What’s happened to the Academy Awards?
A.O. Scott in The New York Times today said “The wonderful thing about the Academy Awards is that they are fundamentally trivial”. He has a point, at least intellectually if not financially, given that the winners involved can roll around in money screaming ‘they love me, they love me’. Anyway, his comment did remind me of some of the greater injustices of Oscar winners. My all time favourite example is 1997.
In 1997 the modern film noir L.A Confidential was nominated against some films that are still classics: the endearing As Good as it Gets, the unexpectedly moving, beautifully tempered Good Will Hunting as well as one of my all time favourite British comedies The Full Monty. Who can guess which film won best film that year? Go on have a guess. It was TITANICally bad. Yes. Against these four wonderful films, the film which won was Titanic. If ever we needed evidence that the Academy Awards was a trivial celebration of the commercial then 1997 certainly would be the year to hold up and show to our friends saying ‘see? see? Is there any justice?’ This piece of Hollywood fluff saw some of our best actors turn in their most absurd performances and also gave us one of the most cringe worthy acceptance speeches of all time (James Cameron’s misinformed decision to hold his Oscar aloft and say ‘I’m the King of the world!’. Tumbleweed drifted). In 1976 Rocky won both best picture and best director against Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver. In 1980 Ordinary People won against Raging Bull (again best picture and best director). You may notice a theme here: generally the Oscars do not reward innovation in film. They reward the fairy tales, the heart warming, fantasy affirming stories that Hollywood produces so well. I love Rocky. I love it, I love the young Sly, I love that he wrote the movie and demanded to star in it even though the execs thought he was a terrible actor. But courageous, world examining film making Rocky is not. It is a classic Oscar winner.
Yet last night, something kind of weird happened. Not only was there an array of wonderful, challenging movies up for nomination, there was not a single commercial heavyweight among them. It was hard to pick which ones I wanted to win, because they all deserved to. Yet I wonder what this means for Hollywood when the films being lauded are universally outside the Hollywood model. I honestly like the Hollywood model, I liked Rocky, I thought Forrest Gump was charming, Jaws was scary and The English Patient was romantic and sad. Where are those films that once Hollywood did so well? The commercial, grand and heart warming? The divide between good cinema and Hollywood cinema grows greater every year and this year’s Oscars are a landmark in which even the Hollywood elite cannot find something to reward themselves for. A sad day for the fundamentally trivial, fairy tales of yore that once had the whole world in Hollywood’s palm.
The Academy Awards will be broadcast tonight at 9pm on Network2. Set an alert here.
To see the full list of the winners go to: