The Oscars disconnect

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The Oscars disconnect

Comedian and host of

Comedian and host of "Jimmy Kimmel Live," Kimmel returns as host of the Academy Awards on Sunday March 4 on ABC. This year is the 90th anniversary of the show. (Photo courtesy of AP Newsroom)

Comedian and host of "Jimmy Kimmel Live," Kimmel returns as host of the Academy Awards on Sunday March 4 on ABC. This year is the 90th anniversary of the show. (Photo courtesy of AP Newsroom)

Comedian and host of "Jimmy Kimmel Live," Kimmel returns as host of the Academy Awards on Sunday March 4 on ABC. This year is the 90th anniversary of the show. (Photo courtesy of AP Newsroom)

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Ah, the Academy Awards.  The awards show where movie buffs and casual fans alike come together to find out definitively what the pinnacle of the industry was over the past year. At least according to the 7,000 or so members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who vote.

There can certainly be no debate as to the type of films they favor.  Ricky Gervais points it out in episode three of the show “Extras.” Kate Winslet decides to take on the role of a nun in the holocaust and Gervais’ character commends her for taking on a role to raise awareness for such a horrific event.  Winslet laughs, “I’m doing it because I’ve noticed if you do a film about the Holocaust, you’re guaranteed an Oscar…Schindler’s bloody List, “The Pianist.” They’ve got Oscar’s coming out of their (butt).”

That is a bit of an exaggeration, but almost every year period pieces, three-hour epics and a few indie dramas garner numerus nominations.  But those are not art house films like “Lady Bird”; the only one not distributed by one of the Big Six (Universal, Fox, Disney, Warner Bros., Columbia or Paramount). They certainly are not money makers, as only “Dunkirk” and “Get Out” grossed over 100 million dollars domestically.  It would be hard to definitively call any of the Best Picture nominees bad (usually), but what audience would rate them as the best films?

The Oscars seem caught in a strange middle ground were connoisseurs gape in horror at the glaring misses in nominations (No “Florida Project?” Egad!) while movie greenhorns stare in disinterest at eight nominated films they have never heard of.  Perhaps this is part of why viewership dropped for the third straight year in 2017.  According to Deadline, the final count was 32.9 million viewers, a nine-year low.

Daniel Bashara, a teacher of media and culture theory, received his MA and PhD from Northwestern’s Screen Cultures program. Yet, despite his interest in film, he hasn’t kept up with the Oscars in almost a decade.

“You know, there’s no way I can have this conversation without sounding like a snob, so I might as well go all in,” Bashara said.  “I feel like the kind of films nominated for Oscars are a little bit adventurous, but not adventurous enough to actually be new or interesting.”

Hollywood seems to have developed a set of rules as to how to tell a story, he said: Mention key facts at least three times, show things that will come back in act three in the first act and so on.  It is an intricate and well-oiled machine that is impressive, but still just a machine pumping out products.  Bashara said he would prefer things that “don’t play by that logic, confuse me and leave me wondering what I just watched.”

Meanwhile Steve Johnson, a graduate student at DePaul, said he is a huge superhero movie fan, a genre that is notably absent almost every year from the non-technical awards (yes, this disqualifies “Suicide Squad”).  He said he has not paid serious to attention for a few years, but takes notice when things like “Get Out” or “The Dark Knight” get awards buzz.  To him, many of the Oscar films felt like art films because you often have to go to independent theaters to find them and the Oscars could benefit by nominating more mainstream films.

Fellow DePaul student Ty Yamamoto said this is the first year he has paid close attention to the Oscars and he is excited because he now knows most of the nominees.  In past years, when he did not watch as many movies, he said he was uninterested in them.  Yamamoto said that he did not feel more mainstream films needed to be nominated, just a wider range in general.

It is a small sample, but they back up the falling viewers in saying that what the Oscars are doing now is not the greatest.

“Especially in major categories such as actor, actress, supporting actor and supporting actress, nominations often serve as an indication of both the popularity of the performer and the voting members’ perceived quality of the actual performance,” said Michael Deangelis, professor at DePaul and a heavily published film author.

“I think Hollywood is torn between art and profit… and what ends up happening is they respond to things that have political traction…and the awards are distributed accordingly.”

— Peter Forster, Screenwriter and DePaul Professor

Although the Academy has made it a focus to add more diversity to its voters in recent years, it seems unlikely that the type of movies that get nominated will change.  Still, Johnson remained optimistic about the future of the awards.

“There are films like “Monster’s Ball” that I never would have seen without the buzz it got. It’s good that the Oscars do that, and I think they should continue to do that,” Johnson said. “I think there is a happy medium they can find.”

Bashara had a different hope.

“I think I am maybe even more of a jerk than most about this, but there is a lot of attempts to break into the Oscars and I think that is the wrong battle,” Bashara said. “I think the real battle is just to stop caring about the Oscars and eventually it will just be five old, white dudes giving themselves awards in the corner and nobody will care. That is my dream.”