Here is a hot take about this year’s Oscars winners, those who won deserved to win. Yes, you read that right.
Am I sad that Kristen Stewart lost Best Actress? Absolutely. But am I mad that Jessica Chastain won? No, not at all.
This year’s Oscars winners proved something that I think, we as an industry often forget, a good product with the broadest appeal will sell itself.
As much as I loved Spencer, I said that the movie would divide audiences from day one. I even said that in the first paragraph of my review. Films that divide audiences aren’t a bad thing. A divisive film simply means that said film isn’t going to work for everyone and if you like it, great, but if you don’t, that is okay too. What I look for in a movie, especially with an awards movie, is one that will resonate with the most people possible. I have made it abundantly clear that I was not too fond of Power of the Dog, but many of my friends and colleagues love it. There is nothing wrong with agreeing to disagree, but sometimes we get so focused on what we like or love that we forget our own viewpoints are not the same as those who vote. Hell, this is why Kristen Stewart lost Best Actress because as much as I loved the film and her performance, the number of people who loved Stewart’s performance wasn’t enough. It’s power in numbers, and sometimes because we are part of this industry bubble, we lose sight of that.
Additionally, studios are still spending way too much money on elaborate award campaigns when the most important thing that a studio can do is believe in your product, make your talent campaign, and get the most eyeballs on your film as possible. If you live in or around the city of Los Angeles, you can’t go anywhere without seeing a Netflix billboard. If you are a member of an awards guild, you probably have received several swag boxes and, in some cases, may even have received an all-expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles or New York in the hope that you will cast your vote for a specific film. But my question is, does any of this matter if your movie doesn’t connect with the most people possible? My take is more than likely not.
Netflix spending the bulk of its awards budget on The Power of the Dog was a mistake. I know that critics loved the movie, but most of the academy voters I spoke with liked tick…tick…BOOM! more than Power of the Dog. Attempting to outspend the competition to rack up award wins doesn’t seem to work anymore, especially for the biggest prizes in town. I hope that the few studios who still do these elaborate gifts and trips have finally learned their lesson. A movie like Parasite won because it was a good movie, and audiences, even those typically terrified of subtitles, connected with the film. It had nothing to do with the size of the coffee table book or who threw the more extensive brunch.
Throughout this awards season, hundreds of people on Twitter were trying to say that CODA isn’t a good movie because it wasn’t as well directed as The Power of the Dog. And you know what? Those people are kind of right. Side by side, the direction of CODA is nowhere near as flashy or polished as Power of the Dog. However, Sian Heder’s direction here perfectly fits the story, and its characters, which is what ultimately sells CODA to a much wider audience. CODA tells a universal story that was told through the eyes of the deaf community. Also, those who are trying to downplay CODA winning Best Picture because of what is going on in Ukraine, I don’t buy that either. I attended a lot of awards screenings. I watched people respond to the films, and I heard people talk the most about the films that won the most awards. This is why CODA won three Oscars and Power of the Dog only won one. People weren’t talking about Power of the Dog outside of the direction.
Another film I didn’t love this year was Dune, but I ultimately agreed with and understood every win it received on Oscar night. The film is a technical marvel, and even though I don’t love the final product, most audiences did. Every screening and Q&A was packed, and it is hard to deny that all the below-the-line stuff, from cinematography to production design, isn’t an example of cinema at its finest.
Let me also not forget to mention smart marketing combined with good timing. This strategy does play a critical role in how things pan out. Disney’s release strategy for Encanto was absolutely brilliant. They put it in theaters and then released it on Disney Plus right around Christmas. We Don’t Talk About Bruno becoming a massive hit and taking social media by storm only added to its strength. I loved The Mitchells vs. The Machines, but Netflix didn’t give the film the last-minute push it needed, which was a real shame, but I think even if they did, Encanto would have won, given the release strategy and soundtrack. It is also important to point out The Eyes of Tammy Faye and Drive My Car in the days and weeks leading up to SAG, PGA, and the Oscars. Jessica Chastain hit the circuit hard in that final month promoting the hell out of The Eyes of Tammy Faye while Drive My Car got a lot more eyeballs on it, thanks to the HBO Max deal.
Lastly, let me point out the most important thing: never try to discredit a crowd-pleaser. If you look at most films that won Oscars last night, most of them were crowd-pleasers or had elements of crowd-pleasing moments, from The Eyes of Tammy Faye to King Richard to CODA. If this year’s Oscars proved anything at all, it proved that after a year like 2020, voters wanted to escape and feel good at the movies.