Finding some value in the Academy Awards

It’s not really news that the Oscars are a hot mess this year. They’ve been a hot mess since, well, forever, as far as I can tell. There’s simply a baseline of pure nonsense associated with Hollywood’s most prestigious awards ceremony. Even now, when things are changing due to all the extremely valid criticism of the ceremony and the nominations process, things still tend to go sideways in unexpected ways.

This year there are some changes that I think are for the better. The pool of voters has expanded as has the number of Best Picture nominees. I liked when the change happened that allowed the Best Picture nominees to go up to ten. But in order to hit certain thresholds, it seemed like a lot of years it was more like seven or eight nominees. That while the expanded pool is supposed to help more unusual movies get nominated, that wasn’t always happening either. (Listen, will I be bitter about having to watch War Horse for the rest of my life? Yes.)

Three yellow jellyfish swimming upside down in deep blue water.
Why does this picture show up when I search for Academy Awards? I don’t know, but it’s neat, so I’m sharing. (Photo by Georg Eiermann on Unsplash)

I think it’s good to make it mandated that ten movies get the Best Picture nominee. While that does mean you probably have a weird or unworthy option creep in, it also allows for the less traditional choices. Would Drive My Car have been nominated without this rule change? I think it probably wouldn’t.

Of course, the system isn’t perfect. We had the perfection of Moonlight winning Best Picture, but you know, Green Book, also happened.

Awards shows in general seem to be in a state of peril. Ratings are falling. They all seem to be struggling to stay relevant. People are suggesting that they might not even exist in ten years. And if that happens, does it matter? Does a lack of Oscars in the world really cause some kind of void in the world?

Ultimately, probably not really. (Especially because films will still win awards even if the actual ceremonies stop happening.) But there is something that I still sort of love about the Oscars. And I think it stems from mostly this: It helps me get a good general big picture of what’s going on in the industry and it allows me to see some pretty interesting and culturally relevant movies.

Nobody is arguing that the Best Picture nominations are literally the best movies made in that year. Especially given that a certain brand of movie has a habit of getting nominated all the time and it’s extremely frustrating. But especially since the expansion of how many movies can get nominated for Best Picture, I’ve started seeing some really cool stuff.

I’m not a super involved moviegoer. Before the pandemic, I’d hit up the theater a couple times a year for a movie I was really interested in seeing, like Knives Out but I don’t really go to the movies just because. This means, starting in 2011, when I started attending the Best Picture showcase, I was basically seeing a whole bunch of brand new to me movies all in a row.

Movie theater audience watching a film.
Imagine this for 24 hours. Except it smells funky and everyone is wrapped in a blanket and hopped up on 5 Hour Energy.

For the uninitiated, the Best Picture Showcase is put on by AMC Theaters and is an event where typically you watch all Best Picture nominees either in the course of two weekends or over the course of a very long day. (This has changed a little due to the pandemic, but it might come back!) Because I’m a bit of a glutton for punishment and love an endurance challenge, I would go to the one-day event. This meant showing up at the theater at around 9 in the morning and then stumbling out around 7 the next morning.

Some years the batch of movies is better than others but I always walked away from that event having seen at least one gem. Usually, as awards season rolls through, I have the best intentions of watching a lot of acclaimed movies, but I never quite get there. It’s hard to find the time and there’s so much to sort through. I’ve seen multiple rave reviews of Drive My Car, for example. Does this mean I’m guaranteed to watch it? No. Even if my favorite movie channel on YouTube names it their favorite film of the year, I’m still dumb enough to go watch Interview with the Vampire instead. (Which I don’t regret. It ruled.)

But the Best Picture nominees offers me a finite list and the Best Picture Showcase offers me a concrete way to go watch some of those movies catching buzz.

Over the years, this method has introduced me to movies like The Kids are All Right, Winter’s Bone, The Tree of Life, Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Philomena, Brooklyn, Room, Hell or High Water, Moonlight, Parasite. Would I have seen some of these movies regardless of whether they were nominated for Best Picture? Maybe! But that’s honestly a big maybe.

Yes, I had to see War Horse and I reluctantly sat through The Wolf of Wall Street (no shade to anyone who likes that film, but really one of my most hated watches ever). But I really have seen some pretty gorgeous, funny, moving films I never would have otherwise. And I’m grateful for that.

Without the Best Picture Showcase in 2021 and being absolutely burnt out due to, you know, everything, I’m trying to recapture a little of that Oscars joy. I’m aiming for the modest goal of watching all 10 nominees before the ceremony happens at the end of March. I’m also hoping to do little write ups about those movies. I will let wiser people than me continue to call the Academy out for all their bad choices.

Meanwhile? I’m going to drum up some opinions about Don’t Look Up (too long) and The Power of the Dog (classic Campion weirdness).

Share your Oscars opinions, if you have ’em!

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