Absorb this information: Passengers – a quite frankly diabolical, ham-fisted sci-fi romance starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt – has earned more Academy Awards nominations than Martin Scorsese’s Silence. Meanwhile critically-butchered and biblically embarrassing Suicide Squad – the DC supervillian ensemble starring Margot Robbie and Will Smith – has earned equal nominations to Martin Scorsese’s Silence, and Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. This year’s Academy Awards nomination announcement confirmed one crucial thing: fan culture is now more powerful than cinematic quality, and that is a horrifying revelation indeed.
A perfect example of this is the gargantuan freight train that is La La Land. There is little doubt that Damien Chazelle’s latest is a very good, very enjoyable movie, but come on, it is not great enough to warrant the historical tied record of 14 Oscar nominations, shared with All About Eve (1950) for goodness sake. A large percentage of the film’s success has little to do with the product at all, rather the incessant need for fans to smother their timelines with messages about it. The actual craftsmanship of the film, the texture of its design, the construction of the sets, that’s all just become background noise to people repeatedly saying “ZOMG! LA LA LAND IS LIKE THE BEST THING EVAAAA MADE EVERRRR”. To most diehard fans of La La Land, the fact the film has gained 14 nominations is precisely what matters – the figure – something they can promote online and sing from the rooftops about. The reasons behind each of those nominations are quite frankly redundant. Who cares about the immaculate editing, and art direction when Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are HASHTAG SO CUTE THO. Ultimate GIF hype.
With each passing year, the Academy Awards are becoming more Tumblr than Telegraph, consistently adhering to the demands of the ‘people’ but forgetting the importance of the art form they represent. Imagine if the Booker Prize Award nominated “Fifty Shades of Grey” alongside “Of Mice and Men” for Best Original Fiction Novel. The streets would align with flaming torches. So why is it okay to treat film in such a manner? To outright devalue the dedication, the precision, the intelligence, merely for the sake of popularity. Because that’s what filling La La Land‘s whirling jazz-hands with plaudits is doing: promoting popularity, promoting fandom.
Not in any universe should a film maintain such unfathomable dominance over its competition, particularly when a number of its rival nominees are infinitely better presentations of cinematic construction and tailoring. Look at Pablo Larraín’s Jackie; a work which expertly underpins one of modern history’s most iconic events, and forensically details the hidden nakedness of its aftermath. It is a glacial and immaculately studied film, one that is layered, complex, and with a distinctly unique vision. But it lacks Gosling whistling as he strolls along a pier so it’s obviously no match at the end of the day. A similar story for Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, which despite gaining a respectful number of nominations (six in total), will ultimately crumble under the weight of John flipping Legend. The story behind Gibson’s directorial return is as wildly fascinating and astounding as the picture itself: a muscular, visceral, yet distinctly old-fashioned war drama that understands the dexterity of narrative, tone, and characterisation.
All of this is not designed to belittle Chazelle’s acclaimed picture because it wholeheartedly deserves to be a contender, but that contention should be totally founded upon its significant impact to the culture of cinema and its language, not because the movie is “fun” and has attractive people doing cool things in it. To go back to Silence – a film of desperate creative and narrative importance – which has just been completely forgotten throughout this Oscar process. Can anyone who has seen the film say it is any less worthy of nominations than La La Land? Of course you can’t, but the film is about the adversities of religion and culture, not switching up jazz music to make it sound more like Skrillex. Because it lacks modernised clout, it is somehow seen as lesser. To further this argument, one read a review – well, saying a “review” is being extremely generous – of Jackie (names will not be named; a gentleman never tells after all…) in which the author stated a dislike for Natalie Portman’s really annoying voice and weird mannerisms, yet also claimed he/she had no idea how Jackie Kennedy herself actually spoke or behaved. This is precisely the problem. If the text poses a challenge, or asks more of you than to merely sit there like a droid and consume, it will not resonate with the largest demographic, and therefore will not gain any sense of weight compared to thoroughbred fanfare out there.
Like always, the Academy Award nominations leave us divided, but there is something inherently wrong with how they represent the cultural significance of the products in question. Whether you are waltzing through the “City of Stars”, or floating in the depths of space with Star Lord and Katniss, you have to wonder whether The Oscars are more interested in a relevant social platform than a creative one. And don’t even get me started on Meryl Streep…
The Academy Awards take place on Sunday, 26th February. Read the full list of this year’s nominees here, and check out our live nomination announcement reaction video below.