Why Hollywood Awards Shows Don’t Really Matter
As Golden Globes demonstrated, ceremonies have very little to do with art — the inner workings keep worthy films from getting recognition
There’s arguably no time Hollywood considers more important than its awards season. Studios spend millions trying to get their pictures noticed by voting bodies — and celebrities make the rounds on red carpets and on late-night shows as they vie for nominations.
Then come the actual ceremonies, at which Hollywood’s elite dine and drink and slap each other on the backs for jobs well done. They take their stages, accept their golden statues — and usually go on political rants while they wag their fingers at the rest of America, which is stuck at home watching the awards show in an attempt to simply relax (while knowing another hard day’s work lies ahead of them the next day).
Awards season may be one of the most important times for the entertainment industry — but it’s also when Tinseltown’s self-indulgence is on full display, warts and all.
The truth is, it's always a little exciting to see a film one liked or supported get recognized — but mainstream awards shows are not really about artistic achievement; they're about celebrity and politics.
Take the typical batch of films nominated at awards shows. Almost none achieve popularity before they are nominated. It usually takes the industry itself to prop up the film to get it noticed by the rest of America. Even after that happens, the film usually flares out like a match at the box office because paying consumers realize how empty the movie actually is.
Just look at winners of the Best Picture Academy Award, the most coveted Hollywood bauble. How many people remember "The Artist," the 2011 mostly silent, black-and-white picture that won the Best Picture Oscar? Probably not many.
The industry's self-importance shines through brightly in its picks for nominations. One of the general rules that disqualifies many worthy and popular films is that movies typically need to be released in the fall or winter even to be considered for nominations. If they're released before then, voters will not have the pictures fresh in their minds — and there typically won't be a fancy and expensive awards campaign.
There are exceptions to the rule (like this year's "Get Out," which was originally released in February and has been nabbing nominations); but typically nearly every film nominated will be packed at the tail end of the year, weeding out worthy competition for a rather silly reason.
There's also a bias with most awards shows toward genre pictures. Though some films earn massive popularity with critics and paying moviegoers, it's generally considered beneath awards voters to recognize mainstream entertainment. This is why blockbuster films like "Logan" and "Wonder Woman" will go relatively unnoticed this year. Past films like "The Dark Knight," now considered a modern classic, also struggled to get recognized by Hollywood's elite voting bodies for coveted awards like Best Director and Best Picture.
Again, there are modest exceptions to the rule, such as 2015's "Mad Max: Fury Road," which was shockingly nominated for Best Picture and Director; but genre films (to which moviegoers typically flock) are usually not considered "important" enough to be nominated. Instead, nominated pictures usually come with some heavy-handed social or political statement, like this year's "The Post," a Steven Spielberg-directed drama that most of America has not seen yet and which celebrates the press. Stars Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep have made sure to mention the Trump presidency plenty in interviews, in a clear attempt to draw a correlation between the movie's story and the current administration.
It's a connection that has little to do with reality, but it likely gets liberal Hollywood voters excited.
Also bogging down awards shows is their blatant political edge. The Golden Globes (which concluded last night) are known in the industry as accolades that can generally be bought off. Their controversial and well-documented history suggests their alleged corruption is an open secret in Hollywood.
Films will also sometimes spend tens of millions of dollars advertising their movies with campaign posters, trailers and goodies. This means smaller pictures that earn high praise, such as this year's critically acclaimed "Brawl in Cell Block 99" — an independent film that earned big praises from critics and moviegoers for Vince Vaughn's dramatic lead role — will be completely ignored by voters because smaller releases don't have the means to buy awards. Something like "Brawl in Cell Block 99" could be the best picture of the year and end up a revered classic — but it doesn't matter. Voters generally don't budge unless they're wined and dined and catered to relentlessly.
Every year, there are reports that voters, especially Academy Award voters, base their votes not on whether a film is good or not — but rather on politics and other arbitrary reasons.
Then there's the actual politics that emerge during these award shows. As last night showed, art is hardly a focus at these events. Instead, they are opportunities for celebrities to revel in the limelight — and hijack stages and microphones to preach to the rest of America about how wrong it is about everything.
In the end, no matter how much people love art and appreciate film, Hollywood awards shows are little more than a chance to witness the emptiness of celebrity —and the politics of a lost industry.
PopZette editor Zachary Leeman can be reached at [email protected].