Why do we keep tuning in to the Oscars?

This week marks the annual gala in which everyone who loves film joins together to celebrate arguably the biggest night in cinema, the Academy Awards. While there are many other prestigious film awards ceremonies all around the world – the BAFTAS and the Césars both pull in millions of domestic viewers every year – there is something about the Oscars that attracts an audience from all over the globe. It was reported that the Oscars reach viewers in about 225 countries and attracts hundreds of millions of viewers.

So, what is it about this star-studded evening, airing from the Dolby theatre in Los Angeles, that brings such wide appeal? It may be the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film that captures the radiating excitement from audiences around the world, or perhaps it is merely the sheer elation that imbues each viewer as each director’s name is called, as the actors waltz on to the stage to accept what we know to be biggest honor of their careers. Audiences are captivated by the sartorial elegance of the red carpet, by the rhapsodic air circulating these people and by the chance to see the film they loved, the film that punctured their heart, that made them laugh, that made them cry, get recognition it deserves.

Over the past decades, the Oscars have awarded different films for different reasons. In the seventies, we saw films about gangsters and mobsters who question morality and bend the rules on normative ethics winning Best Picture. Later, the Academy became consumed with big budget war narratives and generally problematic films showing white characters entering into ‘distant lands’ to learn something about a new culture (see: Out of Africa).

Today, the trend seems to be different. It has now become clear that films vying for Best Picture are generally premiered at film festivals with hope for positive reception. But it appears that, for the most part, the Academy is fascinated with films that take creative risks-in the narrative, casting, and directing, rather than the so-called ‘Oscar bait’ pictures with big budgets, great casts and a melodramatic tone. Just look at last year’s winner Moonlight, an independent film with relatively unknown actors, featuring the kind of narrative that resonated with general movie-goers, not just the Academy.

Last year was a big win for an incredible film, but can we expect the same for this year? Many predictions for the Oscar winners stem from an overwhelming sense that whatever film dominates previous awards shows (the SAG Awards, Golden Globes, etc.) will more than likely be the winner, though this isn’t always the case. Last year, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land was a shoe-in for Best Picture, so much so that its name was accidentally read as the winner before properly announcing Moonlight, a film that unexpectedly won. So perhaps we can continue to hold out hope for the unexpected, for the Academy to surprise us and award something other than Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri for Best Picture. Maybe Get Out still has a shot to win Best Picture; perhaps Greta Gerwig will come home with the statue for Best Director, and Timothée Chalamet will win the Best Actor trophy that had his name on it within the first ten minutes of Call Me By Your Name.

Or we’ll see The Shape of Water and Three Billboards take home all the awards, leaving audiences around the world to probe deeply into why they really watch the Oscars, and whether they’ll be tuning in again next year. My prediction is yes, we’ll all continue to watch live coverage of the Academy Awards into the wee hours of the night, because why not – it’s the biggest night of the year!

Image: Los Angeles Times via Wikimedia Commons

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