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Our Team Hasn’t Lost – Reflecting on this Year’s Oscars

threepio-oscarMike: I’ll say this much: the Academy Awards are exciting. Much like the Super Bowl, undoubtedly the dominant yearly cultural event in modern American life, unless you make a conscious effort to tune them out entirely, it’s hard to simply have them on in the background and not get sucked in. They may not always be a good show, but they’re an exhaustively elaborate show, and like the live TV musicals that have recently become a holiday tradition, it’s fascinating to watch so many shiny and well-known moving pieces swirl around in an environment where pretty much anything can happen.

They’re so fascinating, and so elaborate, that it can be easy to lose sight of how little it really means. Popular art and culture are extremely important—we wouldn’t have written hundreds of thousands of words on this very site if we didn’t think so—and winning an Oscar certainly means a lot to any individual lucky enough to do so, but as this year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy highlighted, to win an Oscar is at best a narrowly-defined victory. And it’s certainly not an absolute guarantee of something’s value, any more than to lose one guarantees a lack thereof.

So amidst my own feverish live-tweeting Sunday night, it was disheartening to see a number of Star Wars fans—though, I speculate, a comfortable minority—express shock and even rage as The Force Awakens lost one, then another, and eventually all five of its nominated categories. Whatever you think of Mad Max: Fury Road or Ex Machina or The Hateful Eight, they’re each singular films with nothing near the weight of the Star Wars franchise behind them, and personally I can’t help but root for spunky underdogs.

Especially bothersome was the sentiment that Star Wars was “robbed”, as if it didn’t just deserve to win but was entitled to. Art, even popular art, is not a contest or a zero-sum game; none of the other films’ achievements detract from TFA, and I daresay no one was waiting around to see how many Oscars it won before deciding to see it themselves. Besides which, this new era of Star Wars is just getting started—if you choose to place importance on awards, you’ll have many more chances to celebrate; fans of Mad Max may as well, but those of Ex Machina and Hateful Eight will not. Allow them their moment, won’t you?

But that’s me. What about the rest of you—do you care that TFA was shut out? Like, at all?

David: I don’t care at all. And it’s not because no one cares about the Oscars and blah blah blah. That’s a blatant lie, friends. No matter how ridiculous the voting process is and how often it’s not a reflection of real quality but of internal politics in the Academy, being awarded an Oscar is still the landmark to become part of the Hollywood star system.

No, I don’t care because I thought the winners in the categories where TFA was nominated were well-deserved. Let’s start with the most obvious one: Best Film Editing. It would’ve been a real shame if any movie other than Mad Max: Fury Road had taken the award home, because the editing in that movie is nothing short of a masterpiece: to manage to get a perfectly coherent movie out of that orgy of explosions is no small feat. Same with Sound Mixing: Fury Road takes place most of the time in the middle of a giant cacophony, and the mix is not only perfectly intelligible but also helps and elevates the striking visuals on screen. And yes, I feel the same about SFX: the subtle use of CGI in Ex Machina deserved the recognition. As great as it was, TFA was “more of the same” (and don’t get me started on the practical effects, because if that’s what the Academy had decided to reward, I’m afraid the award would have gone to Fury Road).

exmachina

Would I have liked Williams to take the statue home? Sure, but he already had five Oscars and I don’t think the TFA soundtrack is one of his best, no matter how much I love it. Maybe you could say the same about Ennio Morricone, as Hateful Eight has nothing to do with his excellent soundtracks for The Untouchables or The Mission. Yeah, he got one of those odious “legacy awards”, but I can’t be too mad about it: he’s one of the masters and he deserved more recognition than the honorary Oscar he got in 2007. Same with Sound Editing: the work of Matthew Wood et al in TFA is as fantastic as always, but the sound in Mad Max is also top quality, so I don’t mind them going home with the award.

So no, I’m satisfied with the way the awards went. Star Wars lost to some really strong contenders. There’s no shame in that.

Jay: I agree 100% with the above. More than that, I’d say that TFA didn’t need the recognition. It’d be too easy to say oh look, the Academy is happy to get viewers interested in the strength of SW but is happy snubbing it — but let’s me honest, the anti-Academy bitterness SW fans have sometimes isn’t necessary here. There are more valid reasons to be upset at the Academy.

TFA’s legacy is fine — it revived SW cinematically and blew up a bunch of records. Through that, it showed SW is back and it showed SW could by led by a diverse cast. It didn’t need Academy recognition for that.

Other films did, and the awards were pretty deserving for the most part. Academy recognition still means something for rewarding filmmakers and for supporting talent, hard work, and creativity — and the kudos went where they should’ve gone.

I don’t think anybody from Kathleen Kennedy on down is really that worried that TFA didn’t win any Oscars. We shouldn’t either. This isn’t sports, our team hasn’t lost.

Ben C: Nope.

Then again, it comes down to what sort of extra factor or credibility an Oscar gives to a film in your perception. For myself, I tend to rate the BAFTAs more highly – there TFA did indeed win for SFX, while Mad Max cleaned up on the other design and effects awards. But let’s say it hadn’t got that BAFTA – would I have deemed it rubbish because of that? (I may deem it rubbish in four years’ time but not for awards or the lack thereof) No, of course not.

Then there’s the politics that swirl around the nominations. I can’t be the only one who is inclined to a fair measure of cynicism over what does and doesn’t get awards. In most cases it tends to be the more safe bet in cultural terms. It’s great for the recipients, or should be, though there that Curse of the Oscar to contend with.

Finally, I’m used to the stuff I enjoy being placed outside the mainstream: sci-fi sections in bookshops are tolerated at best, liking Trek and Wars you have to be nuts, anything more esoteric marks you as an SF ‘fan’ and enjoying those dreadful superhero movies? Oh, you’re a comic fan too? Hey, let’s go for the cultural unholy trilogy – video games are cool too.

Oscars? You can keep ’em. BAFTAs? Hand a few over.

Ben W: I actually had a discussion very similar to this one back around the end of the year; some friends and I were discussing our favorite films of the year, and I said that, as huge a Star Wars fan as I am, and as much as I loved The Force Awakens, I could not in good conscience hold it on a higher plateau (from a technical standpoint at the very least) than Fury Road. And that’s not a bad thing, either, it just means that the people making Star Wars movies now have to step up their game.

This isn’t a slobbering lovefest over Fury Road‘s practical effects, either, it actually used a lot less of said effects than a lot of people realize. No, this is about the full package of the film itself, the editing, the sound design, the music score, everything about Fury Road worked together to make an outstanding and technically marvelous film, even for someone (like me) who had no familiarity whatsoever with the franchise. It somehow packaged an adrenaline rush into movie form.

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The Force Awakens was a terrific film in those same categories, don’t get me wrong. But it was up against some extremely strong competition. Even the effects work, a category that Star Wars dominated for a long time, just wasn’t on the same level as the beautiful and subtle work done in Ex Machina. The only category that it really had a chance in, In My Opinion, was its soundtrack, but even that wasn’t near to John William’s best and it didn’t surprise me that the award went elsewhere.

I don’t think anyone who made The Force Awakens was intending for it to win Oscars. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing, either. They built a movie that could be enjoyed, a movie meant to delight audiences. Maybe there will be some awards down the line as those making future Star Wars films take bigger chances and stretch their craft to that extra level. But TFA not winning anything isn’t a snub, it just couldn’t surmount the competition it was up against.

Sarah: Nah. To reiterate what everyone else has said, TFA faced stiff competition in all the categories it was nominated for, and it simply failed to measure up. Frankly, Mad Max: Fury Road was a masterpiece of editing, and far and away deserved the film editing award. I don’t know enough about sound editing/sound mixing to say for sure whether one movie “deserved” those awards over the other but, again, it was tough competition. While The Force Awakens certainly had very sleek visuals it didn’t really do anything new or interesting that we hadn’t seen in any other recent space movie (and if you want to go the “but practical effects!” route, well, Fury Road would probably win just based on the Doof Warrior and his flamethrower guitar alone). Ex Machina‘s subtle use of CGI looked so effortless that you forgot the visual effects were there. Finally, while it would’ve been nice to see John Williams take home a sicth statue, TFA’s score wasn’t really anything to write home about either. “Rey’s Theme” and its various permutations are really the only standout; the rest just feels like coasting on the “John Williams and Star Wars” name brand. And while I’m not a huge fan of “legacy Oscars,” if there was ever someone who deserved an award for his body of work it would be Ennio Morricone.

morricone

Star Wars has always been known for being a leader in the technical aspects of movie-making, especially when it comes to visual effects. It certainly reinvented the field in 1977 and again in 1999. Furthermore, it almost singlehandedly revived the sweeping orchestral movie score. But the industry has caught up; like Ben said, Star Wars has got to step up its game and push the limits of the craft if it wants to continue being competitive. TFA was a fun and enjoyable movie but award-worthy? Eh, not really, not when considering the strength of the competition. And that’s no slight against TFA; it was up against some fantastic nominees and competition was fierce.

But at the same time a movie doesn’t need to be award-worthy. And this isn’t me being cynical and saying “Oh the Oscars don’t matter/who cares it’s all political/genre movies never get recognized anyway/etc.” Obviously it’s great to win awards, both for the prestige and for the glowing feeling you get when your hard work is recognized by your peers. But awards are not the be-all, end-all of quality. At the end of the day a movie should (in my opinion) tell an entertaining story and give you something to think about, and judging by the amount of thinkpieces written in the two and a half months since the premiere I’d say that TFA accomplished that in spades. Everything else is just gravy.

Rocky: TFA has gotten quite enough recognition already- it had long proved itself before getting an Oscar. It was excellent entertainment, tons of fun to watch, and has propelled its new cast into instant stardom. This movie is one for the ages, one that has brought a lot of people into and back to Star Wars- and that’s award enough. I don’t think TFA needed Oscars to assure that; it has made quite a name for itself. The competition was also outstanding, and seeing them recognized for doing an outstanding job? That’s also a very good thing. Star Wars as a franchise can make its own legend, and letting other movies have a shot at the glory in no way makes TFA any less awesome. I’m perfectly satisfied.

Even though, no Best Supporting Droid for BB-8?

One thought to “Our Team Hasn’t Lost – Reflecting on this Year’s Oscars”

  1. As to the Best Score Category: When the Oscar 2016 nominees were announced I was particularly interested in the Best Score Category. I am a fervent Star Wars fan and no so more than for the music. I am a Star Wars fan from 1977 and after having seen it in the theater the only way to re-experience it was to listen to the music. I listened to the 1977 Star Wars soundtrack countless times and imagined the movie in my head. John Williams of course won an Academy Award for it the next year. This would be the only Star Wars score to win in that category. Empire and Jedi would be nominated but not win. Fast forward to 2016. I got all the scores for each nominee and gave them all a fair listen. And to dispel any idea that I only listen to Star Wars soundtracks my 160 GB iPOD is more than half full of soundtracks, so I have a very long history of listening to various soundtracks from an assortment of composers. Each of the nominees had some good moments in them with Ennio’s “The Hateful Eight” score being the greatest competition for John WIlliams. I have many Ennio scores with his greatest being in my opinion “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” Ennio’s score for “The Hateful Eight” was a little disappointing and I expected more out of it. If this was trying to be a modern day “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” it missed the mark. So I was a little dishearted that John Williams’ score for “The Force Awakens” didn’t win. If you want a brilliant analysis of “The Force Awakens” and all the other Star Wars scores listen to #StarWarsOxygen on the @RebelForceRadio network. David Collins is an accomplishing musician that gives fantastic decomposition to the works.

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