“The Shape of Water” won Best Picture and three other trophies at Sunday’s Academy Awards. There were a few awkward musical performances, some fairly innocuous political statements and lots of exhaustingly long acceptance speeches. All in all, exactly what most of us expect.
It’s now or never to put a final punctuation mark on the Oscars. Let the talk about 2017 movies finally be over.
Nobody understands the preferential ballot, and it makes Best Picture fun
The Academy votes for Best Picture in a confusing-but-fascinating way. In an effort to find the “consensus” best movie, the ballot asks voters to rank all nominees in order of personal preference. A specific threshold of votes must be met in order to crown a winner, and, from my understanding anyway, how often a movie slots at 2 or 3 on a ballot can have just as much impact as the number of No. 1 votes.
“Shape of Water” serves as a good example to this process. “Shape” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” essentially split the major precursor awards, with “Get Out” serving as a potential spoiler after it won the Writers Guild award. “Shape of Water” obviously had more broad support within the industry (you don’t score 13 nominations without it). So let’s say “Shape” and “Three Billboards” received the same number of No. 1 votes. Having more broad support probably means “Shape of Water” placed higher on ballots in which it wasn’t listed at No. 1.
Look, I’m not great with numbers, so I won’t chase this logic anymore. The preferential ballot creates genuine suspense in the top category, and I wish the rest of the ceremony could follow the same rules, just to make races less predictable.
20 for 24, but it means nothing without Best Picture
Speaking of predictions, in my Oscar preview last Saturday, I successfully predicted 20 out of 24 Oscar winners, missing a short category (tough), Documentary Feature (whoops) Visual Effects (what a sham) and the top prize.
The big blunder was predicting “Three Billboards” to win Best Picture. I wrote the article about two weeks prior to Oscar night, and at the time it seemed like “Three Billboards” had a smidge more awards season momentum than “Shape of Water,” though I did say it would be close.
“Lady Bird” goes home empty
As I feared, the universally-acclaimed “Lady Bird” didn’t win any Oscars. In a year where women played such an inspirational and powerful force in the public spotlight, the only female-directed movie nominated for Best Picture couldn’t muster a single prize.
I love Greta Gerwig’s work on “Lady Bird,” but the movie unfortunately ran into some heavy hitters — Saoirse Ronan never stood a chance against Frances McDormand in Best Actress, and “Get Out” was legitimately the most Original Screenplay in a category stacked with amazing work.
We shouldn’t be focusing on “Lady Bird” being snubbed. More female-directed and female-written movies need to be made, to the point where movies like“Lady Bird” aren’t singled out as the only “female Oscar movie.” Let the best work win, but let there be better representation and opportunity for diversity across the board.
Politics and low ratings
Conservative media enjoyed thrashing the Oscars for its record-low ratings on Sunday, citing Hollywood’s condescending and hypocritical political attitudes.
OK, but the Oscars almost always get political, and it’s not like Hollywood only just became liberal after the election of Donald Trump. If anything, I thought the ceremony had considerably fewer digs at the president compared to the usual number on late night talk shows and “Saturday Night Live.” Most of the political messages centered on the importance of diversity and gender equality in art. Is that really controversial? If so, I don’t know what we’re doing anymore.
Looking at ratings another way, one could also argue how Oscar ratings are historically tied to the popularity of the nominated movies — the theory being that more people watch the ceremony in years where popular movies are nominated. Of the nine Best Picture nominees this year, only two (“Dunkirk” and “Get Out”) grossed more than $100 million at the box office. “Dunkirk” was a summer release and “Get Out” played in theaters a year ago.
“The Shape of Water” made $58 million over the course of three months in theaters. By comparison, “Black Panther” sits at more than $500 million after just three weeks.
Here’s the other obvious point: Ratings are down for almost everything. More people have Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and Apple TV, and fewer people watch traditional network TV. We have thousands of options for entertainment on any given day. I’d be surprised if traditional ratings for the Oscars ever matched viewership from a decade or more ago.
Sure, you can be annoyed by liberal Hollywood and choose not to watch or engage with their agenda. I get it. Actors are annoying. But let’s not make broad assumptions about ratings that can’t really be backed by any objective measure.
March is too late
One last legitimate contribution to lower ratings — it’s March of 2018. The conversation about 2017 movies ended sometime in January. Move the ceremony into early February. People are buzzing about “Black Panther” now, whereas nobody remembers if “Phantom Thread” even played in North Idaho (it did, and it’s an excellent movie, but I bet you still don’t care).
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Tyler Wilson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org