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.