Movie critics weigh in on awards shows

Film award shows need an overhaul, agree Baradwaj Rangan and Raja Sen, before summing up their favourite moments 

Published - March 01, 2024 12:15 pm IST

Robert Downey Jr. accepts the Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role award for ‘Oppenheimer’ at this year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Robert Downey Jr. accepts the Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role award for ‘Oppenheimer’ at this year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Baradwaj Rangan, National Award-winning film critic and author

The international movie awards season has become boring because there are no upsets; everybody seems to be thinking the same way about films. For instance, that Oppenheimer is the greatest movie on the planet. There must be someone who ranks Killers of the Flower Moon as a better film. That difference in taste and opinion is what makes things fresh and interesting.

The speeches have also become predictable. Nobody takes it as fun anymore, and it has become this serious, solemn thing. Firstly, awards don’t really mean anything because unlike in sports, art is subjective and there is no one best movie or best actor. That is what makes it fun to talk about movies, books and music, but these awards shows do not reflect that.

In his book Cinema Speculation, Quentin Tarantino calls out Martin Scorsese for what he said after Taxi Driver’s release, about being horrified when people cheered for Travis Bickle in the end. But that sort of cathartic violence is what the film was going for. So, filmmakers have long been positioning themselves morally, and with social media, it has become a game of sorts. People want to say the right things and use the right words.

I personally loved Saltburn, a film that was off the charts in the crazy-meter, but it didn’t get much attention because it’s considered “just a story” as opposed to a film that is about changing the world. Similarly, while Oppenheimer is being hailed, a Christopher Nolan film like Inception, a genuinely subversive piece of cinema that broke so many cinematic rules, wasn’t given enough consideration because it was seen as just a popcorn film.

I have been quite bored by most of the speeches this season. The BAFTAs had some interesting bits, like Hugh Grant’s. I miss the days when people like Hugh Jackman or Neil Patrick Harris would put up these huge musical shows. I used to like Billy Crystal’s opening monologues a lot when he hosted the shows regularly.

Raja Sen, film critic and screenwriter

It’s been quite a good awards season. A lot of foreign and indie films are getting the attention. Except for the big ones like OppenheimerBarbie and Killers of the Flower Moon, the rest are films that may have otherwise flown under the radar. It’s always exciting when the conversation shifts from the usual bunch of movies to something different. Anatomy of a Fall, for instance, is one of the most devastating and excitingly made art films with some visceral storytelling.

Most of the nominees are interesting. You know Oppenheimer might win in a lot of categories, but how many of those does it deserve to win? I would rate Robert de Niro’s performance in Killers of the Flower Moon far above Robert Downey Jr.’s in Oppenheimer. Often what also happens is that people get rewarded for their careers; the Academy might decide that it’s time for someone who hasn’t won before to get an Oscar. But overall, I am quite happy with the awards season because the nominations have opened up to a lot of foreign cinema.

I do think that because of the way awards shows are consumed — online, in Reels-sized bytes — the speeches are getting a little too self-conscious, like they need to be funny. There are so many people who want their speeches to go viral or become memorable. Also, it helps when there are surprise wins because then the audiences aren’t prepared; I am sure Downey Jr.’s speech is being polished multiple times.

The format of the awards show needs to change because nobody is watching the whole thing. David Tennant’s opening monologue at the BAFTAs was funny and sharp. It set a tone. However, Idris Elba at the SAG Awards proved to be an uncharismatic award show host. And the Oscars, for instance, will be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, who is not going to do anything particularly interesting or edgy. I personally feel it is time for the Oscars to not have hosts; let some luminaries from the world of cinema come in, felicitate the nominees and winners, keep it classy. Why do the Oscars also feel the need to be funny? Let other irreverent award shows like the Spirit Awards etc. do that.

Having said that, I would be curious to see comedians like Dave Chappelle and Jerry Seinfeld host the show; Chappelle may make an off-colour joke but at least he will have something to say.

(As told to Bhuvanesh Chandar)

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