Vacuous showmanship or significant recognition

The Oscars are as valid a recognition or as fallacious and susceptible to publicity and peer pressure as any other organised review or blog as Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB. Of course, we know it’s a popular award; it’s also a cosmetic exercise for films. Films need a certain kind of budget to even be considered by the Academy. You can never imagine a low-budget indie film making it because they don’t have the kind of money to hold screenings, invite people, send gifts to members of the jury, seduce people into watching it.

Nikhil Advani predicts Leonardo DiCaprio will get the Oscar nod for 'The Revenant' and Brie Larsen for 'Room'.

Everybody who has an Oscar nomination is essentially the jury, and they are not going to watch all the films. People would make time for films that they really want to watch, popular films, films made by their friends. This fallacy is at the core of the system. It’s as good or bad as any system that seeks collective recognition from the filmmaking community, not a popular voting award by audiences. It’s a reflection of the populist zeitgeist, it’s not really a reflection of cultural zeitgeist.

In the pre-Internet days, when I was pretty young, the Oscars were my only access to the outside world of popular media. As a teenager, I was curious. I used to visit the Lotus book shop in Bandra and read every Oscar screenplay. It used to be the only store in Bombay that housed film specific literature.

My relationship with the Oscars ended when I was in my early 20s. It began with The Matrix not winning. And I told myself, this doesn’t make sense. And then it continued to not make sense for the longest time. Now, of course, we know the inside story, the machinery behind it. And it increasingly doesn’t make sense. Now, I absolutely don’t care about Oscars. I know it will not educate me or give me insight into something I don’t already know.

It seems like the Academy is giving consolation prizes when it gives Martin Scorsese the Best Director for The Departed, which is one of the worst films he made, and marked the beginning of his terrible filmmaking phase. He deserved it for Taxi Driver, when he was much younger, when he was taking risks, was more radical and insightful. I was also disappointed when Inglourious Basterds lost to Hurt Locker in 2009, which was basically a celebration of GI Joe culture masquerading as some kind of war document.

Even the Foreign Language category has become ridiculous. The films I loved the most in the last decade didn’t win. Some of the greatest films such as White Ribbon (2009) or Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr’s Turin Horse (2011) didn’t figure. The major categories are all off — be it Best Picture, Director, Actors, Screenwriting, Foreign language. The categories where it is consistently fair in is its recognition of craftsmanship are cinematography, costume design, make up. Emmaneul Lubezki is my favourite cinematographer in the last decade, every frame he creates is poetry. And I won’t be surprised if he wins it third time in a row with The Revenant.

I haven’t seen most Oscar contenders but I love Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s a very well crafted film, I like it for its energy, myth building and world building.

Spotlight is okay. It is barely passable. I didn’t like Big Short, it has bad exposition, bad writing, I don’t understand the hype behind it. I’m surprised a couple of gems this year didn’t win nominations. The Michael Fassbender comic-Western called Slow West is a very interesting, small indie film. Tangerine should have got nominated for Best Actor and Editing. I am also disappointed to see Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence not getting a nod.
Nikkhil Advani, director, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Salaam-e-Ishq: A Tribute To Love

There are a certain number of people who are a part of the Academy who can only vote in a particular category if they have seen the films. You are invited to be part of the Academy, or you can evince the desire to be a part of it. There are quotas of directors, actors, cinematographers, writers, and sound designers. They get that part of the process right. But at the same time, lobbying plays a big role in the Academy’s process. When you vote for a film, in a sense, you vote for the studio behind it. All the studios have nominations and everybody wants to work with the studio. It’s an almost unsaid thing, but a flaw in the process. Within that framework, most of the times, they do get it right. But is an indie film suitably recognised or considered in the process? I don’t think so. For that there is a Tribeca, an Independent Spirit award or Sundance film Festival that looks down upon Oscars as a studio-based affair of Hollywood patting itself on the back.

But hey, who doesn’t wake up at 5:30 in the morning every year? To see your favourite actors, directors, listening to the speeches, making comments on whether the emcee got it right, the splash of glamour. Whether it was Billy Crystal arriving on a horse in a tribute to Dances with Wolves in 1991, or Sally Field professing her love for her openly gay son or hanging on to every word of Daniel Day-Lewis’ acceptance speech: you wait for these great moments of Oscar history. Every year, you want to play the prediction game. You know Quentin Tarantino will win the Best Screenplay for Pulp Fiction (1994) and not the Best Director because QT is just too risqué and edgy for the orthodox, conventional Academy to hand him the big prize. You wait to see if Robert Downey Jr is going to do something bizarre, or applaud Sean Penn when he makes a statement about weapons of mass destruction. You also enjoy Catherine Bigelow winning it for Hurt Locker (2008), while her ex-husband James Cameron, also nominated in the same category for the billion-dollar Avatar (2009) sits one row behind her applauding.

Being a liberal, mainstream filmmaker in India, I look up to these moments and think that one day we’d also be able to take the stage and say what we want to about politics.

Then there is the Academy’s record of giving consolation prizes for the past mistakes. For example, Martin Scorsese should have won it for Raging Bull (1980) or Taxi Driver (1976), or even Goodfellas (1990) but the film for which he eventually won, The Departed (2006), is a Scorsese sell out movie. It still saddens me that Harrison Ford never won one.

The Academy award is possibly the most highly sponsored event in the world. Everything from the mineral water to the red carpet to the clothes is sponsored. But you will not see a single brand anywhere in view. The sponsors know that by putting their names they will be defiling the sanctity of the awards. Here in India, the Bollywood awards have the names projected as big as possible. As someone who has been part of our film juries, I have tried to speak sense to the marketing guys. But they don’t understand the concept of less is more.

I make it a point to watch every Oscar movie before the D-Day. One of my favourites this year is Spotlight. It is a phenomenal film, a great ensemble piece with superb screenplay and simple storytelling. I am a big fan of Mad Max: Fury Road. From the first frame to last, it’s a perennial climax. It completely breaks the three-act structure: the fact that you need to set a story up and then progress. It is full-on adrenaline rush. Full marks to the Academy to pit a Mad Max against a Spotlight: two vastly different kinds of cinema. Then you have Inside Out, which should have got a Best Picture nomination simply because it is great storytelling.

As someone who has grown up worshipping Rocky, I want to see Sylvester Stallone climb up the stairs of the Kodak theatre like the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It will be outstanding to see that a person, who has been called a non-actor all his life, but has created one of the most iconic movie characters of our generation, win an Oscar in the last leg of his career.

My prediction is that Leonardo DiCaprio will get it for The Revenant and Brie Larsen for Room. Iñárritu will do a consecutive best director after last year’s Birdman and so will his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.

Ram Madhvani, director, Neerja, Let’s Talk

One of the first things that come to my mind when I think of the iconic Oscar moments is Marlon Brando rejecting the Best Actor award for The Godfather (1972) as a sign of protest against the treatment meted out to the Native Indians by the US. Another memorable moment is Woody Allen’s speech after 9/11 when the Academy honoured filmmakers who were uniquely New York in their work. Then of course, Roberto Benigni’s crazy walk across the chairs to the stage after Sophia Loren announced Life is Beautiful (1997) as the Best Foreign Language Picture. Or Martin Scorsese’s banter with the announcer on finally getting the Best Director for The Departed (2006) after eight nominations, asking him to check the envelope, wondering if they were giving it to him for Raging Bull (1980).

How can I forget the proud moment when AR Rahman won it for Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and even Lagaan (2001) with Aamir Khan and Ashutosh Gowariker sitting as nominees in the audience?

Alejandro González Iñárritu is a modern god and I am always rooting for him. Although I was disappointed when Boyhood lost to Birdman last year, I’m a big fan of Richard Linklater as well and think Boyhood is what film history is made of.

Not that we know any of those people, but this is what cultural colonisation is all about. The English came and took our land, now the Americans have been taking our minds with rock and roll, Levis, McDonalds and movies.

Did you know that…

This year’s Academy Awards are in the news for all the wrong reasons. The biggest one of course is the lack of colour or diversity of any sort. Several actors have come forth to condemn the Academy, but it’s still the most important (read: popular) awards ceremony that exists. Here’s a fun round-up of some details you might not know about the 2016 edition.

~ The #OscarsSoWhite phenomenon aside, this year, history was made when transgendered Antony Hegarty, of Antony of Antony and the Johnsons, who’s also known as Anohni, received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song for her collaboration with composer J Ralph for the song Manta Ray from the documentary Racing Extinction. However, the Academy fudged up things again when they excluded her from performing the song during the ceremony. Instead, they’ve got the more popular nominees such as Lady Gaga, Sam Smith and The Weekend. What’s worse, even Dave Grohl, who’s not even a nominee has been invited to perform. Obviously, Anohni won’t be attending the ceremony.

~ Actor Domnhall Gleeson will be confused about where to be seated this year. The Brit has been part of four films that have received nominations, Brooklyn, The Revenant, Stars Wars: The Force Awakens and Ex Machina. He’s acted alongside the biggest stars this year and proven his acting chops. It’s shame he’s not nominated, but it will be fun to see which film gang he’s going to be part of during the ceremony.

~ If Eddie Redmayne wins this year, he makes history. Very few actors have won two Academy awards, and even fewer have won them consecutively. Redmayne will be one of three actors to pull of this feat if he wins. The others are Tom Hanks for Forrest Gump and Philadelphia, and Spencer Tracy for Captains Courageous and Boys Town.

~ The ‘consolation’ goodie bag that the nominees get is worth a whopping $200,000. This includes bizarre items such as a Vampire Breast Lift and luxurious stash such as a walking tour of Japan among other things like chocolatines, a vapouriser and a year’s worth of Audi A4 rentals.

~ Jennifer Lawrence is associated to several Oscar records. She’s the youngest four-time acting nominee as well as the highest paid one. There are three characters named Joy in films nominated this year, Inside Out, Room and Lawrence’s Joy. Finally, the franchise she’s part of, The Hunger Games, is officially the highest-grossing one of all time to not receive a single nomination.