If you want to understand the war the Oscars are waging, imagine this.
You’ve made an incredibly successful film during perhaps the most difficult times in cinematic history, re-adapting a story that’s been tried twice before. Numerous press articles claim that you helped save the industry by bringing audiences back to theaters, while simultaneously launching your role as the dark-haired boy into the superstar stratosphere.
And come Oscar night on Sunday, the biggest night to celebrate the best movies of the year, you’ll be spending the majority of your time backstage.
Congratulations! You are Spider Man. And also, in a way, Dunes.
The diminishing relevance of the Oscars and the apparent inability to honor the movies that work best with audiences is nothing new. Every year for the past seven years, the ceremony has faced a new record-breaking audience, as well as a slew of reviews on the films — and faces — recognized.
So that Spider-Man: No Coming Home managed to capture a box office return twice as big as the second, but still only got one nomination, the Oscars past tells you.
Dunes tells you about the future of the Oscars. The big-budget, star-studded space opera epic bridged the gap between crowd pleaser and the high standard sought by the academy, the type of film that makes both audiences and critics happy. And they awarded it as well, burying it under 10 nominations – the second most of any film there. This hints at the type of movies the Oscars will feature in the future.
Corn Dunes, to like Spider Man, is always discarded. Because, with 10 awards remaining, half were cut from the live stream in an effort to tighten up the show, bring audiences back, and make the Oscars relevant again.
Whether this has any chance of working is a question. But another question industry members are asking is whether — at this point and with this sacrifice — the Oscars are even worth saving.
“On one side you have the commerce and the ratings and the revenue that the academy gets,” said J. Miles Dale, director of 2021. alley of nightmares.
“And on the other side, you have what it’s supposed to be, which is recognition of the artists who create the best films of the year.”
Dale said the decision to shelve eight categories leaves a large segment of filmmakers, largely on the technical side, feeling like “second-class citizens.”
In February, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that it would cut eight of the 23 trophies awarded live on air: Best Documentary Short, Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Score, Production Design, animated short film, live-action short and sound.
It is really not surprising that half DunesAwards are one of those categories – more mainstream films often find Oscar success in technical categories, while more mainstream films dominate the rest of the series. Mad Max: Fury Road received 10 similar nominations in 2016, for an almost identical list of awards. In 1998, Titanic dominated with 14 nominations – eight of which were technical.
So the Oscars omitting them from the big show might seem a bit like having your cake and eating it too — giving mainstream films recognition on paper without committing the time.
But for Dale – whose alley of nightmares picked up four nominations – there’s more at stake.
Box office hits don’t need extra publicity. alley of nightmares, corn, was only thrust into the spotlight after his nomination for Best Dark Horse Picture. Dale said he struggled to open up during a surge of COVID-19 and in the same week as Spider Man.
The Oscars give recognition – and a fighting chance – to weak concept, fringe films, films that the average moviegoer only goes to see after the academy gives them their approval. And with three of alley of nightmaresin the technical categories — including Canadians Shane Vieau and Tamara Deverell — that recognition is under threat.
“I think for everyone, it’s their hope to get that recognition, and it can send the message that their movie is good — and people are going to see the movie,” he said.
“You don’t make movies for that reason, but for sure [is] a nice shot in the arm.”
Oscars struggling with ‘legacy media problem’
Bilge Ebiri, film critic for New York Magazine and Vulture, described the decision to cut the TV categories with one word: “terrible”.
Firstly, he said that the idea that removing segments honoring people who do the back and forth work of filmmaking would solve a ratings problem is backwards, because that’s why people connect. Second, he said the awards problem isn’t even a ratings problem, “it’s a legacy media problem.”
All live TV events — outside of, perhaps, the Super Bowl — are struggling to catch the eye in the age of streaming. And despite the low likelihood of the changes achieving their goals, Ebiri pointed to rumors that the show’s broadcaster ABC pressured organizers to make the change in the face of plummeting numbers.
“And that’s frankly tragic,” he said.
“Because it puts the fate of the Oscars in the hands of people who, as far as I know, don’t really care about the Oscars, and maybe don’t even care about the movies.”
He said the Oscars failing to support “halfway” films – mid-budget, star-driven comedies or dramas – less will find success and less will get made. And since that’s where the Oscars “have fed for decades,” the awards will only be able to defend the big-budget, mainstream movies the world already knows.
But even the filmmakers behind those bigger films oppose change. Shawn Levy, director of Ryan Reynold’s hit free guy, saw the film earn just one nomination at this year’s awards. As Spider Manthis nomination was in the visual effects category.
“I think it’s absurd. I think it’s incomprehensible,” he said.
“I wonder why on earth would movies be penalized for their popularity?”
For Levy, the new price is as misguided as the original. The concept of awarding an informal participation prize – safely removed from the “serious” awards given out by the academy – shows just how wrong with the Oscars’ fight for relevance.
“I’d like to see it change without needing a ghettoized niche category that recognizes popularity,” he said.
“So, yeah, I’m confused by that as well. And hopefully in my future career, I’ll see that evolve.”