With a tendency to overlook talent and promote superficiality, the Oscars gain no awards for identifying true quality
On 27 March 1973, at the 45th Academy Awards, Marlon Brando declined his Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather. Only the second man in Oscars history to refuse the award, he did not attend the ceremony, sending instead Sacheen Littlefeather to explain that he disagreed with Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans within the film industry. The first man to do so was George C. Scott in 1971 for his performance in Patton. His reason was simple, and his exact words were, “The whole thing is a goddamn meat parade. I don’t want any part of it.”
We, as a society, love awards ceremonies. We love the glitz and glamour, the validation of someone receiving accolades, the assurance that this film or that song is good enough. It’s a reminder that your taste isn’t skewed and this external panel of ‘experts’ have given it the thumbs up, so now you can too. It is an agreed endorsement of what is acceptable and what isn’t. Guidance. Reassurance.
However, taste is of course subjective. One man’s Star Wars is another man’s Twilight (though I really hope not). And although, ultimately, all that really matters is taste, there are still some films that are drenched in revolutionary quality. They set the benchmark, and for that they receive attention, and with that attention comes plaudits. Enter the Oscars. Glamorous stars, prestigious awards, serious filmmaking; it has it all. The Academy Awards is the unofficial combined king and queen of awards ceremonies. And yet, whispers everyone each year, it’s still a bit of a letdown and definitely an anticlimax. People become shoe-ins to win Oscar awards months before, having been involved in a film that was almost entirely created for the purpose of being Oscar nominated. The Oscars has descended into a cliché-ridden catwalk and an ode to the cult of Hollywood, rather than the art of film.
Some of the greatest Oscars oversights include the vastly underrated Edward Norton not winning anything for American History X; the travesty that was Martin Scorsese being overlooked time and time again (most notably for Raging Bull), only to then win something of a conciliatory Oscar for the distinctly average The Departed; the entirety of Stanley Kubrick’s career; and the measly single Oscar nomination given to the much lauded Drive this year. As with the example of Scorsese, as well as many actors, talents are initially overlooked by the Academy until they have acquired enough plaudits, enough attention, enough prestige and reputation that they are finally given an award for their next viable effort. This is often regardless of it being deserved or not, bringing forth another Oscar darling of a film, but for all the wrong reasons. As Katherine Hepburn once wryly commented, “the right actors win Oscars, but for the wrong roles.”
As such, over the years there seems to have developed a sort of formula, if you will; a methodology and science behind what exactly is needed to secure that coveted golden man. The following are foolproof ways of winning an Oscar:
1) Be a former Hollywood heavyweight, now gone to seed and blurred around the edges, but back for one more shot at glory. Accompany this with a media furore in the lead up to the Oscars, about how so-and-so has cleaned up his act, joined the gym, and is ‘back for one last chance of proving themselves to their critics.’ Inspirational.
2) At least two ‘important ideas’ communicated at HIGH VOLUME. If possible, this should be done via an inspirational or rousing speech, marking a tear-jerker of a finale.
3) A moderate undercurrent – don’t be too radical. You can live on the edge a bit, but once you see it descending into out-of-the-box film-making, just… come back towards the centre. You don’t want to do something crazy like be pioneering. Tarantino did that with Reservoir Dogs and look where that got him. No pat on the head and golden man on his shelf.
4) For the budding actors out there – dress up, or fugly down. Nobody wants to see YOU on film. But playing a famous figure, especially if they’re historical and you’ve made a concentrated effort to look and sound the part, is a sure-fire way of guaranteeing at least a nomination. Alternatively, you can make yourself ugly, a la Cherlize Theron in Monster. A pretty blonde doesn’t scream Oscar winner, but an unattractive blonde serial killer with plenty of issues, who is pretty and blonde underneath? Game, set, and match.
5) Which brings us nicely onto the next point – issues. Normal is very nice, but it doesn’t scream winner. Some people act, direct, or write normal or mundane remarkably well, but they don’t need to be congratulated. Issues, on the other hand, indicate bravery. Include a drug addict, or two, in your films. Some violence, abuse, or family issues, and perhaps a psychiatric condition or speech impediment is helpful. If you can’t think of some good issues, just put them into a minority group. A safe bet is ethnic, religious, or sexual orientation. Overall, just make sure your protagonist’s journey isn’t smooth sailing. And don’t forget a tear-jerking finale.
6) Recycle. How relevant that in 2012 a charming silent film rocked the Oscars. However, ultimately, it was an idea recycled from the 20s but pushed into relevance in the noughties. Bored of current films, someone had the bright idea to look back and rummage around in film history, putting together a perfectly lovely film, but one which stood out more for novelty’s sake than anything else. So just do that kind of thing, and you’re onto a winner.
7) Harrowing events. Tug at the heartstrings of the judges, or guilt-trip them into voting for you by basing it around a warzone, post-apocalyptic landscape, or a horrific act of amorality in history. The more realistic, the better (imagination doesn’t bode too well with judges).
8 ) If all else fails, just make an animated film. Decent animated films are so thin on the ground now that this year even Kung Fu Panda 2 was a nominee. While I’m sure a sequel about a martial-arts loving mammal and his furry friends is delightful … an Oscar nomination? Really?
And there you have your guidelines, in all their cynical glory. Budding filmmakers, get your cameras out and get creating. And when I say creating, I mean sticking to these rules. The overall aim is to create a film whose main raison d’être is to be an Oscar nominee. Don’t try and be subtle. If you’re not hitting your viewers over the head with it, you’re not being obvious enough. Just don’t forget me in your acceptance speech. It would make me feel… well, it’d make me feel endorsed. Validated. And that’s all that matters.
Image from: http://shows.ctv.ca/Oscars/article/Firth-Portman-Bale-Leo-to-present-at-Sundays-Oscars
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