The Whole “Undeserving of Oscar” Argument Is Annoying

Now that the Academy Award nominations have been announced, let the sniping and griping begin. Yes, there are plenty of arguments to be made for the omissions among various categories, but it’s just in poor taste to talk about who isn’t deserving of an Oscar nomination.

Mary Pols at Time Magazine just wrote a story called “Bridesmaids’ Melissa McCarthy: Hilarious Performance, Not Oscar Worthy” that so annoyed BackStage’s Jenelle Riley that she felt compelled to retort via blog post.

The heart of Pols’ argument is that while McCarthy played the “Bridesmaids” role effectively, her performance was one-note. And, even worse, Pols says McCarthy’s nomination was strictly the Academy’s way of servicing flagging telecast ratings and showing how attuned to popular tastes its members are.

While Riley has her own argument against Pols’ position — specifically that comedy is just as hard, if not harder, than drama (true, people!) — the Time story also brings light to the cynical underside of Oscar prognosticating. Many awards-season-hardened watchers eventually come to believe that the Oscars are rigged, the Academy’s members are out of touch, and every seemingly surprise nom is designed to boost telecast ratings.

But there are a couple of problems with that.

Yes, it’s true that the Academy makes about $80 million a year in license fees from its deal with ABC to broadcast the ceremony. However, that deal goes through 2020, so ABC is not in any danger of abandoning ship just because the Academy nommed “Moneyball” for best picture instead of the highest-grossing film of the year, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.” The ratings always ebb and flow. After all, as important as awards season is in Los Angeles, the rest of the country has its own season, and it’s called winter.

(Incidentally, if you’re going to get really cynical about it, ABC has just as much interest in ratings because the Oscars are a good platform to advertise Disney’s movies and ABC’s TV series. So maybe “War Horse’s” Oscar nom was really a ploy to appease ABC. Yeah, and 5,000 Academy voters decided to put “War Horse” somewhere on the ballot just to make sure that when it comes time to renegotiate with ABC for telecast rights in, oh, 2018, ABC will remember that favor it got from AMPAS. See how ridiculous it all gets?)

As far as the Academy being out of touch, it is true that its members don’t generally honor the films that critics like. But very often, critics don’t like the films that audiences go to see, either. In fact, both groups are accused of being out of touch. The difference is that the Oscars are an industry honor, given by people who work in the industry. It’s great that everyone outside of the industry gets so passionate about who should get nommed and who should win, but that’s outsider passion. Those gold trophies aren’t meant to represent your opinion. They’re only meant to represent the opinions of an elite group of 5,000 executives, actors, producers and craftspeople.

And, finally, how awful would it be to get an Oscar nomination — the absolute pinnacle of honors in the entertainment industry — and know that some people are saying you don’t deserve it? It’s one thing to talk about how a really great performance got overlooked, but why take the steam out of someone’s big moment? Melissa McCarthy got recognized for a performance that sold movie tickets, made people laugh and that will go down in history as “Oscar nominated.” That is something that only the best and brightest in Hollywood ever get to say. Don’t tarnish it by saying it was all to generate ratings.

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