By Alice Fishbein
Every year when Oscar season rolls around, the buzz is always about what will win the esteemed title of “Best Picture.” However the question, “What do you think will win?” is usually followed by, “What do you think should win?”—and the answers are rarely the same. The somewhat-obsessed movie-goers read reviews, criticize the critics (yes, there are those of us that appreciate a good, pretentious A.O. Scott jab), and analyze the outcomes. But just because we assumed that the winner of Best Picture would be Argo or Lincoln doesn’t mean we believed them to be the best picture of the year.
On our campus filled with
elite film critics hipsters, the buzz was all about Beasts of the Southern Wild or movies that weren’t even nominated like Moonrise Kingdom. Commonly accompanied by talk of indie-films are phrases like, “But they won’t choose that” or “that’s not an Oscar type of movie.” So why is there this split between what the audience or critics consider the best and what the Academy picks? Is there something we’re missing in the movies, or does the Academy simply choose based on a previous established model for what is considered an “Oscar-worthy” film?
The New York Times recently investigated the audience-Academy division in critical categories for the Oscars. Even our favorite political poll analyst Nate Silver attacked the question with his article “Oscar Predictions, Election-Style.” While he pointed to Argo for Best Picture, he believed that Steven Spielberg would win Best Director for Lincoln—a prize that ultimately went to Ang Lee for Life of Pi, a movie which many audiences and critics did not particularly like. In another article titled, “Oscar Favorites: New York Times Readers vs. the Intrade Market,” Times readers voted Lincoln as Best Picture, while the Intrade Market chose Argo, Steven Spielberg was easily in the lead for Best Director over Ang Lee, and Tommy Lee Jones was voted by both Times readers and the Intrade Market as likely to win Best Supporting Actor (which Christoph Waltz won).
Clearly a split exists, but why? If the “chosen” movie is to be dubbed “Best Picture of the Year,” then shouldn’t it actually be the best picture of the year? If audiences seem to disagree with the nominations, then the Oscars lose their validity, and many would argue that they already have. Before the show, many an Oberlin student told me that they weren’t watching the Oscars because, and I paraphrase, “they are stupid, they don’t mean anything, I don’t care.” And yet, many of us still watch them, even if we disagree with their choices. Why? Because we acknowledge that “Best Picture of the Year” is simply the Academy’s choice for best picture—it has it’s own specific criteria that stamps it as the Oscar-winning film of the year.
What exactly is the standard of an Oscar-winning movie? Drama, a family falling apart, and politics. Lots and lots of politics. The Annie Halls of the world—those quirky, romantic comedies that dig strangely deep—are rare gems that more often than not are excluded from the Oscars. Does that mean we like any “Non-Oscar” movie any less? No. There is a reason that festivals like Sundance, where “Beasts of the Southern Wild” dominated, or even other awards shows like The Golden Globes exist: they are a forum for alternate types of movies. There, the Wes Andersons of the film industry can unite.
This is the commonly understood—though sometimes still disputed—view of awards shows in Hollywood. It’s the same reason that Woody Allen never shows up to them, even when he wins. (We were so looking forward to your anti-Oscar, neurotic “Midnight in Paris” speech, Woody.) So what do we, as audiences, do? Watch as our least favorite movies win awards or ignore the festivities altogether? It’s a balance: we acknowledge that this is simply how the Oscars work, and rarely does the outcast win. But when they do, we could always just do what Quentin Tarantino does: put two fingers up and yell, “Peace out!” After all, if he can do it, while wearing a leather tie, nonetheless, why can’t we?