21 Days of Oscar – How mainstream are the Oscars?

Sorry for not writing a new post yesterday, I was a bit busy. Today I will make up for it by adding 2 new posts.

To some, the Academy Awards may seem to represent mainstream films and culture while many others may think that the Academy only chooses to highlight small, independent films that few people have actually seen. In all honesty I think that the Academy tries to pay respect to good films. I don’t believe that most Academy voters really care whether a film has grossed 600 million dollars or only opened in a few art house cinemas in New York and L.A. I think the Academy tries to reward quality above all else, though they certainly do have a habit of rewarding some less than stellar films on occasion.

This year the two front-runners for Best Picture are The Hurt Locker and Avatar. The Hurt Locker grossed a total of $12.7 million at the box office and has no big stars in its cast. Avatar on the other hand is the highest grossing film of all time and was directed by superstar director James Cameron. I think this is a perfect example of how the Academy in fact does honor both “mainstream” films and “indie” films. Let us also analyze the nominees in this year’s acting categories. For Best Actress the Academy has  honored hugely popular actresses like Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock while also recognizing the work of previously unknown actresses Gabourey Sidibe and Carey Mulligan. For Best Actor we have the incredibly famous George Clooney and also Jeremy Renner, an actor few people know of. For Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress we have the relatively unknown Christoph Waltz and Anna Kendrick.

Often unknown actors go on to win in the categories they are nominated in. In 2008 the indie actress Tilda Swinton won Best Supporting Actress and the unknown French actress Marion Cotillard won Best Actress for La Vie En Rose, a film few Americans ever saw. That same year the little-known Spanish actor Javier Bardem won for Best Supporting Actor and Daniel Day-Lewis won for Best Actor. Though Day-Lewis is very respected in the acting community, I think it would be hard to argue that the films he has typically been in have been “mainstream.” Let us also look at the films that have won Best Picture in the last 20 years. Big “mainstream” movies like Titanic, Forrest Gump and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King have taken the Academy’s top prize but so have small “indie” films like Slumdog Millionaire, No Country for Old Men and Million Dollar Baby. This year it looks like either The Hurt Locker or Avatar will take home the award but will the results really tell us if the Academy is in line with “mainstream” American culture or in cahoots with the fringe of American society? I highly doubt it. Go see movies because they are good or fun or interesting or make you think, not simply because they are “independent” nor simply because everyone else has seen them.

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1 Comment

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One response to “21 Days of Oscar – How mainstream are the Oscars?

  1. Nora V

    A great example of this mainstream v. indie trend is “The Secret of Kells,” that animated flick that made the category even though it was literally only showing in one tiny theater in L.A. Somehow, it reached enough Academy members to beat out “Ponyo,” which one of my friends thought was the second best movie of 2009. I think that was a definite example of the Academy members’ hopes to get a wider viewership for a tiny, indie flick. At the same time, I think most people believe that “Avatar” will win Best Picture by virtue of its insane success.
    And (just a thought) Tilda Swinton is one of the most bizarre-dressing women I have ever seen in my life. She’s also ridiculously talented.

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