Let’s be real — 2019 was a great year for film. So why doesn’t the 2020 Academy Awards represent the vast and diverse catalogue of brilliant films released last year?
While a majority of films this year do deserve their nominations, it’s hard not to look at the Oscars list and lament over the snubs.
We see so much love for Joker, The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and 1917, but not one nomination for great films like Uncut Gems, Dolemite Is My Name, Booksmart and The Farewell. How do these egregious snubs happen while 88 out of the 124 possible nominations went to the same 17 films?
Within the prejudiced system that is the film industry — which almost exclusively rewards white men for creating white male stories — there are two less discussed but problematic components that impacts a film’s possibility to be nominated: Oscar campaigns and Oscar season.
Studios often rely on Oscar campaigns in order to promote their films to the Academy. Through lobbying, parties, screenings and even circulating potentially damaging rumours about their competition, studios can spend an upwards of $10 million on their campaigns. A studio wants their product to be profitable and being nominated or winning awards can help a film make money.
A studio that has the financial privilege to hire strategists and create an Oscar campaign can potentially influence Academy members. Wonderful films that deserve recognition but can’t financially keep up with big-budget Oscar campaigns are frequently left in the dust.
Oscar campaigns can get precious Academy votes, but which films do people remember the most at the end of the year? Often, it’s the movie that is freshest in their minds.
Traditionally extending from late fall to the end of December, Oscar season is the time when studios release the films that they think are awards contenders. When cinemas are overloaded with often very good films all vying for prestigious nominations at the end of the year, it can be difficult to remember the great films released earlier on in the year.
But how is that exclusion either fair for early year releases or beneficial for a system which claims to award cinema’s best and brightest?
The Academy can make allowance for films that can’t take the financial risk of being released at the same time as major studio Oscar hopefuls by changing how it selects nominees.
This issue is illustrated by the prestigious nominations for Best Picture this year. Six out of nine best picture nominees are distributed by major studios that have the budget to campaign. If you want to add Netflix in the mix, that number goes from six to eight. Only Bong Joon-ho’s surprise contender Parasite — the first South Korean film nominated for best picture — was distributed in North America by indie studio Neon.
And of those nine films nominated for best picture, eight of them were released between October and December — the outlier being awards darling Quentin Tarantino’s latest feature Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which came out in July. These patterns are troubling when you step back and look at the plethora of wonderful, creative and different films released in 2019.
The Oscars are not the be-all and end-all of cinema. But what the Oscars do that is so important is that they legitimize films.
If the film industry and the Academy continue to allow big studios to hack the system, we will continue to see an oversaturation of white male films during Oscar season. Maybe someday the Oscars will do what they are meant for and actually celebrate artistic and technical brilliance in cinema.
Photo: Flickr/ Alan Light