Awards are, at least supposedly, about honouring the best of the best.
But it's easy to feel that that's not always the case.
A number of Academy Award Best Picture winners, for example, don't hold up well in the light of day. Pulp Fiction probably should have beat Forrest Gump in 1995; I'd argue for Little Miss Sunshine over The Departed in 2006; and you could probably make a pretty strong case for any 2004 release over Crash. Yep, step up to the plate Good Night and Good Luck, Capote and you, too, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.
Perhaps the losers were too violent, or too quirky. Maybe they were too serious, or had a little too much levity.
Or maybe it was just because if it was a Tom Hanks vehicle, it was the immediate frontrunner. Perhaps Martin Scorsese earned his because he was "due," as more of a lifetime achievement award than for the film itself. And you never know — maybe Crash voters believed they were actually voting for Wedding Crashers.
At any rate, in past years, it felt like many winners had a caveat or fine print associated with them. Not that many of them weren't very good, but perhaps they weren't the absolute best film on offer that year.
At this year's awards, it seemed that for better or worse, the objective best were honoured. It would have been easy to hand the Best Picture award, as expected, to La La Land (so easy that, well, they briefly did). While Hollywood types would seemingly be first in line to fete a film detailing — with great gusto and colour — the highs and lows of Tinsel Town dreams, Moonlight more subtly and slowly showed the coming of age of a quiet, bullied, gay man of colour in the Miami slums.
Some might argue that it won just because it ticks all the progressive boxes, but with a budget of just $1.5 million, it's the least-expensive Oscar winner (adjusted for inflation) ever. It wouldn't have come within a lightyear of a golden statuette if it weren't a compelling, beautifully shot and richly performed story. Not to take anything away from La La Land — I've seen it twice and enjoyed it both times — but even considering the logistics of shutting down an L.A. freeway for the opening song and dance, Moonlight still in many ways feels like the tougher movie to make. A major part of La La Land is standing out when everyone's like you. The bulk of Moonlight is coming to terms with a situation where no one is.
Both were great in their own way, but everything else being equal, Moonlight was the better movie, is the more important movie, and will be the one that holds up better.
The flip side, though, came in the form of the Best Actor winner, as well as nominations for Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge.
Casey Affleck, nominated for Best Actor for his role in Manchester by the Sea, has also faced sexual harassment and verbal abuse allegations while filming 2010's I'm Still Here with then-brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix.
Affleck settled cases brought by a producer and cinematographer out of court and has continued to deny the claims made in them.
Gibson, meanwhile, saw his career sputter after his drunken, anti-Semitic recordings were released about a decade ago, while he spun out further with more racist and threatening messages to an ex-girlfriend in 2010. However, Hollywood seems to have decided that his exile lasted long enough.
It's easier to make the case voters aren't considering outside factors when those outside factors are unsavoury rather than virtuous, but given the Academy Awards' weight, should there be a consideration for character?
Perhaps that still wouldn't have prevented Affleck's nomination and subsequent win, but maybe it would have blocked Gibson's best director nod as he has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanour battery charge.
It's not so much about the awards themselves, but the cachet attached to them. Affleck will get meatier roles and sign more lucrative contracts since those films can now bill themselves as starring an Oscar winner. Gibson's IMDb page is busier with new projects than it's been in years.
If there were some threat that their careers might slump, or not reach the highest heights, maybe it would prevent an incident before it happened. The potential for negative press, of course, has always existed, but more often than not, those with Oscar dreams can spin themselves out of it.
Sure, horrendous people can create great art, but the importance of an award at that level is more about money than merit. Perhaps voting shouldn't be considered so much in terms of separating art from the artist, but a prick from his paycheque.
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