Tis award season again. A time for those in the film industry to acknowledge the work of dedicated members of cinema, allowing many of them the chance to one day look back at their nominations or award wins as their greatest achievements. But I ask myself, is that what award season is about? In recent years I have found award season to be less about acknowledging good films, or opening doors to what eventually become greatly overlooked films, and more about the giant popularity contest that is Hollywood.
Every year, as we lead up to the biggest award show of them all: The Oscars, people around the world line up to place their bets on which performers, films and various crew will walk away with nominations and wins. Throughout the years, a continuous routine has, for me, made these ceremonies predictable and unenjoyable. At each award show you can guarantee that the films likely to be nominated will include: a historical, biographical film, a deeply emotional and powerful drama, and, providing one was made that year, a war film. Very rarely does a film that pushes the envelope or chooses to stand out get so much as a nomination and if it does it is not likely to win. At the 78th Academy Awards, for example, Brokeback Mountain turned heads and received the most nominations with a total of eight; deemed by many viewers as the certain winner, the film lost Best Picture that year to Crash. It seems that there was no chance the Academy was going to give the award to a film about a love story between two men, even though it so clearly was deserving of it.
For many years the Academy has refused to really open its doors to many of the genres that exist in the film industry, making it near impossible for many incredible actors, directors and writers to gain recognition for their work. Most notable is the Academy’s hesitance to include films from the horror genre. At the 64th Academy Awards, The Silence of the Lambs became the first – and, to date, last – horror film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. With six nominations in 1992, Jonathan Demme’s film simultaneously became only the third film to win the “Big Five” major categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. A small number of horror films have since gained nominations but no others have ever been able to snag Best Picture. Even great directors have lost recognition, such as Steven Spielberg. A name synonymous with the film industry, Spielberg was certain he would win the Academy Award for Best Director for his work in 1975’s Jaws, but that was not to be. Jaws became one of the few films to be nominated for Best Picture but not for directing, acting or writing. The only awards it took away that year were for Best Original Score and Best Sound.
This year, at the 90th Oscars, 2017’s Get Out shows a shift in the tide by being a horror film nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. This is also important because it makes director Jordan Peele just the third person in history to earn nominations in three categories from a directorial debut. While this is a huge feet for all those involved and a great honour, I personally don’t think it will be seeing more than nominations this year. Looking at its contenders in those categories, most of which are classic comfort zones for the Academy, I don’t see it walking away with any awards.
While I typically stay out of the guessing game for who will get what award, due to over the years it feeling much like going down to the track and placing your bets on which horse is going to win, I do have some thoughts. I see Best Picture being a toss up between Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Shape of Water. Best Actor going to Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour. Best Actress to Frances McDormand for Three Billboards. Best Director to Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water and Best Original Screenplay to Martin McDonagh for Three Billboards. Now these are all the guesses of a singular person, whose opinion means very little, but while all the films nominated are entirely deserving of their nominations I still feel the Academy is going to stay in its wheelhouse and give the awards to films that fit their idea of what an Oscar winning film is.
If this year the Oscars surprise me, by giving one of the Big Five awards to a film that you would not predict the Academy to go for, I might just reconsider my disinterest in the awards. The Academy seem afraid to acknowledge films that choose to go against the grain, films that go on to be influential and make their mark in history even without awards. The film industry is vast and covers so many genres, addressing innumerable issues and telling so many stories, yet, almost every year, I find myself watching films being nominated that address the same old story. While the aesthetics change, the central focus points don’t seem to. I am still awaiting the day that the Awards get completely turned on their head and open their doors to more of the films we love and have been touched by. For those films to even see a single nomination is like the first glimpse of light at the end of a very long tunnel, and I continue to sit and wait for that day to come.