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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Commentary: The worst Academy Awards decisions over the years

With viewership on the decline, here’s a look into some of the Academy’s past oversights and mistakes

Viewership of the Academy Awards has hit an all-time low in 2021. Just 9.85 million live viewers tuned in, a decrease of 59% from 2020, which was already the low point in Oscars viewership since the turn of the 21st century. Reasons are legion—studios delaying notable releases due to COVID-19, the strange closed-off feel of the ceremony (also partially a product of COVID-19) and, maybe most importantly, a general decline in the number of people who want to watch millionaires pat themselves on the back for making substandard movies.

The decisions made by Academy voters have always trended toward dubious. As of 2021, there are more than 9,300 eligible Academy Awards voters, and to this day, there remains no requirement that voters actually watch the nominated films. 

While there’s no way to know if voters watch the movies they vote on, we do know for a fact that they’ve routinely shut out brilliant foreign and independent films pretty much from the Awards’ inception in favor of things like “Crash” (2004). Here are a few memorable decisions:

“Crash” Winning Best Picture: Have you ever seen “Crash”? No? Good. It’s melodramatic, self-fellating and imbued with the quiet subtlety of a Cannibal Corpse album. But the Academy deemed it deserving of three awards, even beating out the much better films of “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) and “Capote” (2005) for Best Picture. “Crash” (2004) also took the title of the far more challenging and interesting “Crash” (1996), which is perhaps worse than the film winning Best Picture.

Neither Alfred Hitchcock Nor Orson Welles Winning Best Director: The Academy Awards never recognized two of the most influential and virtuosic American filmmakers to ever live for their talents. If that doesn’t tell you something deep and dark about the Academy Awards, nothing will. While Welles at least won Best Screenplay for “Citizen Kane” (1941) despite being snubbed of all eight other nominations for that film, Hitchcock never won anything. 

Any of These Getting Nominated For Anything—“Patch Adams” (1998), “Suicide Squad” (2016), “Norbit” (2007): Terrible, terrible movies. Seemingly getting a wide release is enough to put your film into the same echelon as classics of cinema regardless of how inept and actively lamentable it may be. There is nothing redeeming about any of these movies and they should all burn.

“Going My Way” (1944) Over “Double Indemnity” (1944) for Best Picture: “Double Indemnity” is a veritable masterpiece, rich and nearly flawless and armed with some of the most memorable characters in noir. “Going My Way” is whimsical and unchallenging. But of course “Going My Way” somehow won best picture, which at this point in the list should not be surprising.

The Existence of the Best Foreign Feature Category: When your award system is designed so that the absolute best movies from around the world are more or less sequestered into one little category and in all but the most extreme cases (like the 2019 film “Parasite”) excluded from the competition for Best Picture—and allows despotic governments to choose what films are even eligible—something has gone wrong. In the case of the Academy Awards, it may well be by choice that movies are suppressed simply for being made in another country—American viewers typically don’t watch many foreign films, so allowing these great movies into proper competition would likely hurt interest in the ceremony. But if the Academy Awards aren’t designed to select the best movies then why does anyone care?

It’s tough to say what the future of the Academy Awards will look like. If viewership trends are anything to go by, interest in the ceremony is dwindling, and without the expectation of other eyes on the Awards, there’s little reason for anyone to tune in. The real test will be next year’s awards, probably. If viewership bounces back, the Oscars may retain their cultural importance. That is, however, a big if.

Written by: Jacob Anderson — arts@theaggie.org

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