In what seems like a broken record as each Oscar season comes and goes, the criticism about the nominees being light on horror, sci-fi, and action/adventure films (comedies too) hold true every single season. Now imagine these recent frustrations and then go back in time to the 90s, 80s, 70s, 60s, 50s, 40s, 30s, and late-1920s, and then realize that those criticisms have stood firm for the better part of 100 years of film history–it’s staggering to consider. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences are not fond of genre films in the major categories. It’s inaccurate to say “at all,” because after all, these films dominate many of the technical categories every year, but the top-tier categories–forget about it. In the 21st-century alone, 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and 2017’s The Shape of Water are two fantasy films that have won the Best Picture Oscar; but winning an Oscar is not even the point when genre films are consistently shut out of the nominations upper ballot. West Side Story was an okay remake; it was technically dazzling, but apart from Ariana DeBose (nominated) and Mike Faist’s (snubbed) performances, nothing much else stood out. Spielberg got name checked for Best Director while Dune’s Denis Villeneuve was snubbed, the list goes on and on. A pattern starts to emerge. There will never be an explanation to why this occurs, but we can try and decipher it’s history and why this happens every year.
Inherent Film Bias
Spider Man: No Way Home was a great movie; I can also join the Oscar majority in saying that Belfast and Drive My Car were also great movies. It seems to be that the problem the Academy has is that many of its members cannot embrace what is great across multiple genres. As a lifelong cinephile, I can say that what makes a three-hour, cerebral Japanese drama about the powerful pain of grief great (Drive My Car), and what makes a superhero film great are entirely separate aesthetics obviously–but its the arrival of greatness that filmgoers willing to embrace anything and everything arrive at in unique and individualistic ways that truly matters. What genre film snubs spell out to filmgoers is not that the Academy knows best what true filmic art really is–more like the Academy has overdosed on it’s own decades-long pretentiousness to the point where it is becoming painfully obvious to the masses. I can easily remember the 1990s when Miramax and Harvey Weinstein practically bought Oscars, so it is ridiculous to try and hold steady that an AMPAS win is a barometer of what matters when stamping cinema “the best.” But historical blemishes aside, the Oscars have always been a convenient tool for casual filmgoers to seek out stuff they may have missed–but it is becoming clearer and clearer that was always a ruse because celebrated favorites casual filmgoers paid money to see never even stood a chance of making it into the main categories. Let’s take a look at some statistics in the Best Picture category alone.
Horror: 1- The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Scene for scene, Jonathan Demme’s classic is really a psychological thriller, but for the sake of argument, this is the only horror film in 94 years to win the Best Picture Oscar. The Exorcist (1973), Jaws (1975), and Get Out (2017) are some of the only other true horror nominees.
Sorry, but The Shape of Water was not a sci-fi film. It was a fantasy film that only got elevated because Guillermo Del Toro heightened the symbolism and metaphors alluding to drama and bigotry within the narrative. A great film nonetheless, but this was not the first sci-fi film to win Best Picture. No sci-fi film has ever won. Star Wars (1977), E.T. (1982), Inception (2010), Her (2013), Gravity (2013), and Arrival (2016) were some that were nominated…and snubbed.
Comedy: 6-It Happened One Night (1934), You Can’t Take It With You (1938), Tom Jones (1963), The Sting (1973), Annie Hall (1977), and The Artist (2011)
Comedy films have been by far the highest ranking of genre films to secure the Oscar for Best Picture with 6 wins.
Action/Adventure: 5-Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Dances With Wolves (1990, western hybrid), Titanic (1997)
Action and adventure films do seem to get nominated for best picture occasionally, and Black Panther (2018) is to date, the only MCU film to ever receive a best picture nomination. Joker (2019) also received a best picture nomination.
Best “Popular Film” Is a Slap in the Face
A few years ago, AMPAS released a statement pledging to vote on the inclusion of a “best popular film” award to join the rank of Oscar categories. While some felt this was a good idea, likely only in an effort to boost sagging ratings for the ceremony, it most certainly wasn’t a good idea–it was tantamount to a participation trophy. It is not far off to suggest that the AMPAS board was low-key trolling the public with this announcement. In many ways, they were saying that they understand you are frustrated or annoyed, so here, we will give you your own little corner in the auditorium to cheer for your favorites. There is no need to create such a category when the central thesis of the Oscars is to reward the best of cinema for a calendar year; not reward the best of cinema that we are told is pure and ingenious so we can all feel superior to avoid facing our own hackish sensibilities.
The Oscars are slowly but surely getting some things right…even though they move slower than George R.R. Martin finishing The Winds of Winter. The recent embrace of international cinema is long overdue…about 70 or so years overdue to be honest. As mentioned, it is nearly impossible to change 94 years of gridlock, add to that the dismissal of the Oscar’s overall relevance in general. But it would be nice to see all of cinema embraced one day as long as “Oscar nominees” clog up trending traffic every February.
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