The Oscars air on Sunday evening, and three likely headlines from the broadcast call for a discussion. First, it is a good thing there is no host. Look for this as a surprise hit with the viewers, and something that develops into a trend in coming years. Second, it’s a bad thing that the Academy continues to turn its nose to big box office hits. Black Panther will not win Best Picture, and Stan Lee will not receive much of an honor for his work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe from the Academy. Finally, Roma likely wins Best Picture, giving Netflix the most prestigious honor of the 2019 awards seasons, setting a trend for movie studios going forward. Let’s unpack all three.
This is a step in the right direction to cap off the 2019 award season. No host is unique, and new to the landscape. It is contrary to the times we live in. These shows profit from ratings, and buzz is typically generated from the host. This is, but not limited to the opening monologue, or roast, as well as skits throughout the night. The media will respond to this action poorly on Monday morning and beyond, but look for viewers to appreciate it. The media will be upset because they won’t have their soundbites and clips from the show to generate clicks and drive ad revenue. They need controversy, and no host takes this away, apart from the typical one or two outbursts from a presenter or winner. No host evolves the narrative back to where it belongs, which is a discussion on the nominees and award winners. The audience will communicate about the content being presented with trophies, and enjoy a break from an evening with polarizing controversy. Isn’t that the real reason we have award shows in the first place?
Black Panther & Stan Lee
These go together, and should command the evening. However, both are likely snubbed. Black Panther, like many of the films Marvel has produced of late, was an exceptional movie that was most deserving of a nominee for Best Picture. The movie was not only highly critically acclaimed, but the year’s top grossing film. First, according to Rotten Tomatoes, Black Panther received 441 out of 456 ‘fresh’ reviews, and an average rating of 8.3 out of 10. This is an incredible statistic, but unfortunately, the Academy has shown that Black Panther is the exception, and not the rule.
This decade resulted in only three films being nominated for Best Picture in the same year it was the country’s top grossing flick. They are Toy Story 3, American Sniper, and Black Panther. The first decade of the 2000s only resulted in two films accomplishing this feat. They were Avatar and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Only Lord of the Rings won Best Picture. The trend continues from the 90s with only Beauty and the Beast, Titanic, and Forrest Gump receiving the nod. The 80s also resulted in only three films achieving this success. These were Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., and Rain Man. The 70s and 60s was when the Academy bucked the trend and actually nominated eight and seven top grossing films for Best Picture. The trend we see today follows the 50s, 40s, and 30s with only four, three, and five films getting the nod the year they were our country’s most popular movie. The reason this is relevant is to point out that the Academy has a history of not nominating what was the most popular for Best Picture.
The Academy also has a considerably long track record not celebrating films of animation, comic books, and fantasy. For example, between 1937 and 1955 Disney had seven animated films take the top spot as America’s highest grossing film, yet none of the seven received a nomination for Best Picture at that year’s Oscars. Those classics snubbed by the Academy were Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi, Song of the South, Cinderella, Peter Pan, and Lady and the Tramp. It is important to note that Walt Disney, and associates of his, received Honorary Awards four times. The awards were for creating Mickey Mouse, Snow White, Fantasia, and Song of the South. So, while the animated classics were not necessarily being considered for Best Picture, the Academy was mindful of their relevance.
Fast forward to what we have seen as of late. Classic sagas and books depicted on the big screen, from Batman, to Harry Potter, Star Wars, and the Marvel comic books have been tremendous success at the box office. Most of these films were largely snubbed at the Oscars, especially the meaningful categories. Sure, some of these movies received awards and nominees for effects, sound mixing, and cinematography, but most have been entirely left out of consideration for the night’s top awards.
It is an important reminder going into Sunday night that Lion King won the Golden Globe for best film. It was left out as even a nomination for Best Picture at the Oscars. This was only two years removed from the Academy nominating Beauty and the Beast for the same award. No Harry Potter film has received a nomination for Best Picture, and only one Star Wars movie. The Dark Knight was also left out of winning most awards, however, nominated for eight in 2009. The reason all of this is relevant to Sunday night is expect a large uproar on Monday morning about Black Panther being denied victories, yet the Academy has a clear track record of committing this action.
This leads to what will likely be the biggest mistake of the night. It is one thing to not crown Black Panther with high achievement, especially since the Academy has a history to back the decision, but it is another thing to not recognize Stan Lee. First, Stan Lee has made a cameo in most films Marvel and Disney have adapted in their cinematic universe. Second, his tireless work has brought billions of box office revenue to Hollywood, and endless instances of moviegoers across the world enjoying and appreciating his comics. His comic books being so wonderfully adapted to the big screen in the past fifteen years has revolutionized the film industry in ways Hollywood never could have seen coming. This was all due to one man’s career work with comics. It’s pretty incredible, and it deserves high praise, as well as an Honorary Award. Don’t expect any posthumous award for Stan Lee on Sunday. This is the true snub of the evening.
Roma & Netflix
These go together, and not only will command the evening, but will the grab attention of Wall St, Main St, Hollywood, and the media for the week. Roma likely wins Best Picture, marking an incredible achievement for Netflix. Netflix taking home the award is a watershed moment for the film industry. This is a moment that likely ranks up there with animation breakthroughs, color on the big screen, and ‘talkies.’ Why? Because it paves the way for how we as moviegoers likely watch movies as consumers going forward. The industry gets flipped upside down if this happens Sunday night. It sets the stage for a direct to consumer, subscription model for big box office and critically acclaimed films. It is the death knell for the movie theater.
The Academy can make history on Sunday, and do something for their industry that will reshape it for decades to come. The decision is paramount, necessary, and likely saves Hollywood from dragging revenue. The decision opens a door for all studios to find creative ways to deliver top rated, highly anticipated films straight to our television screen. The magnitude of this cannot be taken lightly.
The last thing Hollywood, or any industry for that matter, should do is fight technological evolution. This is how businesses die. Think Kodak, Bethlehem Steel, and Sears. Companies, and industries have to evolve with the times. The fact is, people, especially younger movie goers, would rather watch films in the comfort of their home. They would rather wait for the movie to become available online to stream at home versus dealing with the overcrowded, overpriced, uncomfortable commitment of the movie theater. The Oscars have one job Sunday night, and that is to save their industry and send everyone a message that they intend to green light an evolution of their own.
These Oscars are likely winning the award as one of the most boring and odd awards shows ever. No host, no big box office hit being celebrated, and a foreign language, black and white Netflix film getting its top award. Look for all the write ups Monday to jump on the lazy, melodramatic headlines. The fact is, Sunday night has the potential to actually be one of the most important evenings in the history of Hollywood.