The Oscars are not a popularity contest. It is a contest that is voted on by the members of the Academy, much like a trade group gives awards at an annual recognition dinner, except, this particular recognition is shown all over the world, and is far more flamboyant and full of the world’s biggest egos.
Every year, the actors, actresses, writers, directors, cinematographers, wardrobe specialists, editors, sound people, studio owners, executives, producers, musicians, songwriters, and seat fillers all dress up in glamorous wardrobes, walk down a red carpet, get a couple of interviews and some photographs, then walk into a theatre where the work that some may have done two to three years ago are on display and winners are announced in a grand extravaganza of bad jokes, miscues, and some good and bad performances. It happened to also include an almost naked Neil Patrick Harris, something I’m sure Bob Hope would have been so happy to see.
In the days prior to Vanessa Redgrave’s political speech that started the idea that social and political issues didn’t get enough of a forum in the press, Hollywood decided that, it too, could be voice for social and political change. It is now almost a requirement that you have political opinions that are decidedly progressive if you are to get good roles if you haven’t established yourself already. You can also get more applause, notoriety, and possibly a good shot at a viral YouTube video.
The downside for having a different views is not only are those views frowned upon, but could end up hurting your chances for prestigious or even good roles. Blacklisting talent, for not keeping quiet on contrary views and opposite political direction, seems to be acceptable despite actors who staunchly support their inalienable right to artistic expression. Does it matter the political views of an actor to be able to play a role worthy of Oscar consideration?
In a glaring juxtaposition of this years awards ceremony, the winner of the Best Documentary, Citizenfour, the filmmaker made a comment that seemed to go at odds with the audience reaction to Patricia Arquette’s tantrum for her winning Best Supporting Actress. She stated, and I’m paraphrasing here, that Snowden exposed a great threat from our government, and that we need to continue to hold the government accountable to protect our rights. Muted, polite, applause.
Contrast that with Arquette’s rambling at the end and standing ovation about a debunked issue that has little statistical support, and the verbal hoopla millionaire women of Streep and Lopez, and you can see the issue: Their issues are the ones that resonate with the current administration. The Snowden thing, doesn’t, but it is a far more fundamental danger to our Republic.
When you see people clapping nervously during any mention of American Sniper, it again goes to the heart of the progressives in Hollywood: War is bad. Half hearted tributes to the American soldier are just that: Good for a photo-op, but not enough to become immersed so as to affect the overall goal of “Peace on Earth”. Soldiers represent war. As I said before; to them, war is bad.
Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller gave stellar performances in their roles; and I think most Americans who saw the film would agree. The left was upset the movie wasn’t a larger indictment on the Iraq War: “We wouldn’t have a Chris Kyle if we didn’t go to war!” Critics who hated the movie often didn’t see it, and went on political rants about glorifying war. Critics who did like the movie, and notably the performances of Cooper and Miller, also tried to temper it with the overall theme as to whether it should have gone farther into America’s war policy. For the actors part, Cooper and Miller both campaigned on the essence of the movie: Vets don’t just fight in the one war; there is another battle to become human again.
Par for the course, the harshest critics and naysayers, especially from the left, failed to understand the story. And sadly, that most likely played into the minds of the Academy voters. It has been said over the years that Academy voters are diverse, but many are sensitive to internal political issues and how they may be perceived by those in the outside world favorable to their views. Selma made it because of charges of racism by Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, and the NAACP after not making the Golden Globes list for any category other than best picture. And, of course it didn’t win.
Selma did win for Best Original Song (which I didn’t care for the Ferguson reference, but it was a beautiful song with a great performance), and American Sniper won for Best Sound Editing. Token prizes to say the least, but interesting that critics and movie-goer’s alike enjoyed American Sniper far more than Selma. The story of Martin Luther King is a great story, but in this current age with racial strife still reeling its head, the narratives that continue to bring themselves to the forefront, whether supported by facts or not, most likely dampened, to some extent, audience acceptance as compared to American Sniper.
I thought Selma was a good film, but not sure it rose to Oscar level performances. On one hand, the Academy seemed to go out of its way to include a film that a vast majority of critics said was not all that great; on the other, the Academy seemed almost intent on making sure American Sniper got as little recognition beyond nominations. To me, that is more telling because it seems so obvious, especially when you note the reception audience members gave to the awards each film had won.
That’s not to take away from the impressive work of movies selected. I watched Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, American Sniper, The Imitation Game, and Selma. I have yet to watch Boyhood, The Theory of Everything and Whiplash. I very much enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Birdman was weird, and yet the performance by Michael Keaton was incredible, if not his last chance. If anyone deserves an Oscar, he does. The Imitation Game was a spectacular performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. I was hopeful that if Cooper didn’t get it, he would. Once I watch The Theory of Everything, I may change my mind.
So did American Sniper get snubbed? Probably. And yet, it was clear the Academy did all it could to ensure that it got just enough recognition to keep the public at bay, and ironically, the same could be said for Selma. The Oscars have a perception problem as well as a ratings issue. Overall movie attendance is on the decline. You’d think this would have a hand in helping to determine which movie was more deserving.
Hollywood is finicky about who should win and it doesn’t help when its reputation is as much a popularity contest as an endorsement of its social and political awareness. That’s just what you expect when its the members who are voting for themselves, and the clout that might carry when filling out the ballots.
When the general public likes a film, and put their money down to go see it rather than wait for DVD or Netflix, that should show more about how it resonates with its intended audience. Sometimes, giving the public what it wants is not necessarily a bad thing. Then again, it’s the craftsmen of the trade that determine which best represents its members; and you would think it would be without regard for political or social advancement.
On the other hand, had the Academy gone with American Sniper as Best Picture (and probably the only one it should have won), I’m certain the left would have been screaming, and it would have forced the audience into a most awkward situation since making Sean Penn say it would have been good drama anyway. He might have even lost his cool, not that he didn’t make a fool of himself anyway. Or perhaps it might have kept him from making himself one.
In the end, it was Hollywood’s influential elite, most likely, trying to set the social agenda by giving it to the winners who most likely would parrot their social and political agenda, despite their whiteness.
Note: I need to say this. Lady Gaga killed it. Her rendition was flawless and a beautiful tribute to Julie Andrews. I have always felt she was an amazing singer, but she performed with great dignity and eloquence. Bravo. I am a fan once more.