It’s that time of year in Hollywood; high- profile films, A-list celebrities and a full-blown media circus. It’s award season and the 83rd Academy Awards take place this Sunday. The Oscars have universally been regarded as the pinnacle of cinematic excellence and the most desired status symbol. Millions across the world watch the live televised ceremony itself every year and you’ll find it hard to escape some reference by virtually every form of media (Even if the majority are critiquing the designer gowns rather than the films) but beneath all the hype and hoopla what do these awards even amount to anymore?
Since its formation in 1929, the Oscars have simultaneously earned prestige whilst being riddled with regular controversy. The Academy has frequently faced accusations of discrimination against minorities in the industry as well as failing to acknowledge a more diverse selection of cinema. A voting membership of over five thousand affiliates including actors, directors and various technicians vote for, what they regard as the finest examples of cinema from the last calendar year. Naturally, the somewhat subjective nature of the process does mean that not every critic and filmgoer will be pleased with the list of nominees.
However, subjectivity isn’t the issue; money, marketing and promotional campaigns is. Studios spend a small fortune, hiring publicists to promote their films during the award season. The methods include but are not limited to lobbyists meticulously designing marketing strategies to ensure their film creates more highbrow hype. Ads titled ‘For Your Consideration’ are put out in Hollywood trade magazines addressing the voters directly with DVD copies of their films and you’ll find the stars giving interviews left, right and centre leading up to the awards. It’s near to impossible to escape the year’s major studio releases. How can low budget, scarcely distributed films compete with the Hollywood big boys? Are these awards for the best in cinema or the most promoted films? Why does your film have to be a media whore to gain respect? The fact that every year there are a handful of films that sweep the awards exemplifies the Academy’s limited imagination and appreciation of cinema.
This years nominees in most categories include, Black Swan, True Grit, Inception, The Kings Speech and The Social Network. All these films not only have money behind them but high profile prestige. This is not to say that these are not strong example of filmmaking and of course they have their strengths but I wonder how much their excellence and reputation was spoon-fed to the viewers and the voters at the cost of lesser known films. The American film studios, collectively generate several hundred films a year, that’s not even considering the independent cinema market, yet by November most of the audience and critics can safely bet on what will make it to the Oscars. This isn’t necessary a sign of their eye for great cinema but more an understanding of the Oscar formula. Every year certain ‘tailor made’ stories, themes, styles, directors and actors make the list. An Oscar nomination (even better, a win) means big bucks for studios and enormous boosts to the careers of the nominees. Do those incentives to win compromise the integrity of the award? Probably but at least the dresses are pretty