Have the Oscars Become Too Mainstream?
When the nominations for the Academy Award’s 2019 Best Picture award were released in January the film corner of Youtube shat itself. “Bohemian Rhapsody AND Black Panther have both been nominated for best picture!? What a joke!” They, and myself, cried out. We all seemed pretty upset that films that people actually watched this year had been nominated for Best Picture.
My friend soon called me out for not watching Black Panther before criticising the Academy’s choice to nominate it for Best Picture, and so I went and watched it. You can read Jasper’s review on it here from back when it was released in February, but overall I found it somewhat enjoyable. I then watched Bohemian Rhapsody and, surprisingly, found it also very enjoyable. So should these two films, among many of the others nominated, have been nominated? Were the eight best films released in 2018 nominated for Best Picture? Should the, technically, eight best films released in a year be nominated for best picture?
Before answering these questions, I am going to state my opinion on all eight Best Picture nominations in a single sentence in order to give you some context of this writer’s opinions of this years nominees. Why a single sentence, you ask? Because my Dad recently told me that my film reviews are too long and I think that he might be onto something.
Black Panther: It tries to have a message about racism but falls victim to the bland superhero movie formula.
BlacKkKlansman: An entertaining film that, unfortunately, did not pack the punch for me that it wanted to.
Bohemian Rhapsody: Bland but fun- glad I saw it on the big screen surrounded by speakers.
The Favourite: Manages to blend fun and Oscar worthy into a solid result. Read my full review here.
Green Book: It tries so hard to be important, but falls flat in that department. Still fun.
Roma: A slow burner, and the ultimate ‘Oscar-movie’ on this list.
A Star Is Born: This film failed to birth any interest from me.
Vice: I was so uninterested in this film that I did not see it. I was also at home, injured, on the day of the one screening that my local cinema held for the film… at 10:35pm.
After watching 7/8 of these films, I was left with a feeling of disappointment. Half of the films were only slightly above average in my opinion and certainly not the best released in 2018. Here are a few films that I personally value to be of a higher quality than many of the current contenders:
- Paddington 2
- Isle of Dogs
- Can you Ever Forgive Me
- Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse
- Shrek Retold
Okay, that last one was a joke, and two of these have been nominated for Best Animated feature, but Toy Story 3 was nominated for the 2010 Best Picture and both Isle of Dogs and Into the Spiderverse were better than Toy Story 3. My point is that, in terms of quality, this year’s nominees are sorely lacking in high quality as a collective. But is that down to the Oscars moving in a mainstream direction in order to, as some have claimed, boost viewership?
Over the last decade the Academy have shown a pattern of nominating primarily films that were critically acclaimed but financially unsuccessful for Best Picture, with one or two popular films thrown in for good measure. This started in 2009 when the list of nominations for Best Picture was extended from five films to ten. The list of nominees has since fluctuated between eight and ten, with this year seeing eight nominations. The reason that the Oscars suddenly feels mainstream is that Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born were financially successful, as opposed to most of the nominations from previous years. I know right, how dare the Academy nominate successful films.
The true difference this year is that the films nominated could actually be deemed socially important (except Bohemian Rhapsody) from one point of view or another. The films selected focus on addiction, race relations, mental illness, the role of working-class women, and the abuse of power. I adored Paddington 2, but was it socially important? Perhaps these films have broken into the mainstream because they are important, and audiences generally want to see something that matters?
Black Panther perfectly encapsulates the spirit of this years’ list of nominees: important but not particularly fantastic. Black Panther’s attempt to tackle race relations is a little hollow in places but really shines in others, and has given us a fun and financially successful film with a primarily black cast. Not only has it helped to create a career for its cast members, but it has shown that not every film with a black cast has to relate primarily to race- they can be dumb superhero films with undertones of racial conflict. They can be anything. Unfortunately, where Black Panther falls flat, in my opinion, is in regards to the quality of its editing and special effects.
Meanwhile, Roma, stands as almost an opposite to Black Panther. It is expertly crafted but is slow and would not be considered entertaining by many. Its subtle look into the role of the working-class woman next to higher class families in a time of historical turmoil is extremely important, yet I doubt I will ever feel compelled to experience it again. I felt captivated but not entertained while watching it. Should the Best Picture award be given to something that fails to entertain most?
As the ancient Chinese proverb states, entertainment is subjective. Sure, Roma is technically the most meticulously crafted film nominated, but I would personally give the award to The Favourite (along with every other award that this film was nominated for). An absolute feminist powerhouse of a film, The Favourite is the funniest film on this list and is still extremely well crafted. But that does not discredit the rest of the films, which are all somewhat important in their message (except Bohemian Rhapsody). The Academy’s apparent movement into the mainstream has allowed for a wonderful range of films to be nominated for Best Picture, and celebrates films that people wanted to see. This year’s list combines entertainment and social relevance and importance. Perhaps next year the Academy will be able to focus more on these factors while also taking into account a higher quality of film making. It would be nice to see more of the better blockbusters being nominated.
Also A Star is Born will win Best Picture just to spite me. You heard it hear first.
By Ryan Hutton