Should the Academy Awards honor a wider variety of films?

Although the Academy Awards ceremony is a time-honored Hollywood tradition, the last few years, it has seemed to be a tradition in trouble. The televised broadcast of the ceremony has been drawing a decreasing number of viewers, despite Hollywood’s efforts to attract a wider audience.

I’ve heard various theories about why the ceremony doesn’t seem to be drawing as much interest from the public. It could have something to do with the fact that, since the rise of cable, video-on-demand and instant streaming like Netflix, there’s so many options of things to watch at any given time that network programs just aren’t attracting the same number of viewers they used to. I’ve also heard some critics argue the average movie-goer is starting to feel the Oscars aren’t in touch with the type of movies they go to see.

Right or wrong, the same type of movies do seem to be nominated for the Oscars every year. More serious films like biopics and dramas about social issues tend to fill up the “best picture” category. Not that there’s anything wrong with these types of films; in fact, I think it’s important these types of films get made. The phrase “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it” is all too true, and historical dramas about important, pivotal moments in our past remind us of the mistakes we’ve made as a culture and why we need to be cautious about making those same mistakes in the future. One of this year’s best picture nominees, “War Horse,” is a great example of a powerful, serious drama about the emotional costs of war, and it was one of my favorite movies last year.

However, I do think sometimes the Academy has been guilty of snubbing some very deserving films for its “best picture” category, simply on the basis they didn’t fit the typical “best picture” mold. Comedies and films that are heavy on sci-fi and/or fantasy tend not to fare as well at the Oscars, regardless of how well-written, directed or acted they may be. Although there have been some notable exceptions — such as the 11-Oscar sweep by the “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” — films like these don’t seem to be honored as often as other types of films.

For example, “The Dark Knight,” Christopher Nolan’s second Batman film, generated “best picture” Oscar buzz when it was released in 2008, thanks in no small part to the late Heath Ledger’s very chilling performance as the Joker. However, even though Ledger received a “best supporting actor” award, the film itself didn’t make the best picture category. The Academy perhaps hesitated to nominate it because it was a super hero movie, even though it was well-received by critics and the public.

Just because an actor or actress isn’t in a more “serious” film, doesn’t mean they don’t put as much time and effort into their roles. I thought one of the best performances in a film last year was Michael Fassbender as Magneto in “X-Men: First Class” (actually, it was a year of great performances for Fassbender, and I’m disappointed he didn’t get an Oscar nod, even though he was rumored to for the movie “Shame.”). He brought so much depth and nuance to his role in “X-Men,” and he received critical praise for his work. It also would be nice to see the Academy honor the work of Andy Serkis, the actor whose motion-capture performances for films like “Lord of the Rings,” “King Kong” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” have been truly amazing.

Now, in the Academy’s defense, I can see why they consistently nominate certain types of films. Comedies and big-budget, special effects-heavy epics tend to receive a lot of press and make a lot of money at the box office, while the Oscars are a chance to nominate some smaller-budget, more serious films that otherwise might not get as much attention. I think this is a valid point; I just wish the Academy would make some room more often for truly great comedies and action, sci-fi or fantasy films (the latter of which typically only show up in the “best visual effects” awards category).

One suggestion I’ve heard tossed around is creating a separate awards category for comedies, and I think this is an intriguing idea. What if the Academy divided its “best picture” category into several sub-categories, such as “best comedy,” “best drama, “best action/adventure,” etc.? This might give the Academy a chance to honor critically well-received films such as “Bridesmaids,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2” or “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.”

Also interesting to note: “Bridesmaids,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2” and “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” all happened to receive a higher score from film critics on Rotten Tomatoes than several of the 2012 “best picture” nominees.

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5 thoughts on “Should the Academy Awards honor a wider variety of films?

  1. Great idea – Best Picture sub-categories.

    Only the Academy will say, Nahhh, that’s what the Golden Globes does. We can’t do what they do.

    Stuck in time, tied to a tradition…unable to move forward. They seem to want to attract the viewers, but the only thing they do is change the hosts. It seems it is always about ratings (the producers think this way), and the glamour and prestige (the performers and creators think this way).

    Certainly winning these awards is a wonderful way to measure success – but I thing the Guild Awards are more prestigious in their own way because these awards are voted by their peers (Actors, Writers, Directors). But these are lacking only the external prestige which is a function of the media coverage.

    Personally, I’m looking forward to Billy Crystal hosting this year’s Oscars. Yet I’m sure that many younger viewers will call him a relic from the past.

    So yeah, I agree with your position. Thanks.

    jmm

  2. You make some good points, but I’ve got to back up the Oscars on the comedy front. Comedies can rarely be considered great films, and when they are (Annie Hall, MASH, The Apartment) the academy usually does a good job of recognizing them.

    Science Fiction has gotten ripped off as many great sci-fi films do come along which aren’t recognized. For example, in a year where Oliver of all films win, 2001 wasn’t even nominated. Nor was Alien in 1979. Fantasy mind you rarely has a lot of great films. The biggest exception of course is LOTR which was recognized with three BP nominations and a win.
    I agree that biopics are overly recognized, especially considering that biopics are usually boring on principle.
    I don’t like having the different categories mind you. For one, trying to fit films into specific genres like that could be difficult. What about Forrest Gump? Drama or comedy? Matrix would go in the best Sci-fin category, but wait, its also a spectacular action film. Too many problems can arise.

  3. There are essentially movies that are made to get awards now. They’re a certain type and style of film. There are also “seasons” for when these movies are released. It’s one of those things where they essentially pick films that genre of films they’ve created and it seems like it’s not always a matter of whether those films, performances, scripts, etc. are actually that good or not, but because they are the right type. That and I think the academy gives awards to people sometimes for outside reasons or because that person (or franchise) has yet to be recognized when they should have earlier.

    I think comedies just get completely screwed. To actually make a really good comedy is rare and I think those films just kind of get ignored, especially the performances. People take comedies for granted and think anyone can be funny. I mean the actors are acknowledging how much harder those performances are.

  4. @JustMeMike – Thanks for reading! 🙂 I agree, the Academy Awards are a good tradition, I just think it’s maybe time for them to take another look at how and why they give the awards, and who they give them to. I think if they honor a wider mix of films, it might draw in a wider audience.

    @ianthecool – You bring up some good points. I think having two many best picture sub-categories could get confusing, and I think it would probably work best if they kept it fairly simple, like maybe just best drama, best comedy, and best action/adventure (I’d lump sci-fi films like The Matrix, spy films like Casino Royale, and fantasy films like Lord of the Rings into the action/adventure category).

    @Nic – Yeah, it does seem like certain movies are made just as a shot at the “best picture” Oscar. And I think you’re right: really good, original comedies are rare, and these can be tough films to make. Good comedy looks effortless, but it’s challenging to be genuinely funny and original.

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