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Oscar 2023: Prime Indie Movies Provider A24 Cleans Up On Award Night

The Daniels and the Oscars: Scheinert and Kwan get their Best Original Screenplay prizes, as Florence Pugh looks on. / Photo by  Blaine Ohigashi, courtesy of ©A.M.P.A.S.

The Daniels and the Oscars: Scheinert and Kwan get their Best Original Screenplay prizes, as Florence Pugh looks on. / Photo by Blaine Ohigashi, courtesy of ©A.M.P.A.S.

Full disclosure: I did not watch the Oscars live on Sunday. I have not done so for a few years now - family stuff usually gets in the way. If you had told my preteen self that such a thing would happen decades later, he - I? - would probably have had a seizure. For all the dismay the Academy brings to any film buff, the truth is that the event was a formative experience for many critics and film lovers. Star gawking is a less powerful enticement in the age of social media, but we are suckers at heart. We love to make an emotional investment in any competition, no matter how silly it can be. It is a glitch in human nature, responsible for sports leagues, beauty pageants, and many reality shows.

I still have enough consideration for the surprise value, so I renounced social media for 24 hours, from when the red carpet coverage started until Monday afternoon when the complete telecast was available for streaming on Hulu. Thumbnails on the landing page spoiled some winners, but I did not mind too much, as they unveiled the most predictable outcomes.

Almost Everything: the EEAAO crew picks up the Best Picture Oscar. They won in 7 categories, out of 11 nominations. / Photo by Phil McCarten,  ©A.M.P.A.S.

Almost Everything: the EEAAO crew picks up the Best Picture Oscar. They won in 7 categories, out of 11 nominations. / Photo by Phil McCarten, ©A.M.P.A.S.

There are many problems with the Oscars, which are, in turn, a reflection of those in the industry. Recent efforts to increase diversity among the ranks have made some dents into traditional whiteness. Change comes slowly in any institution with almost a century of existence. Sometimes, resistance rises from the least expected sources. Paul Schrader shared his diagnosis of the problem in a trollish social media post.

"Diversifying membership, recalibrating how votes are counted, these changes have transformed the Hollywood Oscars into the International Oscars. I rather like the provincial origins of the Oscars: Hollywood coming together to celebrate its own…The Oscars mean less each year. The reasons for this are clear: the need for revenue compounded by the debt carried by the museum and lowering film revenues and the scramble to be woke."

It is not news that a septuagenarian holds an opinion out of step with the times. I am surprised we get the Hollywood equivalent of Donald Trump's America First dogma from the man who gave us First Reformed (2017) and The Card Counter (2021). What does he mean by "the international Oscars"? Is he mad because the German movie All Quiet on the Western Front won four Oscars? The Banshees of Inisherin is too foreign? It is very Irish, after all. And how do you define a Hollywood picture now? Elviswas made in Australia. Triangle of Sadness is Swedish. Women Talking has Canadian talent in key creative positions, mainly writer-director Sarah Polley.

Do we follow the money? Making movies is such an expensive endeavor that capital comes from many countries, adding another layer of complication to the issue of denomination of origin. Hollywood was born as a combination of immigrants and Americans alike. If it was white and male-dominated from the beginning, it is because it reflected current power structures. The changes the Academy has implemented so far have more to do with catching up to how the world is than sticking it to the man.

Where is “the scramble to be woke”? Everything Everywhere All At Once might not be my favorite of the nominees for Best Picture - I will die on the hill that The Fabelmans is the best movie of 2022 - but I recognize it was the sleeper hit of the year, with enough positive critical traction to be in the awards conversation. The seven Oscars it won speak of its popularity among Academy voters and audiences, way beyond the Art House. If wokeness - whatever that is - were to define the Academy’s choices, Hollywood royalty Jamie Lee Curtiss would not have taken the Best Supporting Oscar while competing against Angela Bassett and Stephanie Hsu.

If Mom and Dad could see me now: Curtis, daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, won Best Supporting Actress for EEAAO. / Photo by Robert Gladden, courtesy of  ©A.M.P.A.S.

If Mom and Dad could see me now: Curtis, daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, won Best Supporting Actress for EEAAO. / Photo by Robert Gladden, courtesy of ©A.M.P.A.S.

Furthermore, the Academy Awards telecast improved its ratings over last year's ceremony. According to Nielsen, 18.8 million viewers saw them live, a 13% improvement. A few years ago, one of the strategies suggested to save the Oscar telecast was to make sure that blockbusters make it into the Best Picture nominees - back then, the gist was to throw a bone at Marvel Studios -. Perhaps they were onto something.

Almost half of the 10 Best Picture nominees this year are bona fide box office hits. The first place belongs to Top Gun: Maverick, with 781 million dollars, followed by Avatar: The Way of Water, with 671 million dollars. Elvis comes third, with 151 million. Everything Everywhere… comes in at fourth place, with 73 million. Bear in mind that these are domestic box office numbers. Once we factor in the international box office, Avatar would top the list with 2.68 billion dollars, and EEAAO would push over the 100 million line to 106 worldwide. But hey... let's turn our backs on the world and keep everything nice and local.

If anything, I think the Oscars are a victim of their success. Its popularity begat Award season as we know it. Every guild in the industry throws its event and makes it into a gala. Critics’ associations supply more noise. The Golden Globes seem to be covered with Teflon, unscathed by any scandal. When the Oscars roll around, we are already in a prize-induced coma. Something like a consensus builds over obsessive coverage of these events so that very few surprises remain for Hollywood’s top night. Never mind the quality of the performances, the awards for Michelle Yeoh and Brendan Fraser felt like a foregone conclusion way before they held the Golden Man.

Even the Academy tips its hand with its choice of presenter. Halle Berry presented the Best Actress Award with last year's winner, Jessica Chastain, partly because it made for a good photo opportunity. She was the first African American woman to win this category, handing out the statue to the first Asian actress to do so. The same goes for Harrison Ford handing out Best Picture just in case EEAAVO won, so we could see him hugging Ke Huy Quan again. In the immortal words of Anne Hathaway, "It came true!"

History is made at night: Yeoh, born in Malaysia, is the first Asian performer to win a Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscar. / Photo by Blaine Ohigashi, courtesy of ©A.M.P.A.S.

History is made at night: Yeoh, born in Malaysia, is the first Asian performer to win a Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscar. / Photo by Blaine Ohigashi, courtesy of ©A.M.P.A.S.

If the goal is to make the Oscars a better, more unpredictable spectacle, the Academy must jump to the head of the line. They can move the ceremony to late December or early January and let the others follow. I imagine the industry is too addicted to campaigning and spending massive amounts of money on promotion to make such a drastic change. On top of that, if they were to make such a move, the others would follow suit.

This year, my interest rested on the imperiled categories related to Short Films, which have very little previous exposure. After last year's attempt to send them off camera, they returned to the telecast with Lifetime, tech, and honorary awards. Considering the increased ratings, we can safely assume that it was not their fault the Oscars were tanking.

It is good to have them around, even if they kill any credibility I might have as a prognosticator. I did a rundown of the nominees for Best Live Action Short, Best Documentary Short, and Best Animated Short, and reader, I'm the worst prognosticator ever. My least favorite prevailed in every category, but I stand by my choices: Les Pupille, Haulot, and My Year of Dicks are amazing. You should see them as soon as possible. All three of them are currently streaming.

I am shocked, shocked that Argentina, 1985, lost the Best International Film Oscar to the inert All Quiet on the Western Front. The artisanship might have been on point, but the soul was missing. Perhaps you had to see it on the big screen to feel it. Netflix dropped the ball by not doing a proper theatrical run. The Fabelmans and Tár going empty-handed is a travesty, but it is hard to be surprised by the outcome. I saw which way the wind was blowing and called a win for The Daniels. I still need to catch up with some of the winners, like The Whale, Women Talking, and RRR, which skyrocketed to the top of my watchlist thanks to the Naatu Naatu musical number. Compared to the other four Original Song nominees, all interchangeable among them - Hey, Diane Warren! - it was a blast of energy compelling you to watch the damned movie. And it made you glad you had tuned in. 

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