogy even makes sense.
How much do the Oscars matter?
Emma: More than they deserve to, probably. They do impact the distribution of a lot of independent and foreign films, which is where the genuinely diverse films are mostly going to come from, so it doesn’t really do anyone any good to divest from them entirely, which is too bad because I’m not a huge fan of chasing after decaying, historically racist, and sexist institutions to get their act together and join the current century. I’d rather let them crumble to dust and be forgotten.
Better distribution of Oscars isn’t going to solve Hollywood’s entrenched racism, misogyny, or any of the other forms of discrimination it perpetuates, though. Oscars don’t have the cultural cachet or economic knock on effect to push studios to chase black-directed horror as a viable concept because of Get Out, for example. For more black directors, especially women, to get nominated, there need to be more black directors getting hired to make movies with significant budgets and studio backing, which is the larger goal anyway.
If the Oscar voting was consistently reflective of the depth and breadth of excellence in film, it would be a barometer of where Hollywood is in that regard, not the other way around.
Amanda Hardebeck: Pretty much agree with everything Emma has brought up. For me, the Oscars stopped being important when the winners became predictable and dull. When was the last time you held your breath wondering who would win? For me, it was 1999. It needs new ideas, creativity, and as we all have discussed, diversity.
Kat: I think of the Oscars as retaining cultural relevance these days because there isn’t much of a monoculture left beyond award shows—the Oscars are a way for people to sort of “benchmark” their own tastes against, for better or for worse. The Oscars were absolutely a gateway for me into being more interested in, hmm, prestige films? As a kid working out her tastes, the Oscars nominees were a good list of films that were generally agreed upon as “good” or “important” and I could go from there to decide if I agreed with “critical consensus,” etc. Paying attention to Oscar noms was a fun way to pick out what movies to see with friends, and it was a good exercise in developing my own tastes.
As an institution for actually judging what’s good or not, I don’t know that they’ve ever been “relevant” because they’ve often only rewarded a specific kind of quality, which is why we have terms like “Oscar-bait” in the first place. The prestige circuit is awful at handling genres beyond drama, but I think a lot of creators of “genre” films are still chasing this cultural cachet awards can give them—”it’s not just a superhero film, it’s got an Oscar nomination,” you know? Get Out being recognized as a horror film is an achievement, but it’s a double-edged sword of having to be THE horror film of the year, tackling serious issues, AND make above and beyond at the box office to earn those accolades.
Anyway, it’s all a toss up—2005 gave us Crash as Best Picture winner but it ALSO gave us Beyoncé performing every song nominated.
Rosie: The Oscars seem like an outdated tradition to me, but they are clearly still relevant as a cultural touchstone. They’re also a good barometer of how out of touch the institutional aspects of Hollywood are, often missing fantastic movies ’cause they don’t fit into the ideal of what an Oscar movie can be. Though this year I feel like they’ve moved slightly towards relevance by recognising Get Out.
Jazmine: I think the Oscars are an outdated concept because of who they have in the Academy itself. If they were to diversify their membership and branch out, then I think that more of the relevant films that are talked about on Twitter and in the media would bring a relevance to the awards ceremony itself. Having the same “Oscar bait” films nominated year after year makes it hard to want to watch year after year. But I agree with Rosie that including Get Out in this year’s nominations is a great step toward relevancy.
Clara: I agree with everything said above. I’m equally as cynical about the institution itself, but I understand how important the mere fact of getting recognized by the age-old Academy can be for smaller films. It reminds me of Slumdog Millionaire from back in 2008; it had an indie cast of then complete unknowns, with an Asian man (Dev Patel) as the lead. Fox Searchlight Pictures said it “earned more than a third of its box office take after the nominations, and another 30 percent after the [Big Picture] win.” Oscars don’t matter much to me, personally, but they certainly matter for indie and marginalized creators and actors, and that I care about.
What do you think of this year’s crop of nominees? Are there films or work that don’t deserve to be there? Some that do but were ignored?
Emma: I think you can carve out all of Dunkirk and The Darkest Hour’s nominations, to start with. I got fed up with Hollywood carrying water for English conservatism when Meryl Streep did that nauseating Margaret Thatcher biopic. Churchill was an unapologetic, bloodthirsty genocidal maniac whose crowning achievement in life was going to war both against and alongside a rogue’s gallery of bloodthirsty genocidal maniacs. Creating big, sweeping, sexy aerial shots out of the gruesome history of Dunkirk, set to a Hans Zimmer score, isn’t high art, either. It’s just the creation of spectacle for spectacle’s sake. The only portrayal of Dunkirk that anyone needed in recent memory was the one in Atonement.
Most of Three Billboards’ nominations could probably stand to get rescinded too. It probably has a lot of redeeming value, but a Best Picture nomination feels like asking for too much. Either way, the nomination for Sam Rockwell is pretty loopy and doesn’t really seem to speak to anything but how much white Oscar voters need to see a redeemed white racist. I’m pretty sure that we’re less than a decade separated from Robert Downey Jr. getting nominated in that category for doing blackface in Tropic Thunder.
As much as I want to see it win in other categories, I, Tonya absolutely, positively should not be nominated for Best Editing. The irony of it is that it’s the editing that really betrayed the film by repeatedly manipulating the editing to make child abuse a tension breaking punchline.
The oversights, hmmm. The biggest one is Sir Patrick Stewart getting passed over for Logan. That was a powerhouse performance from an actor who rarely does film and may not give the Academy another chance to nominate him. James Mangold really could have stood to replace Christopher Nolan for Best Director as well. Mangold really dug in there to make Logan his magnum opus, and he’s never been nominated for Best Director. Not for Logan, nor for Girl, Interrupted, Walk the Line, or Copland.
This is a really awkward position to be in, but James Franco really deserved a Best Director nomination for The Disaster Artist. Taking on the director role as well as starring was probably the best route to really achieve full immersion into Tommy Wiseau’s world, and it paid off big time. The real case for Franco is in the montage in the closing credits, showing the painstaking level of detail they went into recreating notorious scenes from The Room.
As loopy as it would have been, a couple nominations for Ben and Josh Safdie’s Good Time would have been nice to see. Cinematography, editing, production design, and original screenplay are all categories where Good Time holds up against the frontrunners.
Clara: Mudbound should’ve reasonably gotten a Best Picture nom. You know what couldn’t have? Wonder Woman, and I don’t understand why people keep bringing it up. But if we’re talking superhero films, Thor:Ragnarok feels like it could’ve been nominated in here somewhere; I found it interesting how Taika Waititi incorporated designs and accessories from Maori culture into many of the outfits, so maybe costuming?
Kat: Gonna have to big disagree with Emma on the idea that there’s any redeeming value in Three Billboards—I went into it thinking I’d probably see a serviceable drama with some bad politics, but it wasn’t even serviceable. It’s inclusion for Best Editing is a crime. I’m sure Jon Gregory has done good work, but the editing nom in Three Billboards seems to be there for…voice-overs? Choppy cuts? Saving a heap of monologues from just being straight monologues? Who knows, but it’s very bad, and if you want an example of an amazing use of voice-over to really enrich characterization without straight up saying “you, bad character, are actually good,” then Mudbound is the nominee to see. (This is also why Three Billboards didn’t deserve a Best Original Screenplay nod).
Honestly, the poor writing of Three Billboards undercuts its acting accolades for me, too—Sam Rockwell’s character is just a pile of bad character traits, rather than a fully realized person, and Woody Harrelson’s benevolent sheriff is an even bigger mess. Frances McDormand is acting the hell out of her role, but I didn’t think Mildred had any kind of consistent center either—I’m not sure if a badly written/bad role should knock you out of an award nomination if your acting was good, so she can stay, but the guys gotta go. Replace them with Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hudland from Mudbound. Daniel Kaluuya was incredible in Get Out, in a performance that was subtle and sharp and hilarious and so many other things, wrapped up in a package that felt extremely natural, so he’s my pick for Best Actor and I’m glad to see him nominated.
I think the biggest snub for me, this entire awards season, is Doug Jones. There’s not really a category that encompasses “creature acting” in terms of how traditional film awards often are, but his role as the monster in Shape of Water was incredible—his character had to be everything: otherworldly, sensual, god-like, feral and wild, sexually appealing and dynamic, all without a human face. His performance is, of course, the lynchpin in Guillermo del Toro’s fairytale, and without that rock-solid physical believability, it would never have worked.
I also think Shape of Water not even receiving a nomination for Best Makeup is an affront, and I’m relieved it got a BAFTA nod because obviously the practical monster makeup is absolutely outrageously good. Same with I, Tonya—just because it’s not a period piece from WWII or earlier doesn’t mean historically accurate costumes and makeup don’t deserve accolades. That Wonder received a nomination, presumably for the prosthetic effects that allowed Jacob Tremblay to play a facially disfigured boy, smacks of the same ableism that always hangs around these awards. It says that while portraying a disability is a laudable feat, actually being disabled means you’ll never appear in these films.
On the technical VFX side, I would have liked to see Thor: Ragnarok nominated, in part because I think those nominations should be given to films that really push the envelope, and the film crew invented a new technique for their flashback sequences.
I’m rooting for Mudbound, Shape of Water, and Get Out for everything.
Rosie: I have to agree with Kat here, Three Billboards is out completely in my version of the nominations. I think it will be looked back upon as this generation’s Crash. A racist misstep by “well-meaning” white creatives who ended up showcasing nothing more than vague talent and their own institutional racism. Dunkirk and the Churchill movie are out for me too; I hate the way Hollywood celebrates colonialism, and Churchill was a vile eugenist fascist, so I have no interest in him. I also feel like they’re boring movies that do nothing to push forward the medium. Mudbound has been sorely snubbed, and I think that will be looked back on historically as a huge misstep, as the film is expansive, expressive, and a complete and utter gem.
Jazmine: What Kat and Rosie said.
What are your biggest, brightest hopes for Oscar night? Don’t give me a breakdown of what you want to see happen in every category. What do you MOST want to see happen?
Emma: I don’t want to have hopes because the Oscars are so great at dashing them. Get Out for Best Picture, though. That would completely immolate the idea of what a Best Picture winner looks like, even more so than The Hurt Locker did.
Clara: For Mudbound and Get Out to win in all their respective categories, honestly. And I’d love it if every woman who goes up on the mic just drags the hell out of Hollywood and all the men. Three hour roast, please.
Amanda: I’d love to see Get Out sweep up every category they’re nominated for. I’m a die hard fan of Sally Hawkins so I want her to win and beat Streep. I’d also love for Morrison to be the first woman to get that Best Cinematography Oscar.
Rosie: To see Get Out win four of the “big five” would be a huge moment; it would make me incredibly happy and I also think it’s totally deserved. The only other horror movie to win Best Picture was Silence of the Lambs, and I think that Get Out equals and elevates the things that were worthy in Silence of the Lambs.
Jazmine: I want all the black people and people of color to win everything they are nominated for. And I want Get Out to take home Best Picture. And I want Jimmy Kimmel to call in sick.