A 2016 Oscar Retrospective

I eagerly opened a bottle of wine and at down Sunday afternoon for my favorite evening of TV of the year.  I love the Oscars.  I love the months of anticipation and position jockeying.  I love lusting over the dresses on the red carpet.  And mostly, I love getting a little tipsy and then upset over what The Academy gets wrong.

I know that the Oscars aren’t actually for me.  I watch significantly more films each year than The Academy’s target audience.  My favorite film each year is frequently an obscure arthouse film that would never get a major Oscar nomination.  The Oscars need to make money on TV ratings, and films like Victoria won’t bring in any views.  Yet I love them all the same.

I enjoyed this year’s Oscars in general.  I thought Chris Rock did a good job as host.  He was much more entertaining than Neil Patrick Harris last year, and I thought that the diversity jokes were just cutting enough.  Unfortunately progress with one diversity issue was made at the expense of another that hits close to home.  Trans woman are not a joke, and it did pain me to see us treated as such in one of the skits.  I wish I could overlook that single flub, but I’m not okay with being the butt of jokes over my identity.

What really matters though are the awards.  I went into this year more detached than most years.  Spotlight and Room were the only major nominees that I felt vested in.  Mad Max while well made, is not my kind of film.  I like my films quiet and subdued, the exact opposite of Fury Road.  I also didn’t feel the love for The Revenant that many did; I found it to be emotionally barren and cold.  That said, I was extremely happy to see Brie Larson get her recognition for Room and pleasantly surprised to see Spotlight win best picture, but I put my personal interests on some smaller awards.  Unfortunately, these lead only to disappointment.

I’m still at this point shocked by the award for Best Animated Short.  It is my genuine opinion that Don Hertzfeldt made the best film of the year with The World of Tomorrow.  In 16 minutes, the film exudes a wide range of emotion, and delves into serious personal reflection all while maintaining a sense of humor.  I can only hope that the exposure was still enough to put it on some people’s lists.  The second award that I felt attached to was Best Documentary Feature.  I was devastated in 2013 when Joshua Oppenheimer didn’t win the award for The Act of Killing.  It was such an important and well-made documentary that I couldn’t understand how it would be overlooked.  Then last year, Oppenheimer’s companion piece The Look of Silence was released.  It was equally impressive and important while being slightly more conventional, so I naturally assumed The Academy would get it right this time.  Now there’s nothing wrong with Amy, but The Look of Silence will go down with The Act of Killing as two of the greatest documentaries of all time.

I know that the Academy’s picks will never perfectly match my or anyone else’s understanding of quality.  I think that’s actually the most enjoyable thing about the Oscars: the discussions they cause.  Because of the Oscars, I’m able to tell everyone I know that they need to see The World of Tomorrow (seriously it’s on Netflix watch it now).  It’s the one time of the year that the average movie goer knows the name of a director.  The Oscars aren’t created for me, but I love how they bring others into my obsession.

Thoughts on the Oscar Nominations

This post is probably a week late, but I didn’t think to write about the Oscar nominations until recently.  I know that my personal tastes are not in line with the Oscar’s intended audience, but I’ve seen the majority of the films in most of the major categories and can do my best to look through the lens of a traditional Oscar viewer.

While I was genuinely surprised by a snub from picture and director (more about that below), I was extremely happy to see Room make both of those categories.  The emotional ride that it took me on was one of the best of the year, and I enjoyed it making some major categories.  I especially think it serves as an important contrast to the emotionally hallow experience that was The Revenant which walked away with an excessive 12 nominations.

Most of the other major categories played out as I expected given the target audience, but I’ve found in recent years that when looking at some of the minor categories, the real gems come through.  For animated film, I was happy to see Anomalisa and When Marnie Was There sharing time with Inside Out (I’ve heard that Boy and The World is also impressive, but I haven’t had a chance to view it yet).  The best foreign feature delivered like it does most years with a stellar class that could be the best picture race in a more honest evaluation of quality.  The academy has the chance to right the wrong from two years ago when they didn’t give Joshua Oppenheimer the Oscar for The Act of Killing by awarding its equally important companion piece The Look of Silence.  But of all of the awards, the one that I got audibly excited for was The World of Tomorrow getting a nomination for best animated short.  I maintain that it is the best piece of cinema of last year, and cannot recommend it enough (by the way it’s on Netflix, anyone who reads this should totally watch it)

With the good though comes the bad, and it unfortunately comes as no surprise that women driven and directed films were relegated almost entirely to just the best actress categories.  The female driven Carol was assumed to be a serious contender, but was ignored for the best picture and director awards.  The Diary of a Teenage Girl was the only English female directed film that had awards potential, but it was completely shut out of the nominations including the unacceptable but unsurprising snub of Bel Powley for lead actress. At least Deniz Gamze Ergüven got recognition for her film Mustang as the only female directed narrative feature to receive any acknowledgement.

The lack of respect towards female driven and created films can’t be fixed just by changing the academy voters.  While I genuinely believe that a diversification of voters would have extended the major awards to Carol, and more recognition to The Diary of a Teenage Girl, these small additions still would only represent tokenism, not equality.  In order for women to receive an equal standing in the world of film, we need to be given an equal opportunity to be involved as the creative heads of films.  That’s why I’ve started my Friday series of watching films directed by women.  We need to prove that the market exists for women created film.