Culture Crash 19-07: The Academy’s Unforced Errors

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine what’s new and old in entertainment.

As you may have heard, this year’s Oscars have been a disaster since the word “go.” Over the past few months, the Academy has announced a Best Popular Film award, that Kevin Hart would be the host, and that only two of the nominees for Best Song would be performing. All three of those ideas stirred up controversy and all three have been reversed. Best Popular Film has been shelved for discussion another year, this year’s awards show will not have a host, and all the Best Song nominees will perform.

So, problems fixed, right? Well, not so fast, because the Academy is committing another unforced error. Higher-ups at the Oscars have begun insisting certain awards will be announced during commercial breaks and occur off-air to trim the show’s runtime, and I guess to skip on giving hard-working craftspeople their shining moments.

Awards are, of course, arbitrary. Ranking art is a personal endeavor, so calling someone the Best Actress or Best Director of a certain year is relatively insignificant. What many of us who love awards shows like the Oscars are attached to is the celebration of an art form we cherish. I disagree with the winners more often than not, but I like seeing the craft celebrated; I like having a list of things worth checking out, and I like getting a glimpse behind the scenes at the editors, screenwriters, and costume artists who make the movies we all go see. To steal these moments from those artists is to ignore the greater purpose of the show in the first place.

It’s not supposed to be about stargazing celebrity obsession. I mean, okay, of course, it is. But it isn’t just that, or at least it shouldn’t be. It should also be a celebration of filmmaking. To eliminate so-called “lesser” awards so Lady Gaga or Christian Bale can have more time to shine is a shame. The Oscars air once a year. I wish the Academy would let that show serve to honor as many people as possible and not just the famous ones in the fancy tuxes.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 18-33: The Academy’s ‘Best Popular Film’ Snafu

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture.  What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced their latest idea for improving the Oscars relevancy and ratings. This month, The Academy sent out a tweet that read in part, quote, “a new category is being designed around achievement in popular film.” This is nothing new- in 2009, after the backlash they suffered from failing to nominate The Dark Knight for Best Picture- the Academy expanded the category to 10 nominees. This worked for a while- Avatar and Inception were both nominated, but ultimately, things reverted back to the mean and big budget films went back to being excluded.

So now, this. An attempt to create an Oscar for popular films. The reaction was swift- the award would be an insult. An also-ran. Perhaps most baffling is the strange insinuation that a popular film can’t win Best Picture, Titanic was popular, Forrest Gump was popular. Not to mention Lord of the Rings, Ben-Hur, West Side Story, Rocky and so many of the award’s winners over the years.

To ignore that history and imply that a popular film operates on a different scale than true film is a sham designed to draw more eyeballs to the ceremony. The only reason a second award would be necessary is because the Academy itself is out of touch. In 2008, The Dark Knight didn’t need a Best Popular Film category to merit a win. The outrage was because it was dismissed for being popular in spite of its quality- honestly, when’s the last time you marveled at the achievement of Frost/Nixon, The Reader or even the winner from that ceremony, Slumdog Millionaire?

Winning an award made to pander to the masses won’t feel as good as truly being recognized for your achievement. The onus is on the Academy to actually recognize the best achievement in film and not hedge their bets with new awards.

I’m Evan Rook.

Culture Crash 18-09: Oscar Sunday

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Tonight’s the night. Hollywood’s biggest night – the “Academy Awards.” The nominations were announced a while ago, so we’re here to help jog your memory on some of the big contenders, as well as where you can watch them for some last-minute cramming:

Dunkirk is an intense re-telling of Operation Dynamo, the successful evacuation of over 300,000 British soldiers trapped on a French Beach by Nazis during World War II. The film was one of the biggest box office hits of the year and is nominated for the eight awards tonight, including Christopher Nolan for Best Director, Best Picture, and a number of technical categories. Dunkirk is available to purchase and rent in all formats including DVD.

Lady Bird is a coming-of-age drama of a young woman in Sacramento circa 2002. The movie tells the fraught and relatable story of a mother and a daughter struggling to get along over the course of a year. The film is writer Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut for which she became the fifth ever woman nominated. Saorise Ronan and Lauri Metcalf are nominated in each of the Actress categories and the film is nominated for a few other awards, including Best Picture. Lady Bird is available to rent or buy on Digital platforms.

Get Out was one of the most talked-about movies of the year and tells the story of Chris, an African-American man visiting his girlfriend’s white family. The premise sounds familiar until the movie takes a turn into thriller/horror territory. Director Jordan Peele became the first black director to be nominated for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture on any one film. It is also his first film. The movie is available to purchase or rent in all formats, and is streaming on HBO Go.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri follows the story of a grieving mother challenging the local police who have been unable to solve her daughter’s murder. The movie takes a controversial look at race and privilege in America, mostly through actor Sam Rockwell’s role, for which he is the favorite for Best Actor. The movie is also nominated for Best Picture and six other awards. The film is available to rent or buy on all platforms.

Finally, The Shape of Water is about a mute woman who falls in love with a strange  aquatic being that is held prisoner by the US government during the Cold War. Director Guillermo del Toro is the favorite to win Best Director and the film is a strong contender for Best Picture and a number of other awards, including Best Score, on the show tonight. The Shape of Water is available on digital streaming platforms.

Tonight, it’s almost certain those 5 movies will win the biggest awards of the night, so a last-minute cram may help you understand what all the fuss is about when they’re accepting their statues.

I’m Evan Rook.