The Academy Awards nominations are here, and they spotlight Oscars’ utter irrelevance
By Michael McCaffrey. Michael McCaffrey is a writer and cultural critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work can be read at RT, Counterpunch and at his website mpmacting.com/blog. He is also the host of the popular cinema podcast Looking California and Feeling Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter @MPMActingCo
The art and business of movies is in a dreadful state and the Oscars are in precipitous decline.
Hollywood got up bright and early this morning to hear who amongst them was nominated for an Academy Award. The rest of the world slept through the festivities, just like they will on March 27, when the actual awards are handed out.
‘The Power of the Dog’ was the big winner when it comes to nominations, garnering 12 including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.
2021 has been the worst year for movies that I can remember, so the vastly overrated, middling, pretentious mess that is the arthouse poseur ‘The Power of the Dog’ being nominated for a bevy of Oscars comes as no surprise, and says a great deal about the current sorry state of not only the moviemaking business but the art of cinema. It also says a great deal more about the insipid taste of the Academy than it does about the cinematic value of the movie.
Other big winners when it comes to Oscar nominations are ‘Dune’ with ten nominations and ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Belfast’ with seven nods each.
The general public rightfully had no interest in Steven Spielberg’s virtue-signaling song and dance routine so ‘West Side Story’ has been a big box office bomb. But, not surprisingly, the Academy Awards slobbered all over Spielberg and his tired remake, nominating it for, among other categories, Best Picture and Best Director.
‘Belfast’, the rather benign and banal arthouse fool’s gold from Kenneth Branagh, snagged seven nominations as well, including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Branagh himself.
Besides ‘The Power of the Dog’, ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Belfast’, the Best Picture category includes ‘King Richard’, ‘Licorice Pizza’, ‘Nightmare Alley’, ‘CODA’, ‘Don’t Look Up’, ‘Dune’ and ‘Drive My Car.’
This Best Picture lineup is, at best, a murderer’s row of mundane mediocrity, you’d be hard pressed to find even a good movie among this lot, never mind a great one.
‘King Richard’ is a mindless, middlebrow sports movie, ‘Licorice Pizza’ is a secondary effort from director P.T. Anderson, ‘Nightmare Alley’ is interesting but has been a dud at the box office and overlooked by critics, ‘CODA’ is basically a laughable amateurish Hallmark Channel movie, ‘Don’t Look Up’ is a scattered failure, ‘Dune’ is a cold but beautiful spectacle, and ‘Drive My Car’ is a Japanese film that virtually no one has seen.
As for the other categories, there will be lots of talk about who was snubbed. But the reality is that movies are so bad this year that you can’t really make a case that anyone got snubbed. For instance, Lady Gaga was awful in ‘The House of Gucci’, but that won’t stop her fans from bemoaning her lack of an acting nomination.
The other big story will be the alleged lack of diversity among the nominees. As always, there will be lots of manufactured outrage about how not enough people of color, minorities or artists from “marginalized groups” got recognized by the Academy.
For example, in the wake of the nomination being announced, the New York Times wrote an article “The Diversity of the Nominees Decreased” that lamented the omission from the Best Actress category of Jennifer Hudson and “her rousing performance as Aretha Franklin” in ‘Respect.’ That movie and Hudson’s performance in it were entirely forgettable and, of course, the Times doesn’t tell us who shouldn’t have been nominated instead of Hudson.
The NY Times does give a backhanded compliment to the Academy for nominating Jane Campion and Ryusuke Hamaguchi in the Best Director category, which they say has been “historically dominated by white men.” That may be true, but also true is the fact that in recent history a “white man” hasn’t won the award since Damien Chazelle in 2016, and only two “white men” have won the award in the last decade.
It’s pretty clear that the “white men” nominated for Best Director this year, Kenneth Branagh for ‘Belfast’, P.T. Anderson for ‘Licorice Pizza’ and Steven Spielberg for ‘West Side Story,’ need not show up for the awards because, in the name of diversity, there’s no way in hell they’re going to win.
Speaking of the slavish addiction to diversity over merit, for years now the Academy Awards have been slouching towards irrelevance, but it wasn’t until the #OscarsSoWhite protest gained traction, after the Oscars committed the sin of nominating only white actors in every category in 2015 and 2016, that the Academy Awards went into hyperdrive on their march to oblivion.
The desperate need to appease the diversity gods has forced the Academy to expand its membership, both through adding more “minority” members and purging older white members. The result has been an Academy that has tarnished its brand, diminished the art of cinema, and lost its audience.
The ratings for the Oscar telecasts have been declining rapidly for years. In 2010, 41 million people watched the Oscar go to ‘The King’s Speech’. In 2021, just over 10 million people watched ‘Nomadland’ win the award.
The Oscars’ ratings for 2021 had dropped 56% from the previous year, and the ratings for this year’s ceremony will undoubtedly drop precipitously again.
The bottom line is that the Academy Awards are in a death spiral of irrelevance. Oscar’s demise is a symptom of the malignant malaise in moviemaking and the collapse of the art of cinema, and the truly atrocious line up of nominated films is undeniable proof of not only the Academy Awards’ irrelevance but also the decrepit state of cinema.