With dwindling ratings, divisive politics, and the general decline of cinema, the Academy finds itself in its worst position in its almost 100-year-old history as we approach award’s season. Thankfully, Nolan’s Oppenheimer has not only provided audiences with one of the great films of recent years, but also a much-needed lifeline that the Academy must take. Impact’s Tomos Millward explores why Oppenheimer deserves to sweep the Oscars, and in doing so how it might save the Academy’s reputation.
Released as a summer blockbuster, at the insistence of writer/director Nolan, Oppenheimer has thus far grossed just over $950 million worldwide, has topped UK DVD sales charts for 3 weeks straight, and is expected to cross $1 billion at the box office following a re-release in the New Year. This success is all-the-more impressive when contextualised within the current cinematic climate, with only Barbie and the Super Marios Bros Movie having grossed more than Oppenheimer this year and these being the only two films to have crossed the billion-dollar mark. For Oppenheimer to stand financially alongside two films based on universally recognised children’s toys, although Barbie clearly had a broader appeal than the doll itself, is a testament to the movie’s credit. Oppenheimer being a 3-hour, dialogue-driven biopic is also necessary to consider when examining its financial success.
Oppenheimer is a shoo-in this award’s season based on its own merits
Aside from the commercial success of the movie, Oppenheimer is a shoo-in this award’s season based on its own merits. The film is filled with distinct and historically accurate characters that all serve to prop up Cillian Murphy’s monumental effort. The film is spectacularly edited to ensure the audience can absorb information but also never drags in any of its three distinct arcs, contrasting with this year’s other lengthy releases and its award’s season competitors such as Scorsese’s coma-inducing middle section of Killers of the Flower Moon and Scott’s loony structuring of his offensively spurious account of Napoleon’s life.
From a technical perspective, Oppenheimer stands definitively heads-and-shoulders above its peers. Ludwig Goransson’s score builds on his distinct successes in the Creed franchise and The Mandalorian and cements him as the next generation’s answer to Hans Zimmer and John Williams. Pioneering black and white IMAX cameras and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema’s use of this format for both detailed shots of character’s faces, most notably Murphy’s, as well as the vast vistas of New Mexico, works to great effect.
the Academy’s recent habit to neglect clear favourites for both awards and nominations has led to increased discontent and apathy from the public
In any ordinary year and with the surrounding competition, Oppenheimer would sweep the Oscars based on its own merits. This is even more significant given the Academy’s habit of self-destruction and where that finds them today. In recent years, Oscar ratings have plummeted drastically. In 2000, the ceremony was watched by 46 million viewers whilst last year’s ceremony was only watched by 18.7 million. Whilst awards are clearly subjective, the Academy’s recent habit to neglect clear favourites for both awards and nominations has led to increased discontent and apathy from the public.
This trend becomes clear when we compare the winners from the near and distant past. From 2000-2010, films that won Best Picture included: Gladiator, The Lords of the Rings: Return of the King, The Departed, and No Country for Old Men. These are films which, even over a decade later, have maintained significant fanbases, had a distinct cultural impact, and were popular but also deserving of the Academy’s highest prize.
Compare these films with recent winners such as The Shape of Water, Green Book, Nomadland, and CODA and there is no comparison regarding both quality and popularity. The only film of the past decade to have a similar impact to those from the beginning of the century was Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite. Film’s should not win Oscars based on their box office success or popularity, but Hollywood’s recent inability to make Oscar-winning movies that are also broadly successful with audiences, or the Academy’s failure to acknowledge films that are successful in this endeavour such as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Joker, Get Out, and The Social Network, is clearly leading to a lack of interest from audiences in the awards ceremony.
Another prime reason for this crisis in the Academy is the exasperating inclusions of divisive political messaging throughout the ceremony. Hollywood has always been a progressive and highly politicised town with progressive and highly politicised award ceremonies, take Jane Fonda’s speech opposing the Vietnam War and Marlon Brando’s refusal to accept the Best Actor award for The Godfather due to “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry”. The issue in contemporary times is just how divisive the political landscape is in general and how radical and partisan Hollywood itself has become.
American politics throughout the 20th-century was much less divided than contemporary times. Elections are more closely fought and there are broader disagreements on emotive social and cultural issues. It comes as no surprise then that when recipients of awards use their platform to promote a partisan view that, at a minimum, half of the country disagrees with, the ratings plummet. The increasing politicisation of the Oscar’s, such as Spike Lee’s call to vote in 2020, Leonardo DiCaprio’s pledge to avert climate change, and Brad Pitt’s own undermining of a melancholic and poignant speech through anti-Trump rhetoric shows just how out of touch and tiresome the Oscars have become.
the Academy has an excellent opportunity to turn a corner and take a step in the right direction
The Academy knows they are struggling and losing relevance quickly. However, Oppenheimer provides them with the perfect solution. Nolan’s creation of an Oscar-level movie which also managed to connect with global audiences means that the Academy has an excellent opportunity to turn a corner and take a step in the right direction. The picture is the clear frontrunner across multiple categories purely based on its own merit: Best Picture, Best Director (a long overdue prize that Nolan should have been awarded over a decade ago), Best Actor for Murphy, and Best Supporting Actor for Robert Downey Jr.
In a sea of declining ratings, political division, and misgiven awards, Nolan has handed the Academy a lifeline that they must take to ensure their own survival. However, if Oppenheimer’s snubbing of a Best Visual Effects nomination and the Academy’s recent history is anything to go by, their fate may already be sealed.
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