There are dozens, nay hundreds of movie awards ceremonies that take place every year, but there’s only one that sucks the air out of the room and leaves everyone dizzy with anticipation and excitement. The Oscars occupy their own rarefied atmosphere, the awards ceremony that demands more attention than any other, and which is seen as the pinnacle of any winner’s career. In recent years it’s been dogged by controversy, from accusations of racial inequality in its membership, to the mix up over the Best Film winner (Moonlight? La La Land?), and this year, whether Kevin Hart should or shouldn’t be the host (when the better question was, aside from Ellen DeGeneres, was anyone really excited when his name came up?). This year’s crop of nominees was announced today, and looking through the main categories, it’s hard not to wonder if the Oscars pre-eminence in the world of awards-giving is entirely deserved. Perhaps this year’s social media trend should be, #OscarsTooSafe.
The Best Film – sorry, Motion Picture of the Year (how grand!) – category is particularly dismaying. Can anyone really say that Bohemian Rhapsody or Vice deserve to be there when the likes of First Reformed, Leave No Trace, and Eighth Grade were also released in 2018? How can the Academy justify such safe choices when up to ten movies can be nominated? There’s not even a dark horse to make it look even halfway interesting (how cool would it have been to have seen Mission: Impossible – Fallout make the list, a movie that critics and audiences both agreed was one of the very best movies of 2018). And don’t get me wrong, but good as Black Panther was, Avengers: Infinity War was easily the better movie. So why isn’t that nominated instead if it’s time to be acknowledging superhero movies?
The acting categories also reflect the Academy’s inability to sort the wheat ffrom the chaff, with the same names showing up for tuxedo/gown duty like regulars at an all you can eat buffet. Good as he was in Vice, Christian Bale has given better performances in other movies, while Willem Dafoe’s portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate is one of the Academy’s usual attempts at highlighting a performance hardly anyone has seen. You want to applaud this, but the likelihood of Dafoe winning on the night seems as likely as Kevin Spacey turning up as a surprise presenter. On the distaff side, it’s hard not to be cynical over the choices of Lady Gaga (nominated for playing herself), and Melissa McCarthy (nominated for being serious), while anyone who has seen The Favourite is probably wondering why Olivia Colman isn’t the only actress to be nominated (she’s that good). Oh, and if you were Nicole Kidman, you might also be wondering what you had to do to get noticed.
If the Oscars are truly about recognising the best that 2018 had to offer (or any year for that matter), then they desperately need a major overhaul. With all the talk of inclusivity over the last few years, let’s jettison ideas such as needing to separate animated and foreign language movies into their own categories; why can’t they be Best Motion Pictures too? (And can anyone explain how Roma can be up for Best Motion Picture and Best Foreign Language Film this year?) Conversely though, can we please stop pitting black and white movies against their colour counterparts in the Best Achievement in Cinematography category; these are two entirely different disciplines – and besides, black and white should win hands down every time. And lastly, whoever does host the show, is it too much to ask that they actually be funny for a change? (Silly question; of course it is.)