Did you see what happened at the Academy Awards last week? One of the great injustices of our time has finally been rectified! That’s right, Leonardo DiCaprio, actor extraordinaire, has finally won an Oscar!
And it’s a good thing too, I can’t tell you how many nights of sleep I’ve lost fretting over whether this man would finally get his due credit as one of the finest actors of his generation.
Climate change? Irrelevant. World poverty and hunger? Inconsequential! There was a good chance this was going to go down as one of the defining issues of the 21st century if the Academy didn’t step up to the plate, so let’s just all be glad they did.
I hope you read that first paragraph and thought you were in the satire section, because it should sound ridiculous.
Despite what the media has made it out to be, despite the popular internet meme that was Leo’s “Oscarlessness” (you can no longer say you have the same number of Oscars as Leonardo DiCaprio, Reddit!), I think we all intrinsically know that the Academy Awards are totally meaningless and that all the hullabaloo surrounding winning one is much ado about nothing.
There are few events so pompous and self-aggrandizing as the Oscars. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would have you believe that to be honored by its more than 7,000 members is to have attained the highest possible achievement in the world of film.
Once you have that golden statue, as the myth goes, it means you have achieved true excellence that all those without an Oscar must aspire to. But is this really true?
Gary Oldman. Joaquin Phoenix. Edward Norton. Ralph Fiennes. Johnny Depp. Glenn Close. Amy Adams. I’m sure anyone familiar with the work of the group above will agree that they are all incredibly talented actors, amongst the best still active.
All are Oscar-less!
The list of directors who haven’t won an Academy Award is even more egregious, including many giants of the industry—Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Terrence Malick, Jean-Luc Godard, David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman—who are considered to be at the very top of their fields by most film critics.
So what happened? Is their art just tremendously overrated by all those pretentious critics, or could the fault perhaps lie with the supposedly infallible Academy?
The dirty little secret (if one could even bother calling it a secret) is that there is a tremendous amount of behind the scenes politicking and lobbying that goes into determining the Oscar winners.
Studios spend millions of dollars promoting their movies, arranging additional screenings for voters and appealing to friends and colleagues in the Academy in the interest of building their brand. Nominees earn the perception of being winners or losers in the months leading up to the big day as they are honored at the various Guild awards.
What’s more, there seems to be a general formula for a film to be well-received come award season, regardless of its actual artistic merit. Make a “serious” movie, i.e. not a stereotypical blockbuster, starring an ensemble cast of big name actors and you have a good shot at an Oscar. Put an actor in an isolated situation with little to nothing else to interact with? Check! Feature a story about the Holocaust, or about the movie industry itself, and you are golden!
The more one looks into it, the less the Academy Awards seem to be honoring the true best of the industry and more like they are honoring what the studios want people to believe are the best.
Which brings us back the Oscars’ ultimate pointlessness and the utter absurdity that was the uproar over Leo not having won.
Is he a great actor? Yes. Has he deserved to win in the past? Probably. Is anything substantially different about his life now that he has won? Of course not!
He’s still Leonardo freaking DiCaprio, multimillionaire actor and playboy who can get any role he wants regardless of whether or not he owns a particular trophy.
I’m sure he’s a bit more pleased with himself now than he was before but let’s stop acting like this was the achievement of a lifetime, or that the world would have ended if a studio had paid just a liiitle more and Eddie Redmayne sneaked away with a victory instead.