The Oscar for Best Picture: A Rambling About Its Biased Flaws

It couldn’t please me more if I will be able to look back at this blog post on Monday February 10th and say “Yay! This post is even more dated than ever because PARASITE pulled off the big win!” It would be like I am Fraulein Schneider receiving the gift of a pineapple from Herr Schultz …or it will be even more strengthened by the fact that Hollywood just doesn’t want to acknowledge a Foreign Language Film as the Best Picture of the year.

In its 92 year history, the Academy Awards have only nominated ELEVEN Foreign Language Films for Best Picture (12 if you count BABEL or 13 if you count THE ARTIST but since that was a silent film that only featured two lines of English dialogue, I don’t consider it). That number is STAGGERING….especially considering not a single Fellini movie ever got nominated for Best Picture…and that Bergman only managed it ONE TIME with CRIES & WHISPERERS which is obviously a great film though not as fantastic as many of his snubbed efforts.

Here are the Foreign Films that DID get nominated:

1938-Grand Illusion

1969-Z

1972-The Emigrants

1973-Cries & Whisperers

1995-Il Postino (The Postman)

1998-Life is Beautiful

2000-Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

2006-Letters from Iwa Jima

2012-Amour

2018-Roma

2019-Parasite

While I might not have personally nominated some of these, I do applaud that they were able to make it in. There are two movies here that did come close to winning based on precursor guidance: CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON and especially ROMA.

In the case of ROMA, it was considered the frontrunner for 2018 but it ended up losing to the safer, boilerplate, white savior biopic known as GREEN BOOK. The preferential ballot seemed to hurt ROMA however I also feel the bigger reason that ROMA got the shaft was because it was a Netflix film…and the negative bias over that is huge right now…and it probably plays a factor in how movies like THE IRISHMAN and MARRIAGE STORY have been underplaying at most of the precursors so far in terms of major wins.

Still, it feels incredibly disingenuous to have an Academy that pushes a ceremony upon a worldwide audience and tries to pass it off as being the best of world cinema when hardly any foreign films get nominated…and none have won. Even Foreign Language performances, though more likely to get nominated, rarely win.

One might say, “Well, Anthony, art is subjective. Just because you say that more foreign films deserve to be nominated doesn’t mean they deserve to be”. Yes, thank you prick, I get that…but a lot of foreign films get passionate reviews from critics year after year and does filmgoers who see them often find themselves in love with what they see…and as time passes, those films often get listed on Best Films of All Time Lists.

Since 2000 alone, here are a sampling of foreign films I ranked as my favorite film from that particular year.

2000: In the Mood for Love

2006: Pan’s Labyrinth

2007: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

2009: The White Ribbon

2019: Parasite

And that isn’t counting others that may have ranked in my top 5 on any given year…movies like Michael Haneke’s AMOUR or THE PIANO TEACHER or Edward Yang’s YI YI or Pedro Almodovar’s TALK TO HER or Alfonso Cuaron’s Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN…just to name a few.

It is a certain truth about the Hollywood Award system that I’ve always known but somehow it never truly latched onto me until I got older. Now, I am at a point where I feel like it is just a pressing an issue as the lack of diversity in terms of ethnicities in the acting categories and a lack of women being recognized in the Directing category….which that is a WHOLE other ordeal that would deserve a lengthy debate.

For example, 2018 was a rather terrible year for film and the fact that a film like BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY could do well at these award shows despite its rather horrible critical pedigree while a foreign film like SHOPLIFTERS goes fairly unnoticed is appalling…and even genre bias with American films. A brutal horror film like HEREDITARY mostly went unnoticed during awards season and while it may have been a stretch to expect it in Best Picture, Toni Collette’s work in that movie was masterful to say the least…but once again, genre bias would warrant a whole other post.

So, yes…Foreign Films get the shaft often…so that bring us to PARASITE.

PARASITE is a South Korean film about a lower class family that sneakily tries to assimilate themselves into the house of a wealthier family as their employees. It won the Palme d’Or at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival and has managed to get an impressive 99% score on Rotten Tomatoes (which isn’t a perfect system but whatever)…it does seem to have an overwhelming amount of support from film buffs and it seems to be highly respected across the board.

That respect, along with the fact that it isn’t a Netflix movie, is what is giving me hope that PARASITE could still pull this off.

As of now, the Best Picture race is considered to be between 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Parasite. Each of these movies faces a hurdle that is typically considered detrimental to a film winning.

HOLLYWOOD missed an editing nomination. This doesn’t seem like it would matter but in the past 40 years, only TWO movies have won Best Picture without having the editing nomination: ORDINARY PEOPLE (which, I mean, makes sense) and BIRDMAN (because they felt it didn’t warrant it as it was meant to look like one shot).

Another movie to miss out on editing is 1917, which is in the same boat as BIRDMAN that way, but 1917 has another big hurdle: no acting nominations. In the last 40 years, only three movies have won Best Picture without having at least one acting nomination: THE LAST EMPEROR, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING, and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.

That also bring us to PARASITE because while it DOES have an editing nomination, it doesn’t have acting nominations…add in the foreign language history and that makes it seem a little trickier.

Now I am going to discuss each film individually and sort of explain why they are the current frontrunners:

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD: Things will become clearer once the PGA announces their Best Picture winner this weekend, but as of this exact moment, I predict this film as the main frontrunner. The primary reason for that is that it was a pretty solid success and it seems to have great support in the industry because they always love when a film about themselves comes along…I mean, look at something like ARGO which made Hollywood out to be heroes. So far, HOLLYWOOD has won the Comedy Globe for Best Picture and the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Picture…along with Screenplay wins at both (which wasn’t entirely expected). It also helps that Brad Pitt is a frontrunner to win Supporting Actor because acting wins always look good with a Best Picture win. Then there is the fact that Tarantino has never won a Directing Oscar nor has any of his films won Best Picture. Unless the DGA throws us a curveball and gives him Director there, I doubt the tide will go that way…but honoring his film as a whole along with yet another screenplay win may tide them over.

1917: This late-game changer has burst in with its Best Picture-Drama and Best Director wins at the Golden Globes along with Sam Mendes tying with PARASITE’s Bong Joon-ho for Director at the Critics’ Choice Awards. While it does have those two big hurdles against it that I mentioned earlier, it does still have a good chance of cleaning up the tech awards and getting a lot of those voters on its side. Throw in a Best Director win with that and you could have a Best Picture winner like TITANIC that won a slew of tech awards and a Directing win (and 1917 even has a Screenplay nomination unlike TITANIC).

PARASITE: Even though it should be more than just the underdog, I think PARASITE is just the underdog but it does still have a path to victory. There is a chance that PARASITE could still come back in with a last minute surge victory if it happens to win the PGA…and even more so if Joon-ho wins DGA. My hope is that it could win both and I also hope it can pull of a Screenplay win at the WGA. The other place it could win a key award (though it won’t be as pressing) is the SAG Ensemble Award. One film’s trajectory that gives me some hope is that of SPOTLIGHT’s. In the season it won, its closest competition were two somewhat polarizing movies: THE REVENANT and THE BIG SHORT. The former won the DGA while the latter won the PGA and SPOTLIGHT managed to squeak out a WGA win and a SAG Ensemble win….and then took home the top prize at the Oscars seemingly benefitting from the preferential ballot system as that film probably got more top ranked 1-2-3 votes as opposed to its biggest competition. I feel like PARASITE could benefit from this kind of voting strategy but it still hurts that it is a smaller foreign film. It feels like uncharted territory even though we just went through ROMA last year.

Honestly, I can’t tell if it is just my love for PARASITE that is clouding my judgement here but I just feel like the fact the film has universal praise and seems to have enough key support that it seems like it would be the most likely to pull it off especially since HOLLYWOOD seems to have its own share of detractors. 1917 is the missing piece here because it is still so new to the game and it is hard to tell if it will have legs at PGA…and it doesn’t seem like it will be as polarizing a film as HOLLYWOOD.

The one big thing about 2019 is that it was a very solid improvement over that of 2018 in terms of film content…but even so, a lot of great films are still going unnoticed this awards season even if the quality of the films being singled out are better than last year’s derby.

French film PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE didn’t gain as much traction outside of most Foreign Film categories…and the surreal sophomore effort of Robert Eggers, THE LIGHTHOUSE, seemed like a film that was going to be too weird for the Academy…who only barely acknowledged David Lynch in the past. We also have other movies that seemed to have more widespread praise from critics and audiences alike but never gain traction, even over more polarizing films that do get recognition like JOKER (which I support that recognition). We have movies like UNCUT GEMS, PAIN & GLORY, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, KNIVES OUT, and THE FAREWELL to name a few that haven’t gotten a significant boost and the variety in terms of genres would be more welcomed at the Oscars.

The other thing about this year is the shortened award season. The Oscars are being held February 9th, which means all the other award shows are cramming their ceremonies to be held this month or the week before the Oscars in February to ensure it all gets done and they can make their marks first. One of the things that seemed potentially promising at first is that various voting bodies couldn’t really act like sheep and copycat other ceremonies based on their nominations…and at first, it seemed like it could work out as such. However, what ended up happening is the shorter voting period has led to voters seemingly just sticking with the same films and performances…and I suppose you could say that this happens year after year.

It is a process that I still get fascinated by and enjoy following even though I feel so jaded by it knowing it truly isn’t the end all be all and that the films people will love and the performances that stand the test of time will do so…politics and campaigning carry the day with awards…but these are also the people that awarded CRASH over the likes of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and GOODNIGHT AND GOOD LUCK…so that will be their legacy.

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