Saturday, December 2, 2023

Horror Doesn’t Need The Oscars

To those who have the spooky holiday spirit, the month of October is one long Halloween, with all the celebration of the macabre that entails – and what could be more terrifying than the decision-making process of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences? For a certain kind of movie lover, kvetching about the bias against horror movies at the Oscars is as much a yearly ritual as tucking into “Scream” or “The Shining.” The list of snubs stretches back for decades and has become a sort of rallying cry against Academy snobbery: if it wasn’t for those stuffed shirts and their bias against genre films, we’re told, Toni Collette would have rightfully swept Best Actress for “Hereditary,” and Mia Goth (“Pearl“) would have rubbed elbows alongside Michelle Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All At Once“) and Cate Blanchett (“Tár“).

There is, of course, some truth to this narrative, at least in today’s post-Weinstein world of aggressive FYC politicking. Movies like “The Exorcist” and “The Silence of the Lambs” used to be across-the-board players at the Oscars, and Kathy Bates even managed to win Best Actress for “Misery” as the film’s sole nomination. These days, with the notable exception of “Get Out,” horror films are lucky to get a below-the-line nomination, and many great performances get left out of the acting categories. It’s undeniably frustrating, and every movie lover nurses their own set of grudges. For example, Scarlett Johansson should’ve earned her first Oscar nomination for “Under the Skin,” and Willem Dafoe should’ve taken home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for “The Lighthouse.” But when you set aside the glamor and prestige, the Oscars don’t really matter very much, and that holds especially true for horror; to clamor for awards is to buy into a faulty premise and miss the entire point of the genre.

First, the faulty premise: past a certain level of competence, there is no such thing as “objectivity” when it comes to evaluating art and insisting otherwise smacks of petulance. Let’s use the most infamous snub, Toni Collette, for “Hereditary” as an example. Yes, Collette gave a brilliant performance as a grieving mother pulled into a demonic conspiracy; she would have been an inspired nominee and a deserving winner. But what makes her inherently more deserving than the eventual winner, Olivia Colman, in “The Favourite?” Or the other nominees, including Lady Gaga for “A Star Is Born” and Melissa McCarthy for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” Or the other great lead performances passed over that year, like Regina Hall in “Support the Girls” and Elsie Fisher in “Eighth Grade?” There are numerous Oscar-worthy performances in each category every year, and only five can be nominated: the results depend upon personal taste, FYC campaigning, and countless other arbitrary factors. We can and should have conversations about what is and isn’t considered “awards-worthy.” Still, those conversations should be driven by a desire for a diverse, eclectic view of cinema, not by a desire to have one’s taste affirmed by an institution handing out gold statues.

Which brings us to the next point: why is it so important for horror, a genre defined by transgression, to get recognition from the “Good Taste Havers” of the world? Horror has always thrived in the margins, both in terms of subject matter and in relation to Hollywood. The history of the genre is filled with boundary-pushing independent films that used shoestring budgets to explore taboos (“Night of the Living Dead” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) and experiment with form (“Eraserhead” and “The Blair Witch Project”). Some of those movies achieved critical or commercial success, but that was just icing on the cake: they possessed a clarity of vision, a certainty of purpose, that would have only been compromised by outside concerns like awards. The same holds true for horror movies, like “Rosemary’s Baby” or “The Silence of the Lambs,” that enjoyed Oscar success. Their legacies were secure with or without awards recognition.

In fact, if any movie can be said to “need” the Oscars, it’s the kind of films perceived as competition to genre fare: straightforward, mid-budget dramas, which almost never get greenlit anymore without the expectation that they will compete for prestige and awards (as a means to get as many eyeballs on them as possible). Horror, by contrast, is flourishing; immensely popular and profitable, it’s, more or less, the only way an original property can become a hit at the box office these days. And far from being stigmatized, horror is more critically respected at this point than almost any other time in film history. Snubs are frustrating, and even in a weaker year for horror like this one, there are a number of worthy performances (Sophie Wilde for “Talk to Me“) and crafts (“Enys Men’s” superb sound design) that would warrant awards consideration. But even if horror has lost individual Oscar battles, it’s unquestionably won the war.

What are some horror performances, crafts, or films in general you feel the Academy should’ve recognized with an Oscar nomination? Do you think we’re getting any closer to the Academy embracing horror more than they are now? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account and check out their latest Oscar predictions here.

You can follow Joe and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @HoeffnerJoe

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