Academy Award’s Dust Bowl: Hollywood and its creative drought

Ana Costanzo

By Ana Costanzo

Anticipation for the 91st Academy Awards is leaving me breathless and apprehensive about the awards ceremony. With the nominations being released in late January, I have a taste for what films the Academy is considering to win this prestigious accolade, among which are Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma and Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite, both garnering 10 nominations.

Perhaps the most notable Oscar nomination is the groundbreaking Black Panther directed by Ryan Coogler, as the film garnered recognition in the Best Picture category; thus, it is the first superhero movie to be nominated with such a high honor. Along with Best Picture, Black Panther is also up for six other awards.

Other Best Picture contenders are BlacKkKlansmen, Green Book, A Star is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Vice.

While all of the films mentioned either garnered widespread acclaim or so-so ratings (i.e. Bohemian Rhapsody and Vice), my feelings towards the Academy dwindled as I read these Best Picture nominations.

Now, I am not discrediting all the films nominated in this category. Roma is utterly breathtaking with its storytelling of Mexico in the 1970s about family and what it truly means to be a community, and there was no surprise about the recognition Cuaron received for his film as he has directed highly recognized films crafted in precision such as Gravity, Children of Men, and Y Tu Mamá También.

Likewise, The Favourite is a masterpiece of direction and storytelling with its perception of British royalty, and I expected no less from Lanthimos as he has directed indie gems such as The Lobster and Dogtooth. My surprise towards the Academy recognizing this film with so many nominations is justifiable as his works tend to make viewers uncomfortable in their vision and language; indeed, The Favourite is quite an idiosyncratic film compared to the other Best Picture nominations.

Though I agree Cuaron and Lanthimos deserve such recognition from the Academy, I cannot quite say the same for the others nominated in the Best Picture category.

BlacKkKlansmen is highly enjoyable as a Spike Lee joint, a director one can never quite get tired of, with his dolly crane shots that float towards the characters. The story is compelling, as well as acting with the likes of John David Washington, Adam Driver, and Laura Harrier. Critics seemed compelled to praise the film with its rating of 95 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. However, that sort of admiration cannot be said for the next Best Picture contender: Vice.

A lens into the 2000 presidential election campaign of George W. Bush and his Vice President Dick Cheney, Vice is a liberal-sensationalized version of the truth. Directed by Adam McKay, it garnered only a 66 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. While having an all-star cast with Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, and of course Christian Bale (who played Batman and thanked “Satan” at the Golden Globes), the film still plummeted into the abyss of deadbeat political movies. However, the Academy seemed to help this one out of that black hole and nominate it with such a high honor.

Unfortunately, the Oscars also nominated another film with low ratings (62 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), that being Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. Starring Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, his acting and fake buck teeth do not serve the legend justice. Indeed, this just shows the Academy is stilted towards the blockbusters, the highly recognized films of the year.

I just wish that weren’t the case.

Another film undeserving of the Best Picture nomination is Green Book starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. While both are incredible actors, the film only garnered an 80 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, and compared to the other two films as mentioned above, that score is a drastic improvement. Even so, this film does not deserve such recognition; its style was monotonous, a film similar to that of Driving Miss Daisy, only instead of Morgan Freeman driving, there is a loud-mouth Italian driver who chauffeurs a black piano player in the South, based on real-life piano player Don Shirley and Tony Lip. Thus, it is an unoriginal film, yet another ‘Based On’ formula to grasp the Academy’s attention.

However, couldn’t this Based On formula be said for almost all the contenders for the Best Picture category?

Even A Star is Born, though receiving widespread acclaim for Lady Gaga’s performance as well as Bradley Cooper’s acting and directing, is the fourth remake, scraping together the same storyline with minor alterations.

BlacKkKlansmen, Vice, Green Book, and Bohemian Rhapsody (even The Favourite as it is loosely based on Queen Anne and the woman who enveloped her) are based on real events and people; Black Panther is based on a Marvel comic book character of the same name; and A Star is Born is the fourth remake in an overdone plot about a wasted performer and the woman who saved him if only for a little while.

Out of eight nominations for the Best Picture Academy Award, Cuaron’s Roma is the only original film set during political turmoil about sacrifice and family which is a semi-autobiographical story about the director’s own life when he was an adolescent in Mexico.

Besides Roma, these derivative films prove the Academy leans more towards blockbusters, and films garnering so-so ratings while also cashing in on large sums of money. Creativity seems to no longer be a benefactor for award-winning movies. This is devastating to realize as when looking at the Best Picture Academy Award nominations, it seems to reflect a year of substandard films.

According to Internet Movie Database (IMDb), the source calculated 12,177 featured movies released in 2018 in the United States, including direct-to-video movies, prime television films, entertainment service films, and theatrical release films. With so many new entertainment media platforms being introduced, this is not a shocking number when detailing the number of Hollywood films released.

However, I am disregarding all films made for the public except featured films present in the U.S. cinemas (which includes Netflix exclusives as they aired in theaters for a selected amount of time). When dwindling down that number, it averages around 700 to 800 when following film industry data researcher Stephen Follow’s film trend who calculated in 2016, 736 films were released in American cinemas.

Among these films, there must be some authentic movies not based on real life, adaptations, or books. Indeed, 2018 presented quite a few memorable films based on original ideas: Hereditary, A Quiet Place, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Upgrade, Isle of Dogs, Tully, Eighth Grade, Sorry to Bother You, Private Life, First Reformed, and Hearts Beat Loud are some of the finest original films of the year, proving Hollywood is capable of true creativity.

And though that list is comparatively small compared to an average of 700 to 800 U.S. films being released, at least it provides some sliver of hope for film enthusiasts to look at Hollywood and not be so appalled.

But the question still remains as to why the Academy chose such unoriginal films; yes, BlacKkKlansmen, A Star is Born, and Black Panther are both plentiful in style and beauty regarding acting and directing; however, Vice, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Green Book are lacking in these areas, seeming to only replicate past formulas for Oscar-bait films.

It seems the Academy just wants to appeal to the larger audience and as a conglomerate business, that should come as no surprise. For me, however, these nominated films were a dagger in my heart as they offer no evocation, no inspiring feeling, and of course, no novelty.

When Oscar Day arrives on Feb. 24, I will watch the ceremony in my most pessimistic manner, just waiting for the winners to be announced, expecting my disappointment as the Based-On films ruled 2018.

I just hope 2019 is different.