27Feb

In Reality, This Year’s Oscars Was a Dud.

This most recent Oscar show had the lowest ratings among adults 18-49 since 2008, and the lowest viewership since 2009. Many are inclined to blame the host, Neil Patrick Harris, saying he just wasn’t that funny.

I’m inclined to disagree. First off, I’d like to thank the Academy for this year’s late-coming nominees. Of the big nominees, most were released so late in 2014 that they were released in 2015. People didn’t get a chance to see most of these films.

Then there’s the reality factor. Most of the major nominees were firmly grounded in reality – the exact opposite of escapist fare. Having some biographical films is ok. But almost all of them? The Imitation Game. Selma. American Sniper (although it featured a very un-real infant). Wild (which I loved). The Theory of Everything. These were all based on true stories about real people. And then there was the very realistic faux biography, Boyhood, and Still Alice, which was so real it hurt.

Birdman was an exception, defying genre classification. But Birdman was another film that most people have yet to see. It had barely played in the theaters, and was only recently made available to rent or purchase.

Even more telling than the flicks that were nominated was the entire multi-part genre of films that was almost completely left out.

Sci-fi, fantasy and horror.

You laugh. Those aren’t serious films, you think. Those aren’t the type of films that get nominated for Academy Awards. Well, you’d be mostly correct in thinking those aren’t the type of films that often WIN Academy Awards. But Academy Award nominees from this genre in the past have included some of the most critically praised films and beloved films of all time: The Wizard of Oz anyone? E.T.? The Exorcist? A Clockwork Orange? 2001: A Space Odyssey? The Silence of the Lambs? Avatar? The Lord of the Rings trilogy? Or how about It’s A Wonderful Life?

Here, in the 2014 nominations, we see an opportunity completely wasted by the members of the Academy. There is a huge percentage of movie fans, real movie fans that actually go to movies and buy movies, that love sci-fi, fantasy and horror. And 2014 was an incredible year for these genres.

As of today, 12 of the top 13 grossing movies in 2014 were ‘fantastic” in the “Fantastic Tales” meaning of the word. The only exception was American Sniper, at #3 (to date). 12 out of 13! (http://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/chart/?yr=2014)

But that’s the popular vote, you say, the people’s choice. How about critics?

Check out this list of some of the best reviewed movies of 2014, all almost completely ignored by the Academy with the exception of a few special effects nods.
I’ve included the Rotten Tomatoes “Fresh Rating” and Metacritic rating after every title.

Guardians of the Galaxy 91% Rotten Tomatoes Fresh (RT); 76 Metacritic
Coherence 86% RT; 65 Metacritic
The One I Love 80% RT; 66 Metacritic
Under The Skin 85% RT; 78 Metacritic
Honeymoon 70% RT; 65 Metacritic
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 90% RT; 79 Metacritic
The Babadook 97%; RT 87 Metacritic
Snowpiercer 95% RT; 84 Metacritic
Edge of Tomorrow 90% RT; 71 Metacritic

These also happen to be some of my favorite films of the year.

Coherence and The One I Love are twin sons from different mothers, two movies that explore very different sides of reality with variations on a doppelganger theme. Both feature brilliant screenplays -- mind-bending and thrilling. Either could have been nominated in the original screenplay category.

In Coherence, a group of friends gather for a dinner party on the night an asteroid is passing crazily close to the earth. It’s a viewing party that turns into a sort of nightmare as soon as the asteroid shoots by. The lights go out, and the only other house on their block with any activity seems to strangely resemble their party house, right down to its occupants.

In The One I Love, a married couple try to breathe new life into their relationship at an idyllic country retreat. There they begin to fall in love with each other all over again. Or do they? Are they themselves or something else? There are great performances in this one by Mark Duplass (The Mindy Project) and Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men).

You want great award-worthy performances? I couldn’t believe that Tilda Swinton wasn’t nominated for her completely unique and fully developed villain in Snowpiercer. Or Andy Serkis for bringing every human emotion to the ape Caesar in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Or Essie Davis in The Babadook, as a single mom trying to not allow an otherworldly evil, and her own depression, overpower her motherly instincts.

And then there’s The Guardians of the Galaxy. Here’s a case when the Academy’s bias against sci-fi joined forces with its bias against humor to shut out one of the best, most original and most popular movies of 2014. It wasn’t “dark” (like the great Dark Knight flicks) so it was ignored.

People want to have a rooting interest in the Oscars. They want to care about the contenders. If this year’s Oscars was a Super Bowl, it’d be like Jacksonville vs. Tampa Bay.

Advice to the Academy. You want people to care about the Oscars? Don’t largely limit your nominations to a bunch of biographical films that were (barely) released in December. And don’t be afraid of fantasy, sci-fi or horror. Well, you can be afraid of horror…just occasionally watch it with your eyes and mind open.

Also, tell the show producers to stop showing so much John Travolta. Talk about scary.