A new awards cycle with the same old problems.
Today, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced their selections for this years Oscar race. Looking over the titles that appear in multiple categories, it's clear that Academy voters are not straying to far from form.
There's the heavy, unrelenting dramas (Room, The Revenant), the politically topical dramedy (The Big Short), and one visually striking audience-pleaser (Mad Max: Fury Road) among others. Notably absent, however, is the biggest movie of the year: Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Despite breaking records at the box office and winning almost unanimous critical approval, The Force Awakens only nabbed mostly technical nominations at the Oscars. Is this the latest indicator that the Academy's voting body is out of touch with what moviegoing audiences want? Let's take a look at why that just may be the case.
There could have been more Best Picture nominees
In total, there were eight Best Picture nominees this year (Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, The Martian, and Spotlight along with the four listed above). Let's keep in mind that with the updated nomination limit that came into effect in 2009, up to ten movies can be nominated for Best Picture. That means that voters actively decided to leave out two movies that could have contended for the prize.
A closer look at the new voting process might explain why. In order to secure a Best Picture nomination, a film must earn 5% of first-place rankings. I have a feeling that The Force Awakens ended up on a lot of lists, just never in the top spot where it was needed.
Audience enjoyment never seems to play a role
Every year, there's the feeling that the esoteric film elite that votes on Oscar awards is totally detached from what the average audience member wants. Typically there's one so-called mainstream or big budget movie that makes this list — this year that would be the deserving Mad Max: Fury Road — but often they're left out entirely.
I get the impression that most Academy voters make their decisions by reading movies textually, looking for meaning between the scenes as one would between the pages of a book. While this is a standard, valid, and respectable approach, too often it leaves out any contextual meaning like the lived experience of watching the movie or the great fan response surrounding it.
These are types of things that inform my viewing experience, and I think the same goes for most people. Spectacle and pure fan enjoyment seem to repel Academy voters most of the time, which only does a disservice to deserving movies that have wide appeal.
It could have followed in the footsteps of the original
When the first Star Wars came out in 1977, it was nominated for a then-surprising ten Academy Awards, including Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Alec Guinness for Obi-Wan Kenobi), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director (George Lucas). It ended up taking home six statues plus a special achievement award for Alien, Creature, and Robot Voices.
Since then, every Star Wars film (including the prequels) has been nominated for at least one Oscar. But along the way, it became all about the visual effects and technical achievements with no love for the story, performances, or directing (the big awards at the Oscars). The Force Awakens gained laudable nominations for Best Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects. It has great chances in most of those categories, but fans can't help but think that maybe there should have been more.
Ultimately, The Force Awakens may not be the Best Picture of the year, but you can definitely make the argument that it deserved a chance in the nominations.