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Give out the Oscars five years later

| Tuesday, September 22, 2020

With a year under my belt as Scene’s resident Oscars writer — check out my Trophy Hunter column if you have thus far been deprived — it’s time for my magnum opus. Freed from the confines of Scene and placed alongside the hallowed leggings and risk recalculations of Viewpoint, I now have the latitude and the confidence to proclaim my truth: we need to hold the Academy Awards five years after the fact. 

The history of the Oscars is littered with head-scratching decisions, especially in the Best Picture category: “Dances With Wolves” over “Goodfellas.” “Crash” over “Brokeback Mountain.” “How Green Was My Valley” over “Citizen Kane,” and that same race’s spiritual successor in “The King’s Speech” beating “The Social Network.” Those are just the tip of the iceberg (never forget, “The Lego Movie” wasn’t even nominated for Best Animated Feature.)

The extent to which the Academy Awards matter is as a historical document — if somebody wants to know about filmmaking and filmgoing from a certain year (particularly of the American variety), the first place they’ll check is the Oscar results. The Academy, then, has a responsibility to present the best version of film history they can; the easiest way to do this is to delay each year’s ceremony. 

I recognize that part of the Oscars’ unique charm comes from the nominations’ of-the-moment nature — a movie that dominated the conversation for a particular year and then faded from the public memory should still be remembered. Take, for example, one of the most fascinating Oscar years in recent memory: the 2018 ceremony, whose Best Picture nominees included “Get Out,” “Lady Bird” and “Dunkirk.” All three are fantastic movies that continue to spark discussion among cinematic circles both critical and public; all three had no real shot at winning Best Picture in 2018. 

Instead, that race came down to “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” two films that dominated headlines and inspired thinkpieces all the way up to “Shape of Water”’s win before fading from the filmgoing consciousness. Say what you will about either movie — I was never a fan of “Three Billboard”’s Tupperware-Coens take on ingrained racism, but I’ll ride or die for “Shape of Water”’s mealy-mouthed, fish-sex-infused moralizing on the same subject — but if the Academy instead waited to have that year’s ceremony in 2023, one of those three aforementioned movies wins. “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards” still deserve to be part of the Oscars’ version of film history, though; what I propose is to continue the practice of nominating a year’s film at the end of that particular Oscar cycle. 

If my plan was implemented this year, nominations would still be announced in January, and the awards would be given out in March of 2026. That may seem inconveniently far away, but we have a fairly long cinematic memory. This year’s ceremony would’ve awarded movies released in 2014, meaning that ostensible winner “Birdman” would be up against better-aged movies like “Whiplash” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” — all of which have yet to leave the public consciousness. 

The Oscars aren’t solely a measure of quality, or of popularity. Instead, they exist in their own middle ground between the two poles, rewarding great movies and terrible movies, blockbusters and indie successes in equal measure. By awarding Oscars five years after the initial nominations, the Academy can at once create a record of a contemporary reaction to one year’s films and still reward the movies that hold up best over time. I hope that, against all odds, the Academy somehow finds and heeds this advice. I preemptively accept my 2026 Oscar for Best Original Idea.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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