Trapped in the Projector: ‘Tis the Season for Oscars at Oregon State

Trapped in the Projector: ‘Tis the Season for Oscars at Oregon State

Editor’s Note: This is a column and does not reflect the views or opinions of the Daily Barometer

On March 10, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be handing out their awards, colloquially called the Oscars, to various films released in 2023.

Of the films nominated for Best Picture this year, “Barbie” was also the highest grossing film of the year. But other than that film and “Oppenheimer,” the most nominated film this year with 13 nominations, none of this year’s other nominees were big money makers.

It’s something of a running joke, in my experience, that the academy never nominates films that people actually see. The only metric they use to measure how many people have seen a given film is its box office numbers; which are not terribly reliable since people can pay to see the movie many times while it’s in theaters.

So perhaps now, as the Oscars bear down on us, hosted for the fourth time in seven years by Jimmy Kimmel (apparently the only guy who the academy can get these days), why not ask the question of why so many of the films that are nominated for Best Picture, and to an extent Academy Awards in general, usually aren’t the one people flock to the theater to see?

What do students at Oregon State really think about the academy?

I spoke with some students who I knew to be film buffs in some form and asked them five questions relating to the Oscars.


How many, if any, of the films nominated for Best Picture have you seen?

Audrey Sand, a fourth year psychology major and vice president of the Orange and Black Film club, has only seen “Barbie,” “Oppenheimer” and “Past Lives,” while Zoe Christian, a creative writing major and film minor, has only seen “Barbie” and “Poor Things;” “unfortunately,” Christian remarked.

And while the busy life of a student might preclude some from seeing all of the nominated films, it didn’t stop Laim Murphy, a dual civil engineering and creative writing major in their fifth year, who has managed to see seven of the 10 films.

“I’m planning to watch the last three over the next couple weeks,” Murphy said.

Meanwhile, I, the person who writes film columns, have only seen three of the nominees: “Barbie”, “Killers of the Flower Moon” and “American Fiction.”

Part of the problem here is that, as shown by MarketWatch, most Best Picture nominees don’t actually get wide releases until the year after their release. Instead, they get a limited release to qualify for the Academy Awards, and then use their nomination as a marketing gimmick when they go into wide release early the following year. It’s why only now “Poor Things” and “American Fiction” are playing at AMC.

Only “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” received wide releases earlier in the year, being summer blockbusters that paired together for the “Barbenheimer” meme.


Were there any films last year that you feel should have been nominated for Best Picture?

Christian named the horror film, “Talk to Me,” as her choice for an ignored film. Meanwhile, Sand only suggested “The Boys in the Boat,” but also admitted she “didn’t like how they started and ended the film.”

Sand added, “The rest of the film was so good though!”

Murphy, on the other hand, said, “Even though I watched a lot of movies last year, over 100 I think, nothing comes to mind as a particularly big snub for the Best Picture nominees.”


What makes a film worthy of the award for Best Picture?

To Sand, the answer to this question was rather intricate.

“I think a movie that’s worthy of winning best picture has to ultimately be well rounded,” Sand said. “Most importantly, it has to have a good story. If the plot isn’t there, the movie isn’t there. The production design, acting and cinematography need to align with the story and enhance the story. The film needs to stand out.”

It’s an answer that does seem to cover all the bases; most people go to a film to be told a story and more often than not, in my experience anyway, if the screenplay is not great then the entire film falls apart. Some people I know have forgiven bad effects for a good script, but never the reverse.

Christian was broader in what she believed made a film worthy of Best Picture, answering succinctly with, “I think the best picture is a film that is successful in all categories at the Oscars. The Best Picture is the “best” because it is able to contend as a nominee in all other categories as well”.

But if the Best Picture is also the film that would win in the other categories, what is the point of awarding them to other films?

Murphy’s answer to what makes a film worthy of Best Picture confronts this other question head on.

“I don’t really feel like any film is more worthy than another for the Best Picture category, because I don’t think the method and history of how the Academy works has much merit or value,” they said.


How much do you really care about the Academy Awards and their choices for any of the awards?

“I feel like the academy is a really poor judge for the actual quality of films,” Murphy said. “I see the Best Picture list more as a challenge to myself to try to watch this set of movies that a whole bunch of people online and in real life are talking about.”

They’re not wrong about how the academy’s choices can be strange, to say the least. “Crash” from 2004 won best picture for its award cycle, despite even its own director saying it shouldn’t have in hindsight in a 2015 interview with The Guardian. They also nominated 2011’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” the lowest rated Best Picture nominee on review website Rotten Tomatoes with a 45% approval rating.

When asked if she cared about the Academy Awards, Christian replied, “The culture around the Oscars is a bit bothersome.”

“I still pay attention and I still root for my favorite actors and directors every year,” she added.

There is a spectacle to the Academy Awards, as Christian suggested; watching with rapt attention as the envelope is opened and waiting for the presenter to announce the winner of the award.

To an aspiring filmmaker, the idea that your name could be in that envelope is especially alluring. It’s what makes Sand, in her own words, “care deeply” about the awards, despite not always agreeing with the winners chosen.

At the time of writing, Sand is serving as the producer for the Orange and Black Film Club’s current production, “Painted Red.”

“I’m planning on winning an Academy Award of my own someday,” Sand said.

That’s quite the dream to have and, in a way, it is the ultimate validation of being a filmmaker: making something recognized by the other filmmakers in the academy as the best in a given category. But that also leads to the final question worth asking here.


What is to be said about the (somewhat) arbitrary cultural authority the Academy has over which films are the best in a given field? Is it good, bad, or neutral?

“I would say neutral, but my feelings about it can be all over the place,” Sand said. “It really depends on the context. What I appreciate about the academy the most, is that it’s a place for filmmakers to come together and be celebrated.”

For Sand, the event is less about the awards and more about community.

“People win and lose, but movies are acknowledged, creators are acknowledged and a community is brought together by their love for film. That’s what matters most to me.”

That’s probably the best thing that can be said about the Academy Awards, that it’s a place where people who work on films can come together and appreciate the art of filmmaking. Unfortunately, that’s also the only good thing that was said about it.

Going off of her finding the Oscars “bothersome,” Christian explained, “Some of the films nominated feel as though they were only nominated because of the cast and the film is nothing to write home about.”

“Also the academy has a tendency to give awards to people who deserved one 10 years ago but didn’t get one,” she added, citing Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar win for his performance in “The Revenant,” despite years of work.

Her ambivalence didn’t stop there. Christian further went on to point out the academy is prone to ignoring films altogether if they don’t fall into their little bubble, so to speak.

“Oftentimes amazing movies are ignored because they are horror movies (“Talk to Me”) or made by smaller production companies meaning they fly under the academy’s radar,” Christian said in a Discord comment.

She compared relying on the Oscars to find the best film of the year to relying on the Grammys to find the best song; “You’re gonna miss some good stuff,” she concluded.

Murphy was even more ambivalent.

“Oh, it’s totally completely arbitrary,” they said. “I mean, you can just look up how the For Your Consideration campaigns (advertising campaigns directed at academy members) work, and after learning about that I feel like it’d be hard to take them incredibly seriously otherwise.”

Murphy mentioned a quote from South Korean Filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho, who’s 2019 film “Parasite” won him the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay.

In a 2019 interview with Vulture, Joon-Ho said, “The Oscars are not an international film festival. They’re very local.”

True to form, most of the Best Picture nominees for this year’s Academy Awards are American films or co-productions with the United States as one of the countries involved. The one exception is “Anatomy of a Fall,” which is French.

As Murphy concluded, “A couple great international films get nominated, and occasionally one might win, but the academy itself is absolutely an awards show meant to reinforce the idea of American cultural dominance in the sphere of movies.”

That’s a dominance that the United States has been able to hold onto for over 100 years, and with the disaster that was 2023 in terms of finances, that hold might be starting to loosen as Hollywood finds itself needing to re-strategize its releases to accommodate; like how Disney is releasing “Turning Red,” a formerly straight-to-streaming movie, in theaters for some reason.

Maybe this shift in Hollywood will lead to a shift in how the academy operates. Many of its members are elderly and won’t be around much longer. Maybe then the rest of us will have as positive an outlook on the academy as Sand does. Only time will tell.

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