Do the Oscars mean anything anymore?

Bruno Barton-Singer 23 January 2015

On one level, the validity of awards ceremonies is unquestionable. Golden Globes, BAFTAs and Oscars accumulate on the posters of this year’s film darlings until you can barely make out Meryl Streep’s face behind the golden ornamentation. Even Supporting Actor or Actress awards add millions to a film’s box office takings.

But the Academy Awards are also famous for their poor choice of winners, to the point where each year sour-faced film-school rejects unite to call out the many times the Academy has snubbed a classic. Examples abound: The Shawshank Redemption, Taxi Driver and Citizen Kane are famous also-rans. This is hardly fair, though, remembering the films they stood against. Sure, you might prefer The Shawshank Redemption to Forrest Gump, but others would justifiably defend the latter’s victory. And if Citizen Kane had won an Oscar over How Green is My Valley, deep down its fans would have a lot less fun liking it.

However, the Best Picture winners are sometimes baffling simply in their own right. Crash, Best Picture of 2006, which could be subtitled ‘Racism is bad, m’kay?’ would have struggled to lay claim to best picture of the month in a rational universe. And watching Argo you find yourself wondering if the fictional movie-within-a-movie, written in two days as a knock-off of Star Wars, wouldn’t be more original than what you’re seeing on screen. Amadeus, Braveheart, Titanic… Again and again the Academy proves it is more enamoured of the gloss that screenwriters layer onto historical events than the human stories that could have been told instead.

The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game, two front-runners this year (after the necessary drop in support for Boyhood when it won a Golden Globe – proof, if needed, that there is a lot more to the judges’ decisions than which film they think is best) do nothing to buck that trend, bringing a perfect blend of shininess, safeness and historical inaccuracy to an award that hardly needs it. Of course, neither of the films are bad. It’s hard to dislike them. But sometimes you wish the most prestigious award in showbusiness went to a film whose express purpose was not to win one.