Does winning an Oscar actually matter?

Winning an Oscar is great and all, but is it really all that it’s cracked up to be?

 Rhys Graeme-Drury 

The annual awards circus is upon us once again. Numerous red carpets are being rolled out to receive reams of bedazzled famous faces, all of whom are hoping to drive home with a gilded statuette resting on their laps.

We place a lot of value on those who have walked away a winner on Oscar night – just ask Leonardo DiCaprio. For years the Internet yearned for Leo to finally nab one – and then he did in 2016 so we all collectively rejoiced and laid the dank memes to rest.

Apparently, an actor or filmmaker can’t claim to have truly arrived until they score an Oscar statue of some kind. Right? Eh, not exactly.

Even though it’s all very exciting and generates a lot of gossip, the Oscars aren’t actually good for all that much (and this is coming from someone who gets invested every year and is genuinely still upset that Eddie Redmayne beat Michael Keaton back in 2015).

Across its history, the Academy Awards have made a habit of routinely shunning some of the best and brightest talents and minds of the era – which sort of defeats the purpose of rewarding those who produce the best films, surely?

Filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma and Alfred Hitchcock have famously never won anything for their directorial efforts, with the latter losing out in the Best Director category on five separate occasions. Kubrick’s entire catalogue only took home a single Oscar win; 2001: A Space Odyssey won Best Visual Effects in 1969. For those of you playing along at home, that’s the same number of Oscars as Tim Burton’s 2010 remake of Alice in Wonderland and Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour. So it’s not like the Academy is a great barometer of quality and lasting legacy, huh?

The same could be said for actors; Bill Murray has never won an Oscar, but do we view his filmography with any less reverence? The same can be said for umpteen actors and actresses from across the decades. For many people, Harrison Ford is the literal embodiment of sharp and sophisticated Hollywood stars. He is Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Jack Ryan in the flesh – we don’t need the Academy to tell us Ford is a living legend, he has crafted that legacy without their adulation.

The same goes for Gary Oldman, Edward Norton or Joaquin Phoenix; they’re back catalogues speak for themselves. Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Annette Benning and Sigourney Weaver have all been denied Hollywood’s highest honour – but that hasn’t hindered their standing as some of the most talented actresses to grace our screens.

Some may think that winning an Oscar is also guaranteed to usher in a string of professional riches for the lucky winners, but too often that isn’t the case. Hunger Games sensation Jennifer Lawrence has racked up a surprising number of nominations (four) and one win at the tender age of 26 but it wasn’t until recently with Passengers that she was given a bigger slice of the pie than her male co-stars, financially speaking.

You only have to glance at the list of the highest paid actors across the industry today to see that those raking in the most cash aren’t necessarily those who took home the most awards. Robert Downey Jnr routinely makes in excess of $50 million for each Avengers performance whilst Johnny Depp is still throwing on funny hats and making bank despite never winning an Oscar. Meanwhile I don’t see Disney or Marvel throwing $10 million at Mark Rylance or JK Simmons, the two most recent winners in the Best Supporting Actors category.

Essentially, what I’m trying to say is, it doesn’t matter whether La La Land scored four, fourteen or zero nominations; what matters is how it is making audiences feel. The same goes for Moonlight or Manchester by the Sea or any of the other films nominated this year.  After the cameras inside the Dolby Theatre have gone out on February 26 and all the very famous people have gone home, regardless of who won or not, these films will continue to captivate and enthral audiences long afterward.

Films like Sing Street, The Witch, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Midnight Special all characterised my cinema experiences in 2016 but didn’t get a look in at the Oscars. Should I feel any less moved by their characters or narratives because they can’t claim to have been ‘Oscar nominated?’ No, of course not. Films mean so much more than just handing out trophies and racking up stats; we can leave that sort of thing to sports thank you very much.

Rather than taking a snub personally, just brush it off with a shrug. So what Amy Adams didn’t get nominated for Arrival? That doesn’t change how moving and powerful her performance was. Who cares that Sing Street didn’t get any love for Best Original Song? It doesn’t mean I don’t still love that soundtrack to pieces.

Don’t get me wrong; awards season is a lot of fun. But it’s also a lot of meaningless and banal bullshit that ultimately shouldn’t change how we view art or place value on what something made us think or feel.

Enjoy the Oscars, lap up the glamour and laugh at all the gaffes – but don’t forget that there is a whole myriad of wonderful films out there whose enduring qualities don’t change regardless of who wins or loses on the night.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 

To Infinity & Beyond – Films Set In Space

From A Trip to the Moon to The Martian, science-fiction has powered the minds and hearts of this technological world for over a century.

Zachary Cruz-Tan

Movies set in space have been around almost as long as the movies themselves, yet seem to be making a renaissance in this new decade. They began as litmus tests in the early 1900s, probing the boundaries of the imagination. Now, with new cinematic techniques and technological advancements, space films have become more serious, more astute, and dare I say it, more grounded.

Yes, Hollywood is still churning out your Star Wars and Star Treks, overflowing with monsters and creatures from beyond, but ever since the unprecedented success of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity in 2013 (still in my top 3 films of the decade so far), there has been at least one sombre, melodramatic sci-fi movie every year featuring hardworking human beings on a quest to better themselves. And they always seem to be aiming straight for one of those naked gold statuettes.

We’ve had hard-hitting space movies before. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is a fine example. Most of it took place in the far reaches of the cosmos. Looking back at it now, if you can wrap your head around it, it certainly feels like Oscar-bait material. Then of course we were zapped by Star Wars in 1977 – certainly Oscar-bait material – snatching one of the few Best Picture nominations for what many at the time considered science-fiction mumbo jumbo. It literally blasted open the doorway to the modern Hollywood blockbuster and informed studio execs all over the States that it was cool and lucrative to send clueless people into space to do battle with hideous monsters.

So effective was this business model that within five years, Ridley Scott threw Sigourney Weaver at a drooling Xenomorph; Gene Roddenberry sanctioned the first ever Star Trek feature film; Spielberg’s alien phoned home; and both MGM and Paramount released space-themed sequels, one to James Bond, the other to Flying High! (1980), neither successful. The studios cashed in on George Lucas’ triumph without fully understanding what their money was buying; by the turn of the century they had burnt themselves out and the sci-fi engine was powered almost exclusively by the loyalty of placated Trekkies.

What Gravity did in 2013 was re-humanise the science-fiction collective by slapping all the Warp Drives and lightsabres out of its system and replacing them with human beings and… other human beings. No evil red-eyed computers. No swishing and swooshing of laser swords. No distant solar systems inhabited by Romulans. It stripped the genre down and retrofitted it with state-of-the-art CGI, minimalist storytelling, and an empathetic human story about survival. And it worked, at least for the first couple of waves. After that everyone who loved the film overhyped it for their friends and stifled its popularity.

That, however, didn’t stop it from being nominated for ten Academy Awards (including Best Picture) and winning seven. Finally, a full-blooded sci-fi film racking up the trophies on awards night. And what did this success do? Inspire others, of course. That same year, Tom Cruise starred in Oblivion, about mankind’s last hope on a beleaguered Earth. That was followed swiftly by Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, also about survival, set in deep space. It borrowed audio decisions almost directly from Gravity and enjoyed several Oscar nominations. Then The Martian swooped by in 2015, a film about Matt Damon once again requiring rescue services from the US government. It was nominated for Best Picture and, like Interstellar, shared some of Gravity’s dramatic flair. And now, this year, Denis Villeneuve directs Arrival, not exactly a space movie, but science-fiction nonetheless. Who knows – Arrival might usher in yet another phase of sci-fi progression, leading this well-worn but perpetually creative genre on for a brand new generation of stargazing dreamers. And if they ever get bored of astronauts spiralling untethered in space, they can always switch one channel up and enjoy Star Wars Episode XIV: The Never-Ending Disney Story.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films