When the Oscar nominations were announced and Spider-Man: No Way Home was not on the list as one of the ten Best Pictures of the year, the broader collective noticed. Jimmy Kimmel and Kevin Smith were just two of those who said out loud that it was crazy to have left that film off the list. Indeed, Spider-Man is on its way to becoming the third highest-grossing film of all time, and it is, to my mind, self-defeating to not nominate the film. But if you spend time on Film Twitter, you will see that this is not a popular opinion. They are very much of the mind that there is nothing really wrong with the Oscars not nominating a superhero movie, and the Academy and industry clearly agree.
To the rest of the country, this looks like a “let them eat Marvel” moment. But to the insular world that covers the Oscars and votes on the Oscars, there is no problem here. There is a pretty good chance the ratings will rise after last year’s disaster. After all, how much worse could it get that only 9 million viewers down from 20 million which was down from 40 million.
There have been many complaints about the Oscars being too political. The only way you haven’t noticed this is, if you are in the thick of it with them, your daily existence is about everything the Oscars have become. I don’t think anyone has clarified this better than deepfocuslens:
What I love about her video is that she is being honest, for starters. You just don’t get that much at all in this business. Her video is so smart it actually gives me hope for the future where I had none. I already knew that millennials were the future (per the book The Fourth Turning, they will be the new “hero” generation), but because of the climate of fear that oppresses and suppresses speech in the film industry and the “left” overall, I haven’t seen much in the way of forthright voices.
I love that she has noticed what has become of the “Oscar movie.” How virtue signaling and turning every movie into a PSA has all but destroyed much of what used to define art in film, but especially in the area where the Oscars are concerned. She brings up Harvey Weinstein as being someone who invented modern-day Oscar campaigning. We used to call Weinstein the “Oscar Whisperer” because he knew Oscar voters better than they knew themselves.
When Weinstein became influential in the Oscar race, his formula was to allow Oscar voters not to feel like they needed to evolve. He would find the movies they like, movies that are in their comfort zone, and they would respond accordingly. He was good at it because he knew the voters. Now, the same sort of strategy is at play, but the voters have changed. They are still interested in being “good people doing good things,” but their definition of good, as Deepfocuslens points out, is to broadcast how “woke” they are.
There is no doubt that the Oscars are fading from public consciousness. This has been true for a while. The first time I noticed the disconnect was in 2009. Everyone in the industry was buzzing about how the first film by a woman was about to win Best Picture. I know I’ve told this story a few times now, but I’ll tell it one more time. I was meeting with a group of moms who lived in Laurel Canyon. They were very sophisticated, college-educated, feminists. One of them is an NPR reporter. I asked them what they thought was going to win Best Picture, and they said “Oh, Avatar.” And I said, “No, the Hurt Locker is.” They had no idea what the Hurt Locker even was, much less that Oscar history was about to be made. I was surprised by that but it’s only gotten worse since then. Explaining what I do has always been a little weird but as the Oscars became more niche, explaining them became more difficult. We in the business understand it but people outside of it really don’t, not anymore.
If you look at this chart of Oscar ratings, the Gandhi and Titanic years were the highest. But as you can see, the ratings have been in steady decline starting right about the time Trump won. That is because, I think and have previously said, that Hollywood and the Academy took the side of the “resistance” and used their show, along with every other major cultural institution, to do battle with Trump. Not only did this alienate half the country who voted for him (they see Trump very differently than people on the Left do, just as they see the Left very differently than the Left sees itself), but they also alienated people who are on the Left but just got sick of every award show being about politics whether it was the Me Too movement or the conversations around inclusion. For Hollywood, this was necessary work. To the broader public, it began to look very much like its own little bubble.
So much has changed, obviously, including the rise of streaming, a new golden age of great television, flat screen TVs, and of course, the rise of branded superhero movies that have alienated audiences. This past year, though, was a real gut punch as audiences did not turn up for West Side Story or King Richard or even The Last Duel. The two movies that did well in the Oscar race were Dune and House of Gucci. Only one of them got into the Best Picture race because the Oscars, and the Oscar industry, are very much decoupled from the broader movie going audiences now.
But also, movies that are acceptable for Oscar voters is also narrowing. Art, at least in this country, is under the thumb of the judgmental eye of Blue Check Twitter that is always on the hunt for perceived wrongs. But of course, if you can’t be experimental and you can’t be subversive and you can’t be free to try anything, the whole industry will stagnate.
Deepfocuslens points out that the best films are subversive or dark, and not “PSA’s.” The reason movies, especially Oscar movies, have become that way is that back in the 1960s and 1970s, the counter-culture revolution was pushing back against a much more conservative status quo, which is why the movies were so great. They were breaking free from what had become a tightly controlled, message-driven industry.
If you look at this video from the utopia of the 1950s then imagine what American life then became in, say, 1968 and you can see just how dramatically that was upended:
That is how you get from the Best Picture winners of the 1950s:
All About Eve (fairly subversive for the time)
An American in Paris
The Greatest Show on Earth
From Here to Eternity
On the Waterfront
Around the World in 80 Days
To the films that won in the 1970s:
The French Connection
The Godfather II
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Kramer vs. Kramer
And for all the films that won, there were so many nominated that didn’t:
Five Easy Pieces
A Clockwork Orange
The Last Picture Show
Dog Day Afternoon
All That Jazz
Inspired, in part, by JFK and RFK’s rise, not to mention Martin Luther King, Jr., the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, etc., artists were pushing back against a government that began pulling right. By 1972, Nixon would win in a landslide, and although we had a brief four years of Jimmy Carter after Nixon’s fall, Ronald Reagan won in 1980 and would rule for the next 12 years. It would not be until Barack Obama’s rise that culture and politics would unite.
But if Obama and the Left had created a utopian vision for America, and so many of the artists were and are expected to be in support of that, to reflect that, just as they were in the 1950s, it makes it harder for subversive voices to rise. They will be snuffed out by the “Blue Check” army on Twitter and never get anywhere near the Oscar race.
This was apparent the year Trump won when La La Land became such a target. That was a pretty good sign where things were headed. Even though the film was not in any way right-leaning, it was still made by a white man and starred white people. There was a debate over whether Ryan Gosling had the right to talk about jazz, and that conversation kicked up enough fear that on Oscar night, I know because I was there, you could feel the tension in the room, the collective irrational fear any time La La Land was mentioned or won an award.
We watched for four or five years and artists, reporters, teachers, filmmakers were tossed into the public arena for shaming, all in an effort to continually purge the utopia of baddies. Everyone acted like all of it was perfectly normal, the persecution of artists. La La Land, Green Book, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – it was all the end of the world, according to Twitter, that they were winning awards, not to mention every other moment of panic, fear and hysteria we’ve all lived through.
Even now, trying to get Spotify to fire Joe Rogan or Netflix to fire Dave Chappelle has less to do with censoring them — they can’t be censored — and more to do with preserving the establishment that they control, their platforms, their narrative, their information stream. They are deemed threats because they do not follow the party line, and thus they must be purged.
That makes it difficult for artists to be subversive without being seen as threats. That is why, I think, we’re in the mess we’re in. Eventually, I think, the pendulum will swing and, at some point, art will become subversive again. But we aren’t there yet. So now, the movies, as they did in the 1950s, have to kind of hold the line in terms of what message they convey (Joker notwithstanding), who makes them, who is cast in them – they are all going to be heavily policed and scrutinized at all times.
I think what Oscar voters want is the same thing people on the Left want. They want to feel safe. They want to feel like they are on the right side. They want to feel like they still matter. But the list of requirements is too long. The demands are too high, all at a time when people barely watch the movies anyway. How does it get fixed? How do the Oscars break free from the watchful eye of Twitter? Well, when they get to that point where they no longer care what Twitter or the mainstream media thinks about them.
The Best Picture lineup is, I think personally, comprised of really great movies. I think if people actually watched them they’d get a lot of out them. I also admire how dark and strange The Power of the Dog, Licorice Pizza and Nightmare Alley are, how entertaining and heartwarming Belfast, King Richard, and CODA are. And yes, it’s true that do reflect the singular world view of the Left. And that, as DeepFocusLens points out, is one of the reasons they are no longer universal.
So why do the Oscars matter or do they matter?
I guess I would ask you, dear readers, what you think. Do they?