We like to stay positive here at CraveOnline – or at least, as positive as we can (there’s a lot of suckage out there) – but we also like to tell it like it is. And that means pointing out that this year’s Academy Awards season has been pretty damned terrible, all things considered.
Tons of baffling snubs, boring nominations and seemingly inevitable winners have made this year’s Oscars kind of a slog to report on, but those are the usual, par for the course types of annoyances. This year has also brought with it some controversies that don’t make any sense… or worse, make far too much sense, and reveal some deep-seated problems with the way the Academy thinks, the way the industry works, and how Oscar campaigning can make us all lose sight of more meaningful issues.
So behold, the four things about this year’s Academy Awards that tick us right the hell off. There are plenty of other reasons to be annoyed by how the awards season has shaken out this year, and we encourage you to let us know all about them in the comments or on social media. If we don’t keep talking about these issues, they’re never going to change.
The Unwritten Law That Says Meryl Streep Must Be Nominated
Meryl Streep is destined to go down not just as one of the greatest thespians of her generation, but of all time. Certainly she has earned this distinction with iconic, unforgettable roles in films like Sophie’s Choice, Out of Africa, Adaptation and The Devil Wears Prada.
But that doesn’t mean she deserves an Oscar nomination for every single performance, and while she was just fine in Into the Woods, her position on this year’s ballot seems a little suspect. Meryl Streep has earned most of her Oscar nominations by a landslide, it’s just that sometimes it looks like she winds up on the ballot as a mere formality. (See: Music of the Heart.)
We recently postulated on CraveOnline’s B-Movies Podcast that because the Oscar ballots are now online, there’s probably an auto-complete function that’s screwing everything up. It wouldn’t surprise us in the least to learn that someone out there wrote down “Best Supporting Actress: Carmen Ejogo,” only to see message pop up that read, “Did you mean Meryl Streep?”
There were plenty of wonderful Supporting Actress performances in 2014 that deserved at least a little more acclaim than Meryl Streep did in into the Woods. (See: Carmen Ejogo, Rene Russo, Tilda Swinton, Jessica Chastain, Carrie Coon, Agata Kulesza, et al.) And while we would never, ever advocate against nominating a performer who did incredible work, when the field is this varied, and one of the potential nominees has already won three Oscars and been nominated for 16 others, maybe a year in which she didn’t give one of her greatest performances would have been a good opportunity to spread the love a bit.
The Fact That The Academy Doesn’t Understand Its Own Rules
One of the weirder controversies that popped up this Academy Awards season involved the acclaimed drama Whiplash, written by Damien Chazelle, based on his own life experiences. This feature-length script was already written, but in order to drum up support (all puns intended) for producing it as a feature, he directed a short version first, and then filmed his original script afterwards.
So why the hell is Whiplash nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay? It’s because – in the Academy’s estimation – the fact that there was a short film before it means that the feature-length version must have been an adaptation. Even though it wasn’t. At all.
We can understand where this confusion comes from. We ourselves once assumed that Whiplash was an adapted screenplay too, but then we did what the Academy apparently didn’t bother to do and looked it up.
Why does this matter? Because adapting a screenplay from another medium and writing a wholly original one out of your own imagination are two different jobs. Sure, there’s a lot of overlap, but these Original Screenplay and Adapted Screenplay categories are separate for a reason. If Boyhood had been nominated for Best Documentary Feature just because it was technically documenting how Ellar Coltrane aged, we’d cry foul on that too.
Saddest of all, we think that Whiplash is arguably the best original screenplay of the year. We actually WANTED this film to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Now, even if it wins, it will by definition be screwing over another, actually adapted screenplay out of an award that it technically deserved more, out of sheer principle if nothing else.
Get your shit together, Academy. This is embarrassing.
The Film Industry’s Undeniable Racial Inequality
Another film that is arguably the best of the year (or at the least one of the best) made headlines after the Oscar nominations were announced, and for all the wrong reasons. Selma earned a Best Picture nomination – no small feat – but was shut out of every other category except for Best Original Song.
Considering the exceptional talent displayed in every aspect of Selma’s production, it was expected to be nominated in at least a few other categories, like Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor (possibly twice), Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design and Best Original Score.
But lots of great films aren’t nominated for a lot of Academy Awards. We can only get so angry about that. What’s really tragic about the Selma snubs is that potential nominees David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo, along with Get On Up’s Chadwick Boseman, were the only serious Oscar contenders who weren’t white this year. As a result, this is the first year since 1997 in which all of the acting nominees are white people. Which is troubling, and maybe not for exact the reason you think.
Yes, it’s frustrating that there aren’t any actors of color on the ballot this year. But what’s even more disturbing is that there were only a few actors of color who were even deemed worthy of consideration in the first place. Apparently the Academy only has to snub two films to demonstrate just how white this industry really is. And this year was no anomaly: with only a few major exceptions (like 2005 and 2007), every Academy Awards ceremony has only had a few actors on the ballot who weren’t white, at the most.
So what does it say about the film industry that it doesn’t to bother producing more than a couple serious motion pictures about people who aren’t white every single year? It doesn’t say anything good, that’s for damned sure.
The Usurping of Alan Turing’s Legacy for Financial Gain
Alan Turing was one of the most important and influential figures of the 20th Century, inventing the first computer and cracking the Enigma Code that was integral to the Allies defeating Germany in World War II. He was also a homosexual, and when this was discovered, the government whose future he was integral to preserving convicted him to chemical castration, which is presumed to have lead to his apparent suicide in 1954.
If we could in some way alleviate his suffering, or if we can at least honor his many achievements, we should. But that in no way correlates to giving The Imitation Game, a decent but unremarkable film about Alan Turing’s life, an Academy Award.
The Weinstein Company has been posting billboards throughout Los Angeles demanding that we “Honor the Man. Honor the Movie.” It’s a sickening example of self-interest masquerading as benevolence. If nothing else, it’s hard to imagine that Alan Turing’s spirit will breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Well, I may have been persecuted because I was a homosexual, but at least Harvey Weinstein made a lot of money out of it.”
And no, just making a movie about Alan Turing isn’t in itself the same thing. We’ll grant you that making Turing the subject of a movie from which the producers obviously intended to profit seems like a similar issue, but there is an enormous difference between using the cinematic medium to make audiences more aware of Alan Turing’s life, and using manipulative mind games to win Oscars based not on the quality of your film, but on what you simply chose to make your movie about.
Again, The Imitation Game isn’t a bad movie. But whether or not you even think it’s great, it is in remarkably poor taste to suggest that giving your film an Oscar is the only way to properly thank Alan Turing for his accomplishments and for enduring his terrible tragedy. If the greatness of a film’s subject matter was a direct indicator of its quality, then every movie about Jesus Christ would have won Best Picture, and movies like No Country for Old Men, The Departed, The Silence of the Lambs, Platoon, Amadeus and The Godfather (Part I or Part II) would never even have been nominated.
Whether you object to this campaign as a logical fallacy or as a despicable attempt to usurp the subject’s legacy for financial gain, one thing is clear: every single one of us must object.