Discover more from Overthinker
It's almost Oscar season
As each day of December passes, we are getting closer to my favourite time of year: Oscar season.
For those who live under a rock (or have meaning in their lives), the Oscars, officially known as the Academy Awards, are an American awards ceremony for the best films released each year. They hold the most prestige of any film award in the world.
Why the Oscars?
I honestly have very little idea of how my obsession with the Oscars officially began. The first ceremony I followed closely was the 82nd Academy Awards held in 2010 where Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker beat James Cameron’s Avatar.
But why did I start watching them? Maybe it was the glitz and glamour of cinematic achievement. Maybe it was because 2010 marked the first year I had success with my own films so I wanted something to aspire to.
Either way, I’ve followed them every year ever since. I say ‘followed’ because the ceremony falls on a Monday afternoon here in Australia and I used to have to attend this pesky thing called school so I couldn’t watch them live.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve grown more critical of the Oscars. In fact, the very first article I ever published as a writer was about the #OscarsSoWhite conversation and the 2016 ceremony. Of the 40 actors nominated across the acting categories in 2015 and 2016, all 40 were white.
This year will mark the 95th ceremony. Six men of colour have won Best Actor. Halle Berry is still the only woman of colour to win Best Actress.
What I didn’t know from watching the Oscars for the first time when Bigelow won was that women winning is a rarity. Only three women have won Best Director. Only four women have won Best Score (in its various forms). No woman has ever won Best Cinematographer (only two women have ever been nominated).
When you compare them to the equivalent award ceremonies for excellence in other forms of media – the Emmys for TV, the Grammys for music and the Tonys for theatre – the Oscars stands out for its particular aversion to works that are popular. Blockbuster TV shows and hit songs can win Emmys and Grammys, but box office successes rarely win Oscars.
There have been some recent half-hearted attempts to address this. There was the introduction of Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film category which was so hated that it was pulled before being awarded even once. And there was the Twitter-voted winners of #OscarFanFavourite and #OscarCheerMoment in the latest ceremony who were rewarded with recognition in the screencast (which, incidentally, bumped off eight of the actual awards, including Best Editing and Best Original Score, to be pre-taped instead).
My Best Picture quest
Two years ago, I decided that I would watch all the films nominated for Best Picture.
Each year I had my opinions about which film deserved to win, but I held these opinions without actually having seen each of the films. I wanted to watch a full slate of movies to see if broadening my horizons changed my mind at all.
The 2021 nominees were:
Judas and the Black Messiah dir. Shaka King
The Father dir. Florian Zeller
Nomadland dir. Chloé Zhao (winner)
Mank dir. David Fincher
Minari dir. Lee Isaac Chung
Promising Young Woman dir. Emerald Fennell
Sound of Metal dir. Darius Marder
The Trial of the Chicago 7 dir. Aaron Sorkin
Watching all the Best Picture nominees in 2021 cemented to me that choosing a ‘best’ film is incredibly subjective, particularly absent of any specific criteria from the Academy.
To me, there were five movies that felt good enough to win – Judas and the Black Messiah, The Father, Nomadland, Minari and Sound of Metal – and what separates them is really just a matter of personal preference.
My personal favourite was Minari. I love a movie that examines personal identity and tugs at my heartstrings and Minari did this the best. But I still thought Nomadland was deserving of its win.
As I expected when I began my quest, there were movies that surprised me. I never would have watched Judas and the Black Messiah if it weren’t for the Oscars. I hadn’t heard of the movie before its nomination and after I watched it, I had no idea why. Its comparative absence from the awards chatter given how brilliant the film is baffled me.
The 2022 nominees were:
Belfast dir. Kenneth Branagh
CODA dir. Siân Heder (winner)
Don’t Look Up dir. Adam McKay
Drive My Car dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Dune dir. Denis Villeneuve
King Richard dir. Reinaldo Marcus Green
Licorice Pizza dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Nightmare Alley dir. Guillermo del Toro
The Power of the Dog dir. Jane Campion
West Side Story dir. Stephen Spielberg
My main takeaway from 2022 was a growing scepticism that all voting members of the Academy actually watch each and every one of the nominated films. 2022 was the first year that the Academy had nominated a full slate of 10 movies and I found myself struggling to fit them all into my schedule.
If I, an ordinary person, find it hard to watch 10 movies (some of which are very long – Drive My Car is 179 minutes and West Side Story is 157 minutes), are celebrities like Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett really sitting down in their home cinemas and smashing them all out?
2022 was a bit different in that my leading favourite was CODA by a mile. I am an absolute sucker for a coming of age story about a young girl who loves music and I watched this movie on the day it came out on Apple TV. However, similarly to 2021, I could have been content for CODA, Drive My Car, Dune or King Richard to win.
I plan to continue my quest and watch all the Best Picture nominees for 2023. Even though there are duds on the list every year and my above criticisms of the Oscars still stands, I think it’s a fun way to challenge myself to watch films that I might not ordinarily watch and learn new things about storytelling.
Looking forward to the 2023 ceremony
These are their current predictions for the Best Picture nominees (in order of likelihood):
Top Gun: Maverick dir. Joseph Kosinski
The Fabelmans dir. Stephen Spielberg
The Banshees of Inisherin dir. Martin McDonagh
Everything Everywhere All At Once dir. Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan
Tár dir. Todd Field
Elvis dir. Baz Luhrmann
Avatar: The Way of Water dir. James Cameron
Women Talking dir. Sarah Polley
RRR dir. S. S. Rajamouli
Living dir. Oliver Hermanus
I am very surprised to see Top Gun: Maverick sitting at number one. To be fair, CODA hadn’t even broken the Top 10 at this point in last year’s race. There’s still plenty of time to go.
From Variety’s current predications, I have only seen Top Gun: Maverick and Everything Everywhere All At Once so far. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is currently sitting at number 11 and I would love it if it can sneak a nomination.
The Academy will nominate between 5 and 10 films for Best Picture depending on what it sees fit.
The Academy Award nominees will be announced on 24 January 2023.