Monday, 30 January 2017

Does Winning An Oscar Really Matter?


Winning an Oscar is great and all, but is it really all that it’s cracked up to be?

The annual awards circus is upon us once again. Filled with frocks, faux pas and fake smiles, numerous red carpets are being rolled out to receive reams of bedazzled famous faces, all of whom are hoping to drive home with a gilded statuette of some bloke resting on their laps.

We place a lot of value on those who have walked away a winner on Oscar night; just ask Leonardo DiCaprio. For years the Internet yearned for Leo to finally nab one – and then he did in 2016 so we all collectively rejoiced and laid the dank memes to rest.

Apparently, an actor or filmmaker can’t claim to have truly arrived until they score an Oscar statue of some kind. Right? Eh, not exactly. Even though it’s all very exciting and generates a lot of gossip, the Oscars aren’t actually good for all that much (and this is coming from someone who gets invested every year and is genuinely still upset that Eddie Redmayne beat Michael Keaton back in 2015). 

Across its 100-year history, the Academy Awards have made a habit of routinely shunning some of the best and brightest talents and minds of the era – which sort of defeats the purpose of rewarding those who produce the best films, surely?

When was the last time you popped in The English Patient, The Artist or
The King's Speech over something like Fargo, Moneyball or Black Swan?

Filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma and Alfred Hitchcock have famously never won anything for their directorial efforts, with the latter losing out in the Best Director category on five separate occasions. Kubrick’s entire catalogue only took home a single Oscar win; 2001: A Space Odyssey won Best Visual Effects in 1969. For those of you playing along at home, that’s the same number of Oscars as Tim Burton’s 2010 remake of Alice in Wonderland and Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour. So it’s not like the Academy is a great barometer of quality and lasting legacy, huh?

The same could be said for actors; Bill Murray has never won an Oscar but do we view his filmography with any less reverence? I find it hard to imagine that his beloved standing amongst cinephiles could go any higher, Oscar or not. The same can be said for umpteen actors and actresses from across the decades; for many people, Harrison Ford is the literal embodiment of sharp and sophisticated Hollywood stars. He is Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Jack Ryan in the flesh – we don’t need the Academy to tell us Ford is a living legend, he has crafted that legacy without their adulation.

The same goes for Gary Oldman, Edward Norton or Joaquin Phoenix; their back catalogues speak for themselves. Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Annette Benning and Sigourney Weaver have all been denied Hollywood’s highest honour – but that hasn’t hindered their standing as some of the most talented actresses to grace our screens. 

Some may think that winning an Oscar is also guaranteed to usher in a string of professional riches for the lucky winners, but too often that isn’t the case. Hunger Games sensation Jennifer Lawrence has racked up a surprising number of nominations (four) and one win at the tender age of 26 but it wasn’t until recently with Passengers that she was given a bigger slice of the pie than her male co-stars, financially speaking. 

You only have to glance at the list of the highest paid actors across the industry today to see that those raking in the most cash aren’t necessarily those who took home the most awards. Robert Downey Jnr routinely makes in excess of $50 million for each Avengers performance whilst Johnny Depp is still throwing on funny hats and making bank despite never winning an Oscar. Meanwhile I don’t see Disney or Marvel throwing $10 million at Mark Rylance or JK Simmons, the two most recent winners in the Best Supporting Actors category; Brie Larson isn’t in the same pay grade as DiCaprio even though they won comparable categories on the same night.

Essentially, what I’m trying to say is, it doesn’t matter whether La La Land scored four, 14 or zero nominations; what matters is how it is making audiences feel. The same goes for Moonlight or Manchester by the Sea or any of the other films nominated this year; after the cameras inside the Dolby Theatre have gone out on February 26 and all the very attractive famous people have gone home, regardless of who won or not, these films will continue to captivate and enthral audiences long afterward. 

Their messages and emotions will continue to spread to people across the world, hopefully reaching as diverse an audience as possible – not because they won a shiny statue that some crusty old white people voted for, but because they carry weight and significance. Because filmmakers like Barry Jenkins, Damien Chazelle and Denis Villeneuve have crafted movies with meaning – just like the umpteen other filmmakers out there who weren’t ‘fortunate’ enough to have their work put on a pedestal and paraded across Hollywood. 

Films like Sing Street, The Witch, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Midnight Special all characterised my cinema experiences in 2016 but didn’t get a look in at the Oscars; should I feel any less moved by their characters or narratives because they can’t claim to have been ‘Oscar nominated?’ No, of course not. Films mean so much more than just handing out trophies and racking up stats; we can leave that sort of thing to sports thank you very much. 

Rather than taking a snub personally, just brush it off with a shrug. So what Amy Adams didn’t get nominated for Arrival? That doesn’t change how moving and powerful her performance was. Who cares that Sing Street didn’t get any love for Best Original Song? It doesn’t mean I don’t still love that soundtrack to pieces. 

Don’t get me wrong; awards season is a lot of fun. But it’s also a lot of meaningless and banal bullshit that ultimately shouldn’t change how we view art or place value on what something made us think or feel. Some of the greatest films, directors and actors of all time have been overlooked whilst a lot of terrible actors have won awards that look silly in hindsight.

Enjoy the Oscars, lap up the glamour and laugh at all the gaffes - but don’t forget that there is a whole myriad of wonderful films out there whose enduring qualities don’t change regardless of who wins or loses on the night.

This article was originally published over at Hooked on Film, a Perth based website where you can find even more new release movie reviews, features, interviews and insight. Click here to check it out.

4 comments:

  1. I get what you're saying, and I agree to an extent. La La Land is an overall blowjob to Hollywood and the Academy, so 14 nominations is completely unsurprising. But, for extremely independent films like Moonlight, I think Academy recognition and potential wins is tremendous, because the wins it's already received has gotten it more attention from the general public who wouldn't necessarily have known it existed.

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    1. That's a really awesome point! The Academy does raise the profile of smaller films like Moonlight, which is why it always amuses me when people complain that mainstream summer blockbusters aren't nominated when they are 'films that people have seen.' Like, that's not what the Oscars are about - it's about giving the best films recognition, regardless of size. Thanks for commenting Courtney :)

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  2. Well, considering that there's so many great films and so many talented people that haven't won any. I would probably say no to some extent. Sure, it can give you some validity to your work and maybe more money but it can also hurt your career given the expectations that is demanded from the industry to deliver and prove you're not some fluke. Some like George C. Scott and Woody Allen have won Oscars but to them, it's just a fucking award.

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    1. Great comment! Outside of awards season it's kind of cute to think back to how uptight everyone gets when 'their movie' doesn't get the nominations they think it deserves - but at the end of the day, does it really matter? Is DiCaprio a better actor now because he won an award?

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