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5 Ways the Oscars Can Improve

Well, for the first time in several years, the Academy Awards nominations are out and not head-scratchingly out of touch. While Wonder Womana hit both critically and at the box office, was strangely completely shut out, most of the nominations actually reflect some of the best work this year, with Get Out and The Shape of Water (two of my personal favorites) receiving multiple nominations. We’ll have to wait to talk about Three Billboards another day, but tl;dr– it’s a good movie, but perhaps not as deserving as the multiple nominations it deserves.

I’m still mad that we’ll give an award to Gary Oldman wearing a fatsuit as Winston Churchill but not Andy Serkis wearing digital makeup as Caesar, but at least we’re seeing a diverse (and deserving!) group of nominees.

I was especially happy to see Get Out, Lady Bird, The Big Sick, and Mudbound get nominations. While in the Best Director category I’d rather replace Christopher Nolan and Paul Thomas Anderson with… I dunno– Patty Jenkins, Rian Johnson, Denis Villanueve, Kathryn Bigelow, but that’s just personal taste. 

It’s so odd that it’s 2018 and this is the first time a woman has been nominated for cinematography. And while Rachel Morrison‘s work on Mudbound is definitely worthy of nomination, it’s supremely unfortunate she is competing against what may be Roger Deakins‘ best work ever — and that’s saying something for the prolific master with his 14th nomination.

So, all in all, Oscars? Not bad.

But…

Let’s face it: the Oscars kind of suck. But in admitting this truth, we can recognize the ways the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences needs to adapt, improve, and revitalize their relevance.

The biggest problem with the Academy Awards is they don’t really award the best in the film industry. The voting is so political– and not political in terms of awarding diversity or political as in reflecting our actual politics. But Academy voters generally have seemed more focused on rewarding current less good films from those who were snubbed in the past that it then snubs those working on the bleeding edge of film today.  Hence, this is likely Deakins’ year– not only because of the masterwork that is BladeRunner2049, but also for all of his other works.

They took a giant step forward last year in awarding Best Picture to Moonlight and recognizing Barry Jenkins‘ excellent work in it. Despite that, there is still Hollywood’s diversity problem– and yes, this is a system-wide problem that is directly reflected in the Academy’s voting.

While on both of these complaints there is some improvement, but just because Guillermo Del Toro, Jordan Peele, and Greta Gerwig are nominated this year, let’s not kid ourselves that they’ve fixed the problem. This is, however, a giant step forward. But Greta Gerwig is only the fifth female director ever nominated. Jordan Peele is also only the fifth black director ever nominated. And Del Toro’s nomination is only the fifth time a Latino has been nominated– and three of those were for Alejandro Iñárritu.

Still? Progress.

Also, things have just changed with movies. We need to simultaneously bemoan the fact that fewer members of the public enjoy seeing groundbreaking cinema, while also recognizing the artistry that goes into making a Last Jedi or Logan or Wonder Woman.

Most of the Best Picture nominations have made less than $100 million. NONE of the top 10 grossing movies of 2017 are nominated for Best Picture or Best Director. While we should in no way conflate box office with artistic merit (C’mon– my favorite movie of 2017 was a complete flop) but it’s no wonder the public tunes out– because the Oscars celebrate what Hollywood likes in its movies, but not necessarily the rest of the country. In fact, of the top twenty best performing films of 2017, you only have two that received Best Picture / Best Director nominations — Dunkirk (16th) and Get Out (18th).

But let’s focus less on what is wrong and more on what we can do to make it right. Here are five simple ideas, including three new awards, that would revitalize the Oscars and make them more meaningful. And for each one I’ll look across dimensions to Earth-2, where these already exist, to give you some ideas of past winners and this year’s nominees.

1. BEST SPECIAL PERFORMANCE – MOTION CAPTURE, PRACTICAL EFFECTS OR DIGITAL ANIMATION

Think of it like the award for “Best Makeup.” Instead of putting people in masks and prosthetics, modern movie makers are covering some of our best actors in tiny dots and green spandex to create digital characters just as real as any actor on screen. And every year they keep getting better. This award should go to the actor(s) creating the characters as well as the animators themselves, and should be for both traditional animated films as well as live-action films with digital characters. And because sometimes more than one actor is contributing to the amazing work here, films and their producers can nominate a single actor or multiple for consideration, as well as the VFX/animation teams responsible.

Yes, this is how we get Andy Serkis the Oscars he already deserves but will never receive. It was salt in a wound to see Serkis announcing the awards this year– you knew he wouldn’t be nominated. But it would also be a way to recognize animation and voice-over work in a film like Toy Story where animators are capturing actors’ facial performances to inform their animation. Likewise we should recognize excellent puppetry work and practical creature effects, or in combination with digital effects like this year’s Yoda cameo in The Last Jedi or Doug Jones’ performance as the creature in The Shape of Water.

And because these types of performances are most often used in big budget blockbusters, it’s a great way to get people involved in watching an awards show where they actually have seen some of the top films. Let’s start the Oscar campaign now for Gypsy Danger in Pacific Rim 2, shall we?

Past winners:
2017 – Guy Henry, Ingvild Deila, Alan Tudyk and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
2016 – Lupita Nyong’o and Star Wars: The Force Awakens
2015 – Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel and Guardians of the Galaxy
2014 – Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, Nick Thurston, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Doc Shaw, Judy Greer, Lee Ross and Rise of the Planet of the Apes

2018 nominees:
Andy Serkis, Steve Zahn, Nick Thurston, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary and War for the Planet of the Apes
Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor and Coco
Mark Ruffalo, Taika Waititi and Thor: Ragnarok
Doug Jones and The Shape of Water
Liam Neeson and A Monster Calls

2. BEST ENSEMBLE CAST

Sometimes no single actor is worthy of an award, but the rich alchemy of what a director brings together means everyone deserves some accolades. And because no one seems to be able to decide what is a leading and what is a supporting role anymore, this offers some flexibility, as well as the opportunity to reward multiple supporting actors for their fine work.

This would help the Oscars’ diversity problem, as there simply aren’t enough leading roles for people of color, but they very often inhabit secondary roles, but maybe not the ones who get Best Supporting Actor/Actress nods.

Also, given the star-studded casts of our blockbusters, this is also an opportunity to reward a film along the lines of The Fellowship of the Ring or a film like last year’s Moonlight  where three different actors play the same character and it’s next to impossible to choose which one is better than the others.

Past winners:
2017: Moonlight
2016: Spotlight
2015: Selma
2014: The Wolf of Wall St

2018 nominees:
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Get Out

The Shape of Water
Marshall
The Post

3. EMERGING VISIONS

Think of it like the Grammy for “Best New Artist.” Since the Oscars so often neglect groundbreaking work from up-and-coming directors and screenwriters, let’s award some of the new blood in the same way a lot of film festivals do.

And rather than being too strict on the rules, broadly define the category as any sort of “Breakthrough” film. It could be a director known for independent work who finally saw some mainstream success (so this wasn’t technically their first film.) Or it might be their first film.

Oh, and to make it especially fun, it can be awarded to the writer OR director (or both), as well as the producers in the same way Best Picture rewards the entire film.

Past winners:
2017: Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
2016: Alfonso Gómez-Rejón and Jesse Andrew – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
2015: Ava DuVernay – Selma
2014: Ryan Coogler – Fruitvale Station

2018 nominees:
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Kumail Najiani and Emily Gordon – The Big Sick
David Leitch – Atomic Blonde
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Trey Edward Shults – It Comes at Night

4. STOP GHETTO-IZING ANIMATION

Perhaps the biggest snubs every year are the animated features that don’t end up nominated for Best Picture. This is more a change of mindset than anything else, but it is ridiculous that in the history of the Academy Awards, only three animated films have ever been nominated for Best Picture.

While this was supposed to have been ameliorated by including a new category for Best Animated Feature (and the expansion of Best Picture nominees from 5 to as many as 10), it’s still incredibly hard for a movie to be recognized as the achievement it is. The same is true for documentaries, where no documentary film has ever been nominated.

Especially where in the last few years we had some of the best animated films we’ve had in a long time, it’s time for members of the Academy to start voting for animated films for Best Picture. It’s an even bigger hill to climb for anime — voters need to start recognizing films made by Japanese studios other than Ghibli, especially given the stellar quality of films like Your Name. 

Past inclusions:
2017: Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, Zootopia
2016: Inside Out, Shaun the Sheep
2015: The Lego Movie, The Boxtrolls
2014: Frozen

2018 inclusions:
Coco
Your Name

5. ALWAYS HAVE 10 BEST PICTURE NOMINEES . . . AND 10 BEST DIRECTORS

It’s unclear why the Academy chooses the number of Best Picture nominees it does. But considering their use of “IRV” or instant-runoff voting, films are ranked by the voters and then the winner is truly the consensus winner.

Considering that point, it’s completely odd that the Academy would choose to honor ten films, but not ten directors. When Selma is nominated for Best Picture, but Ava DuVernay is not (and Bennett Miller is? Two years later, does anyone remember Foxcatcher? Didn’t think so. . .Again, another example of the Academy trying to award mediocre work in exchange for snubbing Bennett’s previous excellent work on Capote and Moneyball) it raises some very serious eyebrows.

Why not celebrate ten directors? The same reason why you wouldn’t want a full slate of ten films for Best Picture. Which is no reason at all. So stop doing it.

Cast a wider net, celebrate more people and their contributions, and you’ll find diversity (and brilliance, and cutting-edge work) celebrated more often and the Academy honoring grey-haired white men only when they truly deserve it.

Best Director additions:
Denis Villanueve – BladeRunner 2049
Patty Jenkins – Wonder Woman
Kathryn Bigelow – Detroit
James Mangold – Logan
Edgar Wright – Baby Driver

Best Picture addition
Coco

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