Looking for true recognition of movie greatness? Ignore the Oscars

Movies are pretty much my life, which is why I wait with bated breath each year for the Oscars. Oh, wait, no I don't. While the rest of the world might see the Academy Awards as the height of cinematic praise, I prefer to ignore these predictable and effectively irrelevant awards. If you’re wondering why GamesRadar+ is covering the Oscars at all if it’s so irrelevant, the fact is that while we’d love to remould the world in our image, we haven’t quite worked out how to do it yet. So, for now, we have to concede that the Oscars are an institution… albeit one that means little to me and the movies I love.

When the Academy Awards were launched in 1929 it was said to be “a non-profit organisation dedicated to the advancement and improvement of the film industry”. Since then, it’s more widely been acknowledged as an excuse for the rich and powerful of Hollywood to rub shoulders with the famous and beautiful. Indeed, all award shows are some egotistical version of this and have somehow managed to trick us all into thinking otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the Oscars are evil. I don’t think they’re trying to bring about world domination one overly emotional speech at a time. I just realised, fairly early on, that the Academy Awards aren’t really about the best movies out there.

The films, actors, and directors who win a nice shiny award each year are most definitely deserving of the praise. But have you noticed how there’s a certain type of Oscar winner and certain type of not-in-a-million-years loser? Kate Winslet made the joke in Extras that she was only playing a nun so she could finally win an Oscar, but there’s a certain amount of truth to this. If your movie is about suffering, or overcoming injustice, or heart-breaking illnesses, you’re much more likely to get a nomination than if your film has a spaceship in it. Sci-fi and fantasy movies can win an award for special effects, sound, or costume design, but rarely do they even get a nomination in any of the major categories.

The original Star Wars film was nominated for Best Picture and lost to Annie Hall, Raiders of the Lost Ark missed out to Chariots of Fire, ET lost to Gandhi, Avatar and District 9 were beaten by The Hurt Locker, and The King’s Speech won over Inception. Some of these were definitely the right decisions, and some perhaps less so, but in terms of nominations that’s... kind of it. In over 80 years of Academy Awards those are the only major sci-fi/fantasy nominations for Best Picture. There are exceptions of course. They gave a fair few Oscars to the final Lord of the Rings movie (the other two were nominated in their respective years), but even that was done almost begrudgingly, as if the Academy had waited for the final film (which arguably isn’t the best) because they knew there’s no way they could not acknowledge Peter Jackson’s epic saga, and they didn’t want to award all three of films.

If you look at the highest grossing movies of last year, you’d see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World and Avengers: Age of Ultron. How many got an Oscar nom? Only Star Wars, which is nominated in apologetic categories such as Visual Effects and Sound Editing. You might say that money isn’t everything, and just because Jurassic World made ten times as much as Carol, that doesn’t make it a better film. And you’d be right. But equally, just because Rey is holding a lightsaber, doesn’t make her brave performance any less deserving than Leonardo DiCaprio’s in The Revenant. Daisy Ridley may not be ready to give DiCaprio a run for his money just yet, but she shouldn’t be dismissed outright because her character is based in the realm of fantasy.

Horror too isn’t given much acknowledgment. The Exorcist (nominated in 1973), The Shining, Psycho, The Sixth Sense (nominated in 1999)... these are all incredible films, and no one would accuse you of being insane for suggesting they should have got Oscars. Generally speaking, genre movies will never get a look in because they’re too niche, too out of the ordinary; like it’s no great feat realistically portraying a demonically possessed 12-year-old!? Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian are nominated this year, but Ridley Scott’s movie, while technically sci-fi, is really more a drama set in space, like 2013’s Gravity. And while it’s great to see Mad Max nominated, we all know it’s got a snowball’s chance in hell of actually winning. But it’s not just in terms of genre where the Oscars fail.

This year, the Academy Awards have been mired in controversy yet again over the fact that, for the second year running, there are no black nominees. Racial diversity in entertainment continues to be a major issue (and with good cause) but, to me, it’s just another reason why I will never pay much attention to the Oscars. After all, I’ve known for years that the Oscars isn’t about diversity, whether we’re talking about race, genre, gender, sexuality, or even money (see below). If you’re looking to the Oscars for a fair and just representation of the year in cinema, I’d suggest you’re looking in the wrong place. Does this mean we shouldn’t challenge it? Of course not. Whether I believe it’s justified or not, the Oscars is a major part of the entertainment industry and its lack of diversity is unacceptable.

However, alongside the fight to bring about change, we should be adding a healthy dollop of Ice Cube-attitude. The rapper-turned-actor recently saw his N.W.A story turned into movie with F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton, and as a truly superb film starring black actors, from a black director, and largely about black culture, it’s understandably been part of the #OscarsSoWhite debate. “We don’t do movies for the industry. We do movies for the fans, for the people,” he said on The Graham Norton Show. “If the industry gives you a trophy or not, or pats you on the back or not, it’s nice, but it’s not something you should dwell on.” I couldn’t agree more.

Sure, it would be great if the Oscars could get over themselves; if they could start seriously looking at movies and actors that approach cinema from different angles, or do different things within the medium, who really push the boundaries... but that’s just not the Oscars. That’s not what they’ve ever been about. And no, failing to include a single black nominee isn’t the same as refusing to acknowledge genre films, but I can’t help but feel that a story like Straight Outta Compton, had it been made with white actors, a white director… white everything, still wouldn’t win an Oscar. Why? Because it not ‘Academy-appropriate’.

Why else do you think that actors and directors have to actively campaign to even get nominated? For six months before the Oscars, potential contenders spend an average of $5 million making sure the right people see their movies. It doesn’t guarantee you a win, but if you don’t do it, it guarantees you don’t even get a shot at it. Studios also look at the best ways to get their actors in a position to win by perhaps putting them forward for less competitive categories. This year both Rooney Mara in Carol and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl are leading ladies, but they’re nominated in the Supporting Role category so they won’t have to go up against Cate Blanchett and Brie Larson (who can blame them?).

It’s all a game, but we knew that, right? Then why are we still turning towards Hollywood come Oscar night and hoping to be pleasantly surprised? The Oscars might celebrate (a certain type of) excellent cinema, but they’ve yet to dole out an award that wasn’t so completely predictable. They haven’t given me a reason to start tuning in. Take a leaf out of my book and spend the night introducing your friends to a movie you really rate that would never get the Oscar seal of approval. There’s so much more out there to enjoy, so much more that will impress you, why limit yourself? Let the Oscars do that.

Lauren O'Callaghan

Lauren O'Callaghan is the former Entertainment Editor of GamesRadar+. You'd typically find Lauren writing features and reviews about the latest and greatest in pop culture and entertainment, and assisting the teams at Total Film and SFX to bring their excellent content onto GamesRadar+. Lauren is now the digital marketing manager at the National Trust.