The Oscars are Important, but Not That Important

By Dan Mansfield

I like tuning in to the Academy Awards. I think it is a great honor, and many critics consider it the highest honor a film can receive for a given category. Fair enough. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is made up of 6,000 professional filmmakers from all aspects of production, most of whom have prolific careers in the filmmaking business, producing some of the best films ever made. It’s nice to see who they think deserves to win.

It is the oldest media awards ceremony, first held in 1929 to celebrate the 1927/1928 film season. This year marks the 90th Academy Award ceremony. It is broadcast live in over 200 countries. You will seldom find another award ceremony that celebrates movies as much as the Oscars. and give those movies their recognition.  

This isn’t to say they are without problems, though. The biggest issue with the Academy is American exceptionalism. Foreign films never compete in any category besides “Best Foreign Language Film,” which wasn’t even made a full category until 1956 with “La Strada,” a fantastic Italian film directed by the wonderful Federico Fellini, winning. English language films are the only ones getting nominated for Best Picture, Best Original/Adapted Screenplay, Best etc. (with few exceptions).

And when it’s not an American film, it’s from the UK or sometimes Australia, which usually have Americans either financing or co-producing it in some fashion. There is, quite literally, a whole world of cinema people aren’t seeing because foreign films aren’t getting recognition from the Academy. They are treated as lesser, and each country can only submit one film to be considered for nomination. If you want a real good look at recognized films, check out some international film festival winners.

The second issue is with animation. Pixar and Disney get the nominations every time (the Academy’s favoritism toward Pixar is another issue even within this issue, but that one should be more obvious to the point I don’t need to talk about it at length). And these animated films are, as you can expect, American films. The only animated film from Japan, for example, to win the Best Animation Oscar was Spirited Away back in 2002. No anime has won before or since.

“Your Name,” a critically lauded animated film from the acclaimed anime auteur Makoto Shinkai, which broke the international box office record for an anime (even beating Spirited Away), didn’t receive a nomination, despite appearing on many critics’ best films lists for 2017. The film has a 97 percent “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 8.2 out of 10. However, “The Boss Baby” did get a nomination, despite having a score of 52 percent with an average score of 5.5 out of 10. Even despite Boss Baby getting more reviews, a greater number of critics gave a positive review for “Your Name” than they did for “The Boss Baby,” which should be telling enough.

Coco eventually took home the gold for the 90th Academy Awards, as expected of the Pixar entry, but I’ve made my point. You also hardly see animated films win outside their category. An animated film has never won Best Picture.

The third issue is more industry-wide, but seems to have been fixing itself over the last few years, and it’s the lack of diversity. The vast majority of nominees and winners have been white men. But this year the first woman was being nominated for Best Cinematography. The first openly transgender person, Yance Ford, was nominated for his documentary “Strong Island.” The fifth woman was nominated for Best Director. Jordan Peele became the first black man to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

More black actors, writers and directors are being nominated and winning, and “Moonlight,” a superb film, winning Best Picture last year is a testament to how far black films and LGBT films have come within the Academy, which has really opened up to more minority recognition since the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag.

So tune into the Academy Awards. Enjoy them. I do. These are not bad films being nominated by any measure. The vast majority of them are quite good. Just don’t take their word as the end-all-be-all of what is the best in film. Explore. Look at what is winning around the world. You may be surprised at what you find.

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