Audiences think the Academy gets together in a dark and smoky room to pick the movies.
The nominees aren't pre-selected. There's no conspiracy, no rubbing of hands, no mustache-twirling. The way ballots are counted is not simple. If anything, it's over-complicated if you ask me. There's a quick quasi-explanation on Variety. Click here to read it.
"For example, there are 375 voting members in the directors branch. The accountants take that 375 number and divide it by six — i.e., the number of eventual nominees (five) plus one. The division yields the number 62 — and then you add one, so that’s 63. (There’s a reason for adding these ones, but don’t worry about it.)
The accountants then take all 375 director ballots and go through only the first choices, putting each helmer-contender into his/her own stack. When a contender hits 63 first-place votes, he has enough for a nomination.
Anyone who voted for this director gets his ballot set aside, and none of the voter’s other choices is tallied. The reason is to make sure that every voice is heard.
It’s possible, but not likely, that when the first round of voting concludes, there are five contenders who got 63 votes. If not, the PWC crew take the remaining ballots and go through people’s second choices, to see who gets enough votes in this round."
Okay. So no conspiracy. What about hive mentality?
Possible, and likely. Once word gets out that a certain movie is the bee's knees, people wanna go see it, see what the fuss is all about, and as humans, we tend to have our minds made up way before we've even reached the point of argumentation. For instance, I went in wanting to love The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. David Fincher could point a camera at wallpaper for two hours and odds are I'm gonna love it. And guess what? I did. Maybe I don't think it's the year's best movie, but I certainly wanted it to get a nod. With the Academy's complex and complicated vote-counting system, I'd over-think the way to list my fave five but try to get Benjamin Button to be included. It can be headache-inducing and head-scratching, and anything and everything could influence someone's choices. Even vox populi.
Perfect example: everyone wants Heath Ledger to win. The Joker was an awesome, memorable, unique, popular performance... and not long after, Ledger died. It's a tragic story, made for the headlines and the history books. Even if someone else had been a better supporting actor, there's a human element to our choices which we can't deny. I'm sure even his fellow nominees want Ledger to get that posthumous award.
Come on. The Oscars are meaningless and irrelevant.
Tell that to the short film director whose career gets kicked off thanks to a nod. Or the documentary filmmaker who gets to make a new film. Or the foreign film director. Or the thousands of people whose job it is to make a movie look, sound and feel great-- not the directors or stars or producers, but the gaffers and grips and editors and sound recordists and make-up artists who work as hard as you do, are not rewarded with private jet planes and love getting an award as recognized by their peers. Also, the smaller movies. You know, the ones audiences refuse to see because they don't star the current Diva or the great special FX.
Meaningless to you, perhaps.
Some of these categories are booooring.
To the average moviegoer, watching the sound FX guys thank their kids may be lame. But when they watched the movie, they probably felt the booming thunder of the ship's cannons. They just don't think about it. Show a little respect to the people who love their craft. Don't care who won and hate to listen for their speeches? Um... why are you watching, then?
"Foreign-language film"? Who cares?
It's one of the most controversial categories. Asking the country to select the movie it wants to represent it, limiting the choice to one film per country-- so many things are just plain screwed up about it and many have no easy fix. But it matters to that country. Films are the most important cultural export from the US, but it's an industry, and a damn huge one. Not so in the rest of the world. Many countries make plenty of movies (especially India), but for those that only get to finance a handful of projects every year, getting the recognition (and eventual box-office receipts) from a country that has plenty of money to afford plenty of crappy movies, it's a pretty big deal.
I'd argue that Swedish vampire flick Let The Right One In is a better movie than many of those up for awards this year, but the way the category is handled snubbed it.
Critics accuse the Oscars of being populist.
Nominating (and rewarding) a box-office darling like Titanic or Forrest Gump seems like a good idea to get viewers to watch the telecast, but the truth is it's not a popularity contest. They're both good movies, well made, technically proficient and artistically sound. But accusing hundreds of voters of thinking about ratings instead of their personal favorite movies is like blaming Ben & Jerry's for selling more chocolate ice-cream than any other flavor. It's what people who buy ice-cream like.
Chris Rock's visit to a Harlem movie-theater, when he was the Oscar host, should also be an eye-opener: when he asked audiences if they had seen any of the nominees that year, he got a lot of stoned silence. Favorite movie of the year? One interviewee said it was Alien vs. Predator. That means it should have been nominated for Best Picture, right?
Audiences think the Oscars are pretentious.
This argument is the direct opposite of the above. How can the Oscars be both populist and out of touch with what the populace likes? Well, bad news for the general viewership out there: the Academy Awards are voted on by the Academy members. Want to vote? Join the Academy (get invited into it and approved, actually. It ain't easy). It's near-sighted to blame the Academy for picking what they like the best. Within my family members, we have favorite restaurants. You think our choices are atrocious? Tough-- it's my family, not yours. As blunt as that may sound, it's true. Popularity is for the People's Choice Awards.
There's a lot of politics involved.
Of course. I'd be foolish to assume that all of the above could not be tainted by a well-placed handshake or impending deal. But if it's all controlled by some mastermind(s) behind the curtain, why do the studios place so many expensive "For Your Consideration" ads?
Hollywood is a liberal recess of hedonism and self-important social brouhaha.
Yep. And thank goodness. Many claim to hate when stars talk about politics or social issues, but they have every right to do so. Nobody likes being told what to do, yet everyone (even Joe the Plumber) loves trumping their own political agenda. We do it at the local bar, with our friends, on message boards or during heated political-discourse picnics. At work. At play. Everywhere. Stars have a venue that gets their ideals to more people. I say, more power to them. I think some stars' politics (and the way they express them) are ridiculous, half-baked and absolutely insane, but it's their right to speak their mind, and if they've earned the ability of using a venue, good for them. If stars have the power and ability to provide well-being and positive change for society, we should support them. If we don't like what they say, we don't have to listen.
Wait. What does this have to do with the Oscars?
A common complaint is that the Oscars tend to be handed out to socially-minded films or preachy crap (depending on who you ask). I'm not too big a fan of making a movie just to get a message across, and instead prefer it when the message is clear thanks to a compelling story, but if a powerful film with a powerful message is well-executed, why shouldn't it get recognition? George Clooney said it best when he asserted that Hollywood's lack of touch with the rest of the country was a good thing-- he meant that if positive changes can come from telling a story on film, why shouldn't that change come from a place dedicated to telling stories on film? Accuse Hollywood of being a decadent cornucopia of sin and consumption all you want, but I think everyone is potentially smart enough to discern between one's personal life and one's work. And even though the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal proves that's not always the case, at least we know the difference between a clubbing heiress and a film about war crimes. Don't we-- or better yet, shouldn't we?
The Oscars are out of touch with contemporary audiences.
This is true, but it's (mostly) not the Academy's fault. In keeping with the "Wanna Vote? Join the Academy" motif, there's a lot of ill-advised privacy in how votes are handled. And during war times and a rough economy, seeing a bunch of well-to-do people pat each other on the back seems almost like a slap in the face to the general mortgage-challenged moviegoer. But the truth is, the Academy is not some evil entity. Could they be a little bit more open? Sure, but to what avail? To reward The Dark Knight as opposed to Slumdog Millionaire? Again, that's what the PCA are for, and if you're not happy, join the Academy.
I think the current times and the technological changes we've seen in the past few years are very much responsible for this disassociation, and how these things have morphed our social consciousness about popular culture and our response to it (again, hive mentality). Celebrities are made and unmade in a matter of weeks, reality TV creates stars out of the folks next door, and the democratic movement of Web2.0 represents a cultural shift in audience's appreciation of artistic and entertainment-related endeavors. People seem to have more fun with a thirty-second clip of a guy falling off a skateboard than a two-hour film about a Nazi war criminal. So how is the Academy--an institution dedicated to the art of filmmaking--supposed to be in touch with Failblog? Two different beasts altogether, but due to the broad definition of entertainment, it's not surprising that audiences tend to lump them together in terms of the resulting audiovisual stimuli and the satisfaction each may or may not provide. Apples and oranges.
It also doesn't help that for all its marketing and business-deals and industry-gibberish, at the end of the day, the Academy is, in their own complicated way, trying to reward a certain degree of artistry, even if it does so for monetary reasons or as a business-like transaction. A vicious circle. Cynical? Sure. But realist.
Of course. The Oscars are all about the money.
Well, sorta. People tend to use "Academy" and "Oscars" interchangeably. "Oscar" is the pet name (and registered trademark) of the Academy Awards, a series of recognitions given out to the greatest achievements in film during a certain time period, as selected and voted on by the members of the Academy (process and rationalization notwithstanding).
The Academy is the organism: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But the Academy isn't only about handing out golden statues to well-endowed starlets in low-cut dresses. It serves a purpose, as a sort of hub that registers, supports and maintains the filmic arts, providing an invaluable resource in promoting movies as a historical, cultural and artistic document. It's not necessarily a school or museum, but it certainly could be seen as both in how it has developed, and even though it takes on the responsibilities of cultural authority in all matters movie-related, the simplistic way of seeing it is as a club for people who make movies. But it's more than that, and it's importance in film is unquestionable. And the movies that receive nods come nomination time do tend to see an upswing in ticket sales. Nominees get more work and more work means more money.
Well, duh. Everyone wants to make money.
It has its missteps, and I'm sure members of the Academy could be even more forthcoming than what I could ever possibly explain about the voting mechanics of the Awards. But I see it very clearly: if I don't like whichever movie won or was nominated for an Oscar, tough. That's my problem, not the Academy's. I just won't see the ceremony when it airs on TV (yeah, right).
And if it comes to that, I'll just hand out my own awards.