What a year for movies, eh? At the time of writing we are midway through February, also known as that time of year where people don’t go to the movies, and if they do it’s only to catch up on what they missed over the Christmas season. Star Wars, the big event movie of the year and the climax of the 2015 cinema year, has come and gone and made all the money it could. As did The Avengers 2. A number of unexpected successes happened and film series that prove to be successes with their name alone succeeded.
On the topic of those movies you may have missed we are also crossing over into the time of year when awards season happens. For the past few years it seems as if this was something that becomes more and more anticipated with every passing year; especially so to internet pirates as a good number of movies get leaked online. But in recent times it seems there has been a disturbingly unrelenting sense of indifference towards the Academy, and to be fair not all of it is unjustified. Since 2010 there’s been a disturbing trend of the Academy showing favouritism towards certain types of films. Now this has been happening for quite a while but this year talk of Oscar Buzz is seemingly sparse and I think I might know why. By a show of hands here who watched 2015’s ceremony? It was a total joke. It was little more than 3.5 hours of the Academy telling us what we already know about them; they hate genre films and blockbusters and they hink we’re morons for doing so. But that’s not all.. Do you know what movies are the front-runners for Best Picture? … no? Yeah, me either. In fact there are lots of reasons I can think of but these few stick out the most.
5. Subject Matter Alone Doesn’t Sell a Film Anymore
Remember last year’s The Imitation Game? The movie came out last year during the Christmas Season, and people were excited to see it for one reason; Benedict Cumberbatch. The Sherlock actor, who makes women (and some men too) want to fuck him by just opening his mouth and talking, was set to play historic British figure Alan Turing who created the computer and cracked the legendary ENIGMA code, yet unfortunately had these extraordinary feats overlooked because he was gay, which was illegal at the time. By reading that you can probably tell what I’m getting at, they came for the performer and stayed for the compelling story which turned into something more. Part of what contributed to this success was the advertising, they let you know that it was about an extraordinary figure in British history and they let audiences find out for themselves the horrible tragedy he suffered. The film was praised for its heartbreaking and hard hitting performance by Cumberbatch, and it had the side benefit of getting people to look up Alan Turing on the very thing he helped invent.
It’s rather superficial but it’s become a way of life nowadays in the annals of cinema, people do, in fact, go see a film for its star when it’s about a historical event. Unfortunately so many movies nowadays seem to think this is the exception and not the norm when in fact it’s proven to be the other way around. Just this year alone we had; Steve Jobs, which used the fact that it’s about Steve Jobs as its selling point, The Danish Girl, which used its story about Transgender icon Lilli Elbe as its selling point (among another thing that I’ll mention later), Truth, about the investigation about George W. Bush’s national guard record, and 99 Homes, a movie about the mortgage foreclosure crisis, among other things. All 4 movies I just mentioned used their stories to try to draw audiences, and predictably, all four movies failed.
If the past few years have proven anything it’s that audiences want more for their buck than just the subject matter. Opinions vary greatly on whether or not 12 Years a Slave deserved its Oscar win, and Ellen DeGeneres even joked about this in her opening monologue at The Oscars: “Possibility #1: 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility #2: you’re all racists.“ Argo got away with the same thing a year earlier, and people are almost hilariously divided on it. The majority of people in 2010 expected Avatar to win Best Picture, and what won instead? The Hurt Locker, a film about an EOD who gets off on dismantling bombs. Take a wild guess at to whether or not people remember it anymore.
4. Filmmakers and Actors Need to Stop Coasting on Previous Oscar Glories
And on the topic of The Hurt Locker, early 2013 saw the release of the ultra controversial film about the successful assassination attempt on Osama Bin Laden, titled Zero Dark Thirty. Three years prior it was director Kathryn Bigelow, who made history by becoming the first female director to win the Best Director award for The Hurt Locker. People ended up seeing through Zero Dark Thirty‘s ultra-transparent ploy at recapturing The Hurt Locker‘s 2010 Best Picture glory as it won nothing at the Oscars. People are already divided on whether or not The Hurt Locker deserved its win, and Zero Dark Thirty seemed to have next to no hype surrounding it. As a result no awards were won for it.
Flash forward to this year, and probably the biggest standouts as far as this tired and boring trope is Eddie Redmayne’s for his performance as pre-Lilli Elbe transition Einar Wegener in The Danish Girl. Why exactly is this transparent? Consider that last year Redmayne won the Oscar for his performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. There’s something of an unwritten rule in the Oscar Bait handbook that people who play disabled/gay/physically different/ugly/fat characters will win the Oscar. Now there is something of an exception to that. Redmayne did do a fantastic job in what was a mostly flat and lifeless movie clearly tailored for winning awards, but the problem is that when you consider that other than basically saving the disaster that was Jupiter Ascending (Stupider Ascending?), he was known for… uh, My Week with Marilyn, Les Mis and now it’s The Danish Girl. You probably are sensing something of a pattern here. Eddie Redmayne may be a universally fuckable and fantastic actor, but if 3 of 4 of your biggest glories as an actor are films that were clearly tailored for awards, that’s a sign you may need to broaden your horizons as an actor.
Look, if you’re a great actor or filmmaker, good for you. But if it’s clear that you’re spending basically every movie trying to win awards you’re kind of a fucking asshole, and basically trying to compensate for a small penis or something else. This is why I found it so refreshing that despite all the times Leo DiCaprio got unfairly snubbed (and if my review of The Revenant is anything to swear by, I sincerely hope that changes this year), it got to a point where Leo responded to all the outrage by saying something along the lines of “I’m flattered you think that about me, but I’m not in this to win awards.” The fact that he has such a cool attitude about being snubbed really says something about how seriously he takes acting as an art form. Same thing goes for Martin Scorsese. Both people I just mentioned are two famous people who deserve to be made example of for having such passion about what they do. That and they’re both really fucking amazing artists.
3. Hardly Anybody Cares About Biopics or True Stories Anymore (unless they’re somewhat obscure cases)
As I’m typing this paragraph, I have one Firefox tab open, a double shot Nespresso in front of me, some Iron Maiden playing (those two help me think when writing) and I am scrolling through the list of the 2016 nominations on the Oscars’ website. Let’s see here. In the Best Picture category four nominations are true stories/biographies; The Big Short, The Revenant, Spotlight and Bridge of Spies. 80% (four of five) of the Best Actor nominees are real life actor portrayals (the sole exception being Matt Damon in The Martian). Same thing for Supporting Actor (Rocky fucking Balboa being the sole exception). 60% of Best Supporting Actress are based on real people. Same thing for Director. You get where this is going? I’m not gonna go any further with this as half of “The Red and the Black” went by as I looked that all up (that’s 6:17 of a song that runs 13:34 minutes long). Oh, and you seriously didn’t know The Revenant is based on a true story? Guess what, it even said that in the main trailer. If you think all these statistics I just listed are basically some sort of Fight Club type bullshit that only gets repeated on Wall Street trading floors, you’re one incredibly dense motherfucker.
Now let’s look at some facts here; The Danish Girl got a limited release and hugely mixed receptions by people who aren’t film critics, and at best The Big Short, Spotlight, and Bridge of Spies were sleeper/modest successes. And then you have Steve Jobs which was a box office disaster. The only one of these movies that had anything resembling notable success was The Revenant, which opened on Christmas day in limited release and expanded to theaters on the first major movie weekend in January, taking in a whopping 36 million and coming in second next to the new Star Wars movie (and beating it the next weekend). Why? Because it was that good looking. Oh, and Leo was in it. And maybe the fact that it was made by Alejandro G. Innaritu. Hardly anyone knew who Hugh Glass was before the film came out. People just went and saw it because it was that movie where Leo nearly died, almost went insane, and ate meat while filming it. People synonymize movies like The Big Short and Bridge of Spies with the Christmas season where people go and see those “Oscar movies” anyways, so naturally they’re going to be box office slow burns.
2. Audiences Are More Likely to Remember a Best Picture Winner That Doesn’t Adhere to The Academy’s Seeming Formula
The reason I consider the latter half of the 2000s to be something of a golden age for the Academy was because the movies that weren’t blatant “Oscar Bait” were the most likely winners. Even if I didn’t agree with a winner at least they didn’t pull a Crash. Yep, count me in as being among the many who was disappointed that movie with the gay cowboys whose relationship had ridiculous amounts more depth than most movie heterosexual relationships lost the Best Picture win it deserved. But imagine my surprise in 2007 when The Departed won. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since that movie came out as I can still remember seeing it at the cinema. It was quite possibly one of the greatest things that I had ever seen, and much like my appreciation for Casino Royale my appreciation for it is both a mix of nostalgia and appreciation for a movie that really has stood the test of time (grey United 757s in the airport scene notwithstanding). So imagine my delight when a movie that deserved its award finally won, and thankfully that continued for two years. I loved No Country for Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire just as much as The Departed, if entirely for different reasons.
Since 2010 it appears to be that the mostly blatant Oscar Bait is what’s running home with the awards. Guess what? Today I still see people discussing No Country and The Departed on message boards, and I also am still having discussions about them with my friends. Other than Argo, and perhaps maybe 4 people who have made a mention of 12 Years a Slave that wasn’t the sadly all-too-true joke that Ellen made in her opening speech at the 2014 ceremony, I can’t remember the last time I have seen anyone make mentions of the next few years. The Artist? Was that a good movie? Yes. Memorable? To me, maybe, but I’m a film buff, and it’s the public that the Oscars are mostly trying to appeal to. Let’s see the subject matter of the 2010s winners…
2010: The Hurt Locker: Jeremy Renner thinks that fucking Evangeline Lilly is boring and prefers defusing bombs in Iraq.
2011: The King’s Speech: Colin Firth is the King of England and stutters. And befriends Geoffrey Rush. And says “Fuck” a lot.
2012: The Artist: The silent movie about a hack director with a cute dog.
2013: Argo: America saves the world via a fake movie. Okay, Canada. But you get the point.
2014: 12 Years a Slave: Solomon Northup’s story that if you didn’t like you’re racist. Sorry.
2015: Birdman: That one-take movie about a superhero show actor who’s washed up.
See where this is going? There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these movies, but I cared for a grand total of three of six of them. Not that I think I’m right or anything but you get what I’m saying, right? That they appeal to the Academy’s “winner” criteria is all they have going for them in the year 2016. Remember in 2009 when several comic fans were frustrated that The Dark Knight got snubbed? Or in 2010 when a lot of people were disappointing Avatar lost to… The Hurt Locker? Opinions aside, the increasing indifference towards best picture winners and the academy in general can be attributed to the lack of truly memorable winners. I was excited back in 2008 to bring my DVD copy of No Country For Old Men to friends’ houses to show the movie to them, even if I liked it more than they did. The magic of my first viewing at a smallish cinema in Burlington, Ontario in February 2008 still lingers in my mind eight years later. Also do keep in mend that that time, in general, was a hell of a time to be seeing movies in cinemas with There Will Be Blood and Cloverfield stealing the box office. Nowadays… I have Argo and The King’s Speech in my Blu-ray collection… not much else to add there.
1. This Bias Against Blockbusters Needs to End
This may seem like an odd claim to make because among the Best Picture nominees this year is none other than Mad Max: Fury Road, which might not have been a box office smash but was a guaranteed cult hit since the mere teaser trailer’s release. However calling it a Blockbuster may be a bit of a stretch to describe it, it’s basically a B-movie with a fuck ton of money thrown at it. But I see this as something of progress. The last big blockbuster to be nominated for Best Picture was Inception, the 2010 summer action thriller that fucked with everybody’s minds. And It too mostly had its story ignored in favour of its technical aspects as far as awards went. And say what you will about Avatar, but you cannot deny that for all its unoriginality it sure was an experience of a movie. Everybody and their mothers went to go see it and even if it was basically Dances With Ferngully in Space in 3D, there wasn’t a single soul not talking about it.
You know what movie basically everyone and their mum loved? Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That may seem a tad irrelevant to mention but consider that the series as a whole has had 22 nominations but only 7 wins, and of those 7 A New Hope took 6 of them. Tons of people wondered if The Force Awakens was going to be nominated. Very few denied that it was worthy, and I can tell you I certainly thought it was far more deserving than most of the actual nominees. There was also even a time when there was buzz for The Winter Soldier, and even Straight Outta Compton generated some buzz. If there’s any point I’m trying to make it’s that there’s been a disturbing amount of bias towards Blockbusters in the past little while. I mean hell, even District 9 was more deserving of Best Picture than The Hurt Locker. Many were outraged that The Dark Knight didn’t get a nomination despite being the most well-reviewed movie of 2008.
Nobody knows where this sudden bias towards blockbusters came from, but it sure is jarring to say the least. Sure, not all blockbusters are good, but The Avengers is more likely to have people talking about it than something like Lincoln, and that’s not even scratching the surface. I love me a good thought provoking character piece, but sometimes a movie with larger scale can have better storytelling than that slow, low budget indie. Either way let’s hope that nomination for Mad Max Fury Road marks something of progress for The Academy and isn’t just a fluke.