By Eros ViDemantay
Regardless of whether you’re a hardcore cinephile or a casual movie fan, you’ve probably heard of the Academy Awards, a.k.a. the Oscars. Held every year in the spring, the event is one of the most exclusive in the world: A-listers and pop icons from all over the world crowd into the Dolby Theater in Hollywood to see which films and actors win the industry’s most coveted award. Bringing in millions of viewers, the Oscars are also important in pop culture, as the movie that usually wins “Best Picture”, the grand award of the night, gets a huge boost in ticket sales and/or popularity.
Recently, however, the Oscars have been on a decline. Actors of Color in a predominantly white industry have faced harder times securing nominations. The hashtag #OcarsSoWhite has caused the awards broadcast to decline in the latter half of the 2010s: where the Oscars had a viewership of 40 million in 2014, that number dropped to a shocking 15 million in 2022. In recent years, the Oscars have had a tendency to nominate little-known independent films that have previously been invisible to the public eye (2023 aims to change this, and more on that later). Actors from Gary Oldman to Cate Blanchett have denounced award shows as “outdated” and “corrupt”. And in some way, they’re correct. There have been multiple media outlets - from The Hollywood Reporter to The Los Angeles Times - that have exposed bribery and even sexual favors in order to win the coveted Oscar gold.
Today, we’re going to put that aside and focus on the nomination that was announced on Jan 24, 2023, and what it means for the Oscar race going forward.
There is a Love for Blockbuster Movies
In the past years, the Oscars have favored arthouse films over blockbuster IP or commercially successful films. For example, in 2016, the super hit “La La Land” (with a box office gross of $447 million) famously lost to the micro-budget indie “Moonlight” (which only grossed $63 million). At the time, Moonlight’s earnings made it the second-lowest-grossing Best Picture winner.
This tendency to nominate obscure films has worked in some rare cases (see: “Call Me By Your Name” launching Timothee Chalamet’s career despite only grossing $43 million at the box office), but more often than not, it makes the awards broadcast inaccessible to the millions watching at home, who more than likely haven’t heard of a majority of the films. This could be perceived as a factor to the Oscars’ decline.
However, the Academy decided to show some love the some of the highest-grossing films this year: “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” have received multiple nominations, Best Picture among them, and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” gave Angela Bassett a nomination for Best Supporting Actress - the first for a Marvel actor. Funny enough, all these films are also sequels.
As the Academy has added thousands of new members to its ranks, it was bound to happen that there would be a diverse taste of films nominated. Specifically, as international journalists, filmmakers, and executives have been invited to join the Academy, international movies have been nominated in major categories. For the past 4 years, one international director has been nominated in the respective category (this year, it was Reuben Östlund for “Triangle of Sadness”). Other international films that broke out of the Best International Feature Film category included the Indian Telugu film “RRR” in Best Original Song for Naatu Naatu and the German WWII epic “All Quiet on the Western Front” in Best Picture (among other categories). Hopefully, these new international films will actually win some awards to further cement international cinema as crucial to the ongoing Hollywood system.
Last Minute Campaign?
Traditionally, Oscar campaigns can start as early as June (most Academy Awards take place in March or April). This was certainly the case for films like “Everything Everywhere All At Once” and “Elvis”, who depended on the summer box office season for a good profit. Oscar campaigning can often be costly: Netflix was rumored to spend $100 million for its 2019 “The Irishman” Oscars campaign. But what if you have no money?
“To Leslie” was a film that was quietly released in October of 2022; it made no more than $27,000 at the box office. However, its star, Andrea Riseborough, had a bunch of famous friends that she could use to get her a coveted nomination. That’s why, in January of 2023 - only days before Academy Nomination Voting closed - A-list celebrities like Edward Norton, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Cate Blanchett (herself also nominated in the Best Actress category) took to social media to promote Riseborough’s performance.
The result? A nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, notably beating out fellow actresses Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler (two women of color). The move caused outrage and claims that Riseborough had illegally solicited Academy votes. An investigation by the Academy followed. For now, Riseborough’s nomination still stands, though she may have pioneered a new method of Oscar campaigning: no money, just pure industry connections.
The Oscars will take place at the Dolby theater on Mar 12, 2023. There are bound to be many snubs and surprises. Tune in for the telecast on ABC and keep a lookout for my SOARce article on the winners in the March edition!