The 88th Academy Awards will take place on Feb. 28, 333 days from today.
Vin Diesel
Oscars news is fairly scant these days. Most of the time, things that pop up in my email are less “This Film Is Gathering Oscar Buzz” and more  “If They Gave an Oscar for Getting Super-Ripped, Jake Gyllenhaal Would Definitely Win One for Southpaw.” (Note: That headline actually exists, and they do not give an Oscar for getting super-ripped.) But there was actual news made last week when Vin Diesel discussed the Oscar chances of Furious 7.“Universal is going to have the biggest movie in history with this movie,” Diesel said to Variety. “It will probably win best picture at the Oscars, unless the Oscars don’t want to be relevant ever … This will win best picture. There is nothing that will ever come close to the power of this thing.”
Based on a quick Wikipedia search, none of the previous Fast and Furious films have been nominated for any Oscars, so jumping from zero nominations to a Best Picture win would be pretty much unprecedented. (I’d argue thatThe Hunger Games series, which has garnered consistently good reviews, is better poised to make the leap to first-time nominee with the final film coming out this November.) But I think Vin Diesel is actually trying to make a point about the Academy’s disregard for high-quality popular movies.
In the past four years, the Academy has only nominated two films that broke the top 10 in yearly domestic box office— Gravity and American Sniper. More often successful films receive little to no Oscar love. Of the four films rounding out 2014’s box office top 5 — The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The LEGO Movie — one had higher Rotten Tomatoes scores than Birdman and three had higher scores than The Imitation Game, American Sniper and The Theory of Everything. Yet none were Best Picture nominees or honored beyond a few technical categories.
What’s the solution? Many say moving from the current voting system to 10 Best Picture nominees. In the two years that the Academy tried it out, many box-office heavyweights, animated movies and women-centered films were nominated for the top prize. Forbes and AwardsDaily make compelling cases for it, in the name of boosting viewership and increasing diversity.
To make the debate more interesting, The Hollywood Reporter wrote earlier this month that the Academy was considering returning not to 10 but to five Best Picture nominees. Academy members agree that the past few years’ lineup has been underwhelming, but they believe the cure is through trimming down the pack rather than through allowing more films to enter. According to Pete Hammond, “there has always been a so-called ‘faction’ in the Academy that didn’t want the change in the first place and has been champing at the bit to take it back to five. Going to the media in advance and trying to drum up this kind of talk is, I suppose, a way of forcing the issue on to the Academy’s agenda one way or another.” Still, he writes, he doubts the Oscars are going to see a major change either way in the next year.
So what’s the solution? Five or ten nominees? I think the question boils down to whether the Academy wants to boost prestige or become more accessible. If the Academy wants to have an Oscar nomination for Best Picture mean something, then it should return to five nominees, selected for quality and masterful acting, writing and directing. (For proof that Best Picture nominations mean very little today, refer back to the anger over Selma’s “snub.”) If the Academy wants to have more people tune into their ceremony, then moving to a system whereAcademy members rank their top 10 favorite films of the year is the best way to allow for more popular films to make it in. Listing your 10 favorite films will allow for the Inceptions and District 9s to earn a spot at the Oscars in a way that the current system, where voters only rank five, has proved unable to do.
Vin Diesel is wrong. Furious 7 is not winning Best Picture, nor will it even get a nomination. If the past few years are any guide, our lineup will be full of relatively low-grossing, artsy, “Oscar movies.” But Scott Mendelson makes an interesting point:
“I don’t think Furious 7 is going to end up as one of the best films of the year, but if (for example) Avengers: Age of Ultron or The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part II end up being among the year’s very best films, then they deserve at least recognition in the form of year-end nominations rather than being arbitrarily dismissed by virtue of their mainstream intentions and hype-driven popularity … Popular doesn’t mean bad, indie or small-scale doesn’t automatically mean good, and the annual ceremony to honor the best in film shouldn’t just be confined to the so-called preordained Oscar contenders that few outside the critics and Oscar followers happen to see.”

Other News

  • Best Actor Watch: Michael Keaton will be playing McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc in a film coming out November 2016. Will the Academy be saying, “I’m Lovin’ It?”
  • Best Actress Watch: Michele Bachman has a cameo in the upcoming Sharknado 3. Reportedly, her dialogue includes gems like, “I believe they are growing in size. Congress has to take this seriously because sharknado is a real phenomenon.”
  • Into the Woods: According to the Hollywood Reporter, the movie musical has the best opening for a live-action musical in Japan since the millennium. Feeling nostalgic? Take the “Which Into the Woods Guy is Your Type?” quiz on the Disney blog. My type is apparently Rapunzel’s Prince, who is described as “Handsome, handsome, and more handsome.”
  • Send in the frowns: Stephen Sondheim, who just celebrated his 85th birthday, was not pleased with Lady Gaga’s Sound of Music tribute. “On the Academy Awards she was a travesty,” he said. “It was ridiculous, as it would be from any singer who treats that music in semi-operatic style. She had no relationship to what she was singing. What people liked was her versatility.”
  • Toronto: In an article underlying the importance of being an underdog, Sasha Stone mentions a stat I don’t think I had seen before. Starting with 2005’s Crash, the eventual Best Picture winner has been seen by critics by the Toronto Film Festival (which took place in 2014 in early September). Birdman, for example, was screened at Venice and Telluride. The last late winner was 2004’s Million Dollar Baby, which was released in December.
  • Oscar placement: J.K. Simmons originally kept his Oscar atop a “minifridge in the bathroom.” (Which really begs the question: Where can I purchase a bathroom minifridge?) He also describes a conversation with Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Naturally, I went fishing for a compliment immediately about my physique. So, I asked if he was impressed by my biceps,” Simmons recounts. “And he said, ‘Your biceps were just OK. But the triceps were very impressive.’ I have been telling that to everyone at the gym since then.”

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