Oscar Nominations 2018: Franco Snubbed, Serkis Robbed, Gerwig and “Get Out” Make History
Diversity vs. Artistry
It’s the same old, every year. Which film was ripped off? Who got snubbed for an Oscar nomination? Everyone has an opinion. If I had my way, the Best Picture nominations for 2017 would be as follows:
War for the Planet of the Apes, Mudbound, Logan, City of Ghosts (regardless of it being a documentary), The Disaster Artist, The Shape of Water, Blade Runner 2049, Get Out, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and The Phantom Thread.
The first two above, along with Baby Driver and the ever-polarizing The Last Jedi, are my favorite films of the year. The latter two I did not list as they had no shot at the top nomination. The others I believed were fair game.
I prefer this article, though, to be about something more. I intend for it to be an exploration of the equivalent of affirmative action, and I plan to court controversy with the words that follow. Actually, I plan to court dialog, and debate. Here’s my contention: Though the effort towards inclusivity is sincere and laudable, it is also misguided as implemented. The Academy is inadvertently awarding diversity as opposed to artistry.
Andy Serkis emphatically deserved an Oscar nomination for his role as Ceasar in War for the Planet of the Apes. The question is, though, in what category? Best Actor made the most sense to me, but a heated discussion with fellow industry professionals confirmed a widespread bias that motion capture performances are created in a computer.
I could not abide the b.s.
Motion capture is a technology where the actors’ exterior is altered - from human to monkey, or human to Na’vi in the case of Avatar, or even human to deceased human as in the event of Peter Cushing’s reincarnation as Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - but the acting performance must remain in order to effectuate the desired end result. Mo-cap performances are as legitimate and difficult as roles under layers of makeup, sometimes more so. The performer has to enhance their innate humanity to create a whole other living, breathing being, or the performance will fall flat.
“How is this not acting?” I ask.
Robin Williams suffered a similar fate as the Genie in Disney’s animated Aladdin. Academy voters raved about Williams’ unhinged performance, but it was considered a voice-over role as opposed to, again, real acting.
With the advent of motion capture, Andy Serkis has become the poster child for actors the voting guilds do not know how to place. He deserved a nod as Gollum too in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings (and The Hobbit) films. The same can be said for his non-verbal role in Jackson’s King Kong. There simply is no category that recognizes mo-cap performances, and that is a damn shame.
This was the year to correct that oversight.
If only some effort would be put in place to award such artistry, as opposed to worrying that a member of a certain race, skin color, or religion is being overlooked for their contribution, the artistic community as a whole would be better off.
And the Oscar voters would be kept honest.
I am critical of those voters who unfairly ignore such deserved nominees. I work in this business as a writer and independent producer, and I believe the criticism is well-deserved. Diversity within specific projects should be a matter of the content creators, who must write the roles that represent the human mosaic. Directors must properly direct the actors. Films should be encouraged to showcase risky subject matter.
Voters need not vote to meet a quota. Voters need to vote based on merit.
I use Serkis as an example only. Best Actor in an Animated Film, and Best Actress in an Animated Film, deserve to be added to the list of official Oscar categories. Such a category is represented formally in none of the other major awards shows - the Golden Globes, the SAG awards, or anything else.
Did Patty Jenkins deserve an Oscar nomination for directing Wonder Woman? I believe so, but that‘s a matter of opinion. Some may point to this exclusion as everything that continues to be wrong with the biggest awards show of them all. I challenge that. I believe the exclusion represents everything just about the awards. Why? Because during this flashpoint era in our culture, other projects were deemed to be more worthy of the nomination.
An honest omission of one of the most critically and commercially successful films of the year, which theoretically would have been an easy pick. But consider this: Is Wonder Woman on the artistic level of most Best Picture nominees of recent years? Of course, that question is arguable also. My answer is “No.“ It was a fun romp, and certainly DC’s best of their current crop. But as a comparison, none of Nolan’s Batman films were so honored, although Heath Ledger won a well-deserved Oscar for his portrayal of the Joker. Again, we can argue the merits of the two films. But did Wonder Woman approach The Dark Knight’s quality and invention? I don’t think so. Lighter fare can certainly be fun and resonant, see 1978’s Superman: The Movie, which also failed to secure a Best Picture nod. I loved that film. It remains one of my all-time favorites.
I have a tough time, though, saying it deserved a Best Picture nomination over the selected The Deer Hunter (the Best Picture winner), Coming Home, Heaven Can Wait, Midnight Express or An Unmarried Woman.
But such is the beauty of awards shows. We can argue all day long.
So what does any of this have to do with my original thesis? Everything.
We spend entirely too much time pondering political correctness, in our lives and in our art. In so doing, we are touching our better natures for sure, but for our art to remain resonant it is imperative that we create from the soul. Shoehorning diversity in our product is not correct, politically or otherwise. Our stories must be inclusive by their nature.
My favorite film of last year was Moonlight, a story about a young gay black man. It won the Best Picture Oscar in the award show’s most memorable moment. But that’s exactly the point. The story was about the above. It was not a hastily-written subplot drawn to receive a nomination. It was the entire damn thing, and in my opinion the film is a masterwork.
I used the term prior: artistic community. As an artistic community - as storytellers - we have a responsibility to create content that showcases the entirety of the human condition. This is the work that lasts from generation to generation. We must create categories where those not honored, can be so honored to encourage the work to continue and for our storytelling to evolve.
The responsibility is not to be taken lightly. Was James Franco snubbed for The Disaster Artist over accusations of sexual misconduct? Voting closed barely 48 hours prior to the news hitting. If so, should we separate the achievement of the artist from his or her real life? It’s an ages-old question that has dogged creatives since the earliest days of art. Did Greta Gerwig deserve her Best Director nomination for the quirky Ladybird? Or did she receive it because she’s a woman?
I don’t have the answer. It’s a terrific film, regardless.
One thing I think we can all agree on is that we need to do better. In this business, it all formally begins with two words: