They did the same thing in 2009 when they awarded The Hurt Locker the Best Picture category over James Cameron’s Avatar, the biggest movie of all-time. And although The Hurt Locker was better than Avatar because Cameron’s ‘Dances With Smurfs’ was frankly average (not something which has stopped The Academy before), but everyone expected it to win so The Hurt Locker nod was a surprising outcome. In 1998 Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan – the easy front runner that year lost out to Shakespeare in Love. That’s right – Shakespeare in Love. In 1989 Driving Miss Daisy won over Born on the Fourth of July, Field of Dreams and Dead Poet’s Society, despite not even having a Best Director nomination simply because no one expected it to win. Or maybe it was for ‘social relevance’. For quite some time, Driving Miss Daisy had more Oscars than Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. It did, however, win Best Actress (Jessica Tandy) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Morgan Freeman was only nominated for Best Actor). But could it not be argued that a Best Actor or Actress performance comes from the film’s director? And if it doesn’t, then what’s the point of a director?
And this is the other problem – and perhaps the main problem – with The Oscars: it’s all subjective. You might be reading this and think Driving Miss Daisy isn’t a terrible movie, or that The Departed is Scorsese’s best film to date. You could make the argument that Spotlight deserved the Best Picture win despite not winning any other major categories. But that brings up the question of what constitutes an award-winning movie. And does an award-winning movie or Oscar-baiting movie instantly make it a good one? Could it not be argued that big-budget blockbusters that earn millions of dollars at the box office are the best movies released in any given year? It’s a fair argument seen as though the large box office receipts show that this is what audiences want to see when they pay their $10 to go to the cinema. Ignoring the fact The Academy only looks at the movies released in the four month window between November and February, the films that actually make big-time money are usually overlooked. Shouldn’t J.J. Abrams have been given the Best Director nod for Star Wars: The Force Awakens seeing as it’s now the third biggest movie of all-time and the first film in the history of mankind to earn nearly $1 billion in domestic takings alone? Didn’t Transformers: Age of Extinction deserve a Best Picture nomination in 2014 for being the only movie that year to cross the $1 billion mark? Doesn’t any picture from The Marvel Cinematic Universe deserve some praise from The Academy for being part of the film franchise that has changed the movie industry in the last 8 years?
Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn spoke out about this last year after Jack Black made disparaging remarks about superhero movies at The Oscars and Nightcrawler director Dan Gilroy lamented about a “tsunami of comic book movies” at the Independent Spirit Awards. “I’ve made B-movies, independent films, children’s movies, horror films, and gigantic spectacles,” Gunn wrote. “I find there are plenty of people everywhere making movies for a buck or to feed their own vanity. And then there are people who do what they do because they love story-telling, they love cinema, and they want to add back to the world some of the same magic they’ve taken from the works of others. In all honesty, I do not find a strikingly different percentage of those with integrity and those without working within any of these fields of film. If you think people who make superhero movies are dumb, come out and say we’re dumb. But if you, as an independent filmmaker or a “serious” filmmaker, think you put more love into your characters than the Russo Brothers do Captain America, or Joss Whedon does the Hulk, or I do a talking raccoon, you are simply mistaken.”
Gunn isn’t wrong. His love and hard work on Guardians of the Galaxy is clearly on show in the film and it continues to be seen way after the movie came out. While a lot of the directors nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards simply move on to their next project, Gunn is still playing in the sandbox he helped create and continues to answer fan’s questions or retweet fan art. He loves that movie. You won’t be seeing this from Alejandro Iñárritu with The Revenant in two year’s time that’s for sure. And Gunn’s not alone in his love and desire. Kingsman: The Secret Service director Matthew Vaughn has also argued that helming a big budget movie is a lot harder than directing a smaller movie, which shows better skills as a director and therefore deserves more recognition during Awards Season. He’s not wrong either.
But as I said earlier, this is all subjective. And if this article is subjective in its views on film, then so are The Oscars. And if you think that my opinions are wrong, then there’s an argument to say that The Academy are wrong in theirs too. The Oscars – and all of awards season – don’t matter and it’s high time we stopped caring.
Let’s just never forget that Citizen Kane, praised to be the greatest movie ever made, did not win Best Picture in 1941. Let’s also not forget that Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock never won Best Director, despite being hailed as two of the most brilliant minds in film history. Ridley Scott has never won Best Director Oscar either, for the record, and neither has Quentin Tarantino. Even if Leo didn’t win for The Revenant last night or won an Oscar for the rest of his illustrious career, it really wouldn’t have mattered.
But it was his turn to win, so he did.