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Friday, February 6, 2015

Why You Should Care About The Academy Awards

I care way too much about the Academy Awards. I get legitimately upset when an actor like Jake Gyllenhaal does not get a Best Actor nomination for his work in Nightcrawler. Not just write-in-all-caps on Twitter upset, but actually upset because I take it as a personal slight. I understand in the grand scheme of things that this type of stuff does not matter. Genocide exists, America’s economy is still not doing great, there is still an inordinate amount of gender and racial inequality, but I still get upset at The Academy Awards. They matter to me. I know that I care about films too much and I watch too many films than I care to admit (or rather freely admit). I write about films, I talk about films, and sometimes I can’t even enjoy a simple film because I have to over-analyze it. It is this love and passion for what filmmakers do that cause me to unnecessarily care about what The Academy does and does not do. Even if you do not share the same passion that I do (which frankly you should not), you should still care about The Academy Awards.

No other award show has an impact over its medium than The Academy Awards do over films. The Academy Awards have an incredible impact on not only the habits of movie goers, but also the types of films that get made. Many roles that actors choose to take or projects that producers choose to undertake are the result of trying to win an Academy Award. You may not care about who wins an Academy Award, but actors, directors, and producers certainly do. There is nothing more prestigious than having that advertisement say “starring Oscar nominated So And So”. It brings instant credibility to your craft and eternal gratification for yourself. Sally Field famously said while accepting her Best Actress award for her work in Places of the Heart “You like me! You really like me!”. More recently, Matthew McConaughey wiped away 10-15 years of terrible work by winning an Oscar for his work in Dallas Buyers Club. While of course actors would also like to get paid, and the pool of actors starring in a superhero franchise seems to be growing exponentially, the old adage of “one for me, one for the studios” still seems to hold true. Whether studios keep this mindset to appease the actors or the other way around, there’s no denying that actors still chose “juicy” and “challenging” roles- which translates to “attempting to win an Oscar”.

When actors, directors, or producers are choosing these “attempting to win an Oscar” films, they chose films that they know The Academy will like as opposed to making a film they know will be good and then relying on that quality to net them an Oscar nomination. That’s an important distinction, because that means a small group mainly made up of old, white, males are determining what films are being made. The Academy’s particular taste and biases are the ones that are determining what constitutes greatness. This is a group that recently determined that The King’s Speech and The Artist were the best films of the year along with a film like 12 Years A Slave, which is now being taught in high school history classes and a film some people felt they had to vote for without seeing the film, was also one of the greats. The small minority (compared to society at large) is the one determining what great art is. What’s even worse is that those who make films pander to this group.

Films are incredibly important to our society, which means we need to be cognizant of the particular films that get produced and distributed and then go on to become popular. Recently, films like The Interview and the Charlie Hebdo attack highlight the importance and necessity of free speech. Free speech not only allows for creative expression to enhance a more democratic society, but it allows filmmakers to criticize integral aspects of society- which was one of the main reasons our Founding Fathers created the First Amendment to begin with. However, the fact that films are so prevalent in our society and the fact that The Interview is currently streaming on Netflix proves free speech is alive and well in this country. The particular films that gets produced and popularized matter because they provide a historical representation of our culture at any given time. Films represent our attitudes, beliefs, and mores. One of the reasons I love a film like Whiplash (and how the Oscars got it right by nominating it) is because of the statement it makes on our culture right now. We live in a Political Correct world and a film like Whiplash explores the ramifications of that culture and if that stifles broader creative endeavors.

Films also enhance critical thinking. I don’t think I’m going on a limb saying that movies have far surpassed books in terms of both of cultural impact as well as a medium for education. The ability to think and read into a film, to learn why things are framed in a certain way or why lighting appears when it does, is a necessary skill. The reason you dissect books like The Catcher In The Rye or sonnets by Shakespeare in high school is to deepen your understanding of the human experience as well as to broaden your horizon. Films can, and should, have that same impact. Films are also an educational tool.  Unfortunately, sooner rather than later, there will be no more survivors of The Holocaust, yet America’s knowledge of that horrific event will indelibly be imprinted in our mind thanks to film. Documentaries are an incredible tool to help you learn about a subject or person you were not familiar with before, and while they have the appearance of being secondary (or even tertiary) in the mind of The Academy and really the general population at large, they still create an important societal function for those who seek it out. Further, if The Academy did a better job promoting its two documentary categories, then it would further enhance our culture.

The reason film is so important is the reason that The Academy Awards are so important as the Oscars shape what films are seen and what films are deemed to be good. This group’s particular taste tells the country what is good and what films they should watch. In turn, these films help shape both the culture and the education in this country. The films The Academy deems as the best of the best will be analyzed throughout history and will be seen as a representation of our society, whether rightly or wrongly. While there will always be films like those of David Cronenberg and Lars Von Trier that will never be recognized by The Academy but are just as important, there will always be extremes that exist on the periphery on the mainstream no matter what the art form is. The Academy is the mainstream and probably the best representation of history at any given time.

Therefore, you should have an opinion about what films get nominated by The Academy. If you go see a film because it earned a bunch of Oscar nominations, then have an opinion on it. Take to social media. Tell your friends. If you’re a person like me who looks at the history of The Academy and is upset by what you see, express your anger. If you like what The Academy is doing, then great! But at least you attempted to do some research and form an opinion. I suggest you do the same for yourself. Care about what The Academy is doing and the films they nominate, because their importance is far greater than your personal taste.

And that is why you should care about the Academy Awards.


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