The Academy Awards are for the Common People
After reading the opinion piece about the Academy Awards and their inability to include the common viewer, I felt compelled to chime in on the topic. Being a cinephile, as well as minoring in film, the argument about the films not appealing to the “common viewer” comes off as ignorant to me.
I watch just as much art-house cinema as I do blockbusters. While films like “Logan, Star Wars: The Last Jedi”—or one of the three Marvel films we get each year—are well received, entertaining, and make back their budget in one weekend, it doesn’t mean that they should be nominated for the coveted Oscar. (I should note, they normally do get nominated for technical awards, which I believe are just as important as the popular ones.) A film’s ability to make money at the box office or entertain a general audience doesn’t make it award-worthy. Film, like all art, should subvert expectations and make a statement. Blockbusters don’t necessarily do that.
Last year, cinema tackled subjects like race, sexuality, and unequal rights (among other topics), and helped to start the conversation on how we can change our ways positively.
While films like “Call Me by Your Name” may not be as quotable in conversations as films like “The Empire Strikes Back” or “Pulp Fiction,” they ultimately have dialogue and quotes that can start the conversation. To argue that is like saying an abstract painting wouldn’t look good as your desktop background, because a general audience member wouldn’t be able to describe it.
Films like the one mentioned above, “Get Out, Lady Bird,” and “The Shape of Water” helped address topics in a manner suited for the general audience. The filmmakers didn’t work on these to confuse or leave the audience out. Just because they don’t feature a clawed superhero or a lightsaber doesn’t mean it’s not for the general audience. They’re created to make you think and form ideas on what you’ve seen—not to be taken at face value.
The Academy Awards help to bring these films to the general audience, who often wonder what a great movie was from the past year. Nowhere does it say during the ceremony “You must agree with this!” or state, “Hey, we have better taste than you folks watching at home!” It simply awards the films that are well crafted from all aspects: visual effects, makeup, costuming, writing, scoring, acting, directing, and producing.
Just because a film will be considered a pop culture classic later in its existence doesn’t mean it’s worthy of the golden statue. The Academy wouldn’t nominate something that’s completely avant-garde as it would isolate the casual viewer. It’s there to help the common viewer find a well-made film.
These films may not be the most entertaining, but they subvert the expectations we have when settling in to watch a movie. The films nominated are didactic, artistic, and thought-provoking rather than being formulaic, overrun with CGI, and thematically flat. Whether that’s your taste is entirely up to you. But to judge a piece of art based on the money it made and its popularity as opposed to its production and subject matter seems obtuse.