I read a post on the Arkhaven Comics blog by The Dark Herald arguing that the Academy Awards (or the Oscars) lost credibility when The English Patient won in 1997, though he did allow for previous mistakes including the snub for Citizen Kane — often called the greatest film ever made. Though I do remember watching The English Patient (and finding it extremely boring), I would argue the Oscars have really always been terrible.
The main reason is what I’ve said about awards before and that’s simply that there are far too many given out and rarely do they ultimately represent genuine quality. Consider how knighthoods are handed out in the United Kingdom for example. In one hundred years, I doubt many people knighted will be remembered with any fondness and so it is with literature, music and film. Time is a better judge than any award will ever be. Good films have won such as Gone with the Wind and A Man for All Seasons but the academy is fast trying to forget it ever awarded films like this — especially the former. I bring these two films up because I didn’t even know they’d won until I looked up the history of winners before I commenced writing this post.
The other is the limit of genres that actually win. No animated or science-fiction films have ever won. Only a few fantasy films have won and I can’t see any action films among the winners either. I should be fair and add that (at least in my opinion), there are very few truly great science-fiction and fantasy films and you’re mostly better off reading if you enjoy either genre. There have however been many great action and animated films for most of the history of the awards yet neither genre has ever won.
I haven’t really followed the movie industry for a while but I used to and I’d previously noticed that every year there are always films released that seem made for the Academy Awards. I don’t mean they are great films but just made to the biases the academy seems to have and released at the perfect time to be both eligible and get noticed. I called these films “Oscar-bait” and looking at the years since I stopped caring, this hasn’t changed at all. These are invariably dramas and often have themes such as racism or the Holocaust. There are a lot of biopics and period dramas too — both “true” stories and fiction.
What I decided to do to show how rarely the “Best Picture” coincides with the taste of the movie-going audience is to make a list of a film each year starting from 1977 and then break down how many actually won best picture. The reason I start with this year is because it is the year Star Wars came out and I have no idea what other films came out that year. I would bet that if you ask the average person what film came out that year, they would name that film if they had an answer at all.
While my bias towards action/adventure films is very much evident, I certainly don’t like all the films I’ve listed here. Where I couldn’t remember a film, I tried to list one that I remember people generally really enjoyed and not just based on box office. I freely admit this is not a perfect measure but this is just one way of showing how flawed the awards are and I’ve hinted at others above. Anyway, the academy can hardly claim to be any better.
I’ve bolded each film that won in the list and put in italics the films I couldn’t clearly choose myself and selected based on what I perceived from a popular perspective.
1977: Star Wars
1980: The Empire Strikes Back
1981: Raiders of the Lost Ark
1982: E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (dislike)
1983: The Return of the Jedi
1985: Back to the Future
1986: Top Gun
1987: The Untouchables
1989: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
1990: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
1991: Terminator 2: Judgement Day
1993: Jurassic Park
1994: The Lion King
1996: The Rock
1997: Con Air
1998: The Big Lebowski
1999: The Matrix
2001: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
2002: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2004: The Passion of the Christ
2005: Pride and Prejudice
2006: The Departed
2008: Iron Man
2010: Toy Story 3
2011: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
2012: The Avengers
2013: Frozen (definitely not my choice)
2014: Edge of Tomorrow
2015: Jurassic World
2016: Captain America: Civil War (meh)
2017: Wonder Woman (more meh)
2018: Avengers – Infinity War (don’t like this either)
2019: Ford v Ferrari
Only four films out of over forty won from this list and many of these films are still widely loved and remembered today. Who has seen (or even remembers), films like Annie Hall, Ordinary People, Driving Miss Daisy or A Beautiful Mind? I have actually seen a couple of these but I forgot they existed until I went looking. There are also movies like Crash and American Beauty which even critics realised with hindsight were actually pretty awful films. The latter is one of the most evil films I’ve ever seen. I would be willing to bet that even film buffs that consider my own taste vulgar would find that their own selections by year rarely agree with the academy too. If the world (and film), survives another two hundred years, I’m wiling to bet that a good majority of “best picture” films will have been lost or all but forgotten.