Oscar Noms, the Death of Hollywood and Early Onset Dementia

Do you ever wonder if you are losing your wits? Do you think it’s much more often than it used to be when you forget someone’s name and then you go on Google to look up dementia symptoms and find all the links are purple? Because that’s more or less where I am now, or at least how I feel about the Oscar nominations.  

Who are you and why are you in my flat? 

Anyway, the Oscar nominations dropped earlier this week and I felt I just needed to write a few paragraphs about how I felt about them and then – just about five hundred words in – I decided to have a quick peek into my old articles and found a little piece I wrote last year in the aftermath of “The Slapgate”, which looked eerily similar to what I was writing just then. Naturally, I got discouraged. But now I think this actually might mean something more and the fact I effectively regurgitated my own thoughts from this time last year might not be an indication of my running out of ideas to write about, but rather that Hollywood is in a state of perpetually buoyant stagnation, propelled only by oceanic currents of the-current-thing-that’s-popular-that-loud-people-on-Twitter-demand-to-be-championed-because-reasons.  

I’ll be perfectly honest here: I feel a little bit like a hybrid between Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile and Anthony Hopkins in The Father. I’m tired, boss, and I don’t think I recognize this world anymore. I think we’ve gone way past the point of no return and to complete the analogy from Back to the Future Part III, the train we are on is about to fly off a cliff down the Clayton Ravine, and all I want is a time-travelling DeLorean that could teleport me back into a time when I used to be excited about the Oscar race, Best Picture winners and all that glitzy palava. Maybe it’s a sign of growing up (or growing old) that this stuff no longer excites me in the way that it used to. Or maybe – just maybe – it’s a sign something’s gotta give.  

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. So, it’s hard to honestly anticipate the same heralds of change we once encountered when the table was about to be flipped. But it surely feels as though we were due a table flip right about now, though it may be decades before we’ll be able to connect the dots and contice the symmetry between what happened in the late 1960s when The New Hollywood kicked down the door and took the studio system hostage and what will have (hopefully) happened when New Hollywood Mark 2 makes landfall, fingers crossed tomorrow.  

Last year I felt it was the pandemic that stifled our collective excitement about movies because cinemas had been out of action for much longer than probably required and moviemaking had frozen in suspended animation. However, when it thawed I realized that this industry which was asked to hold its breath for the best part of two years had already been in terrible condition for over a decade and – to add insult to injury – things are about to get much worse.

Now, I don’t want this to devolve into poop-flinging and moaning about oh-so-many movies I didn’t care for receiving accolades this year. It’s not about that. What worries me is that ever since the financial crisis of 2007 and the resulting Great Depression, Hollywood never fully recovered and chances are that with the way things are going, it might never get the chance to do so. Long story short, with loads of money evaporating from the world economy essentially overnight, the filmmaking industry responded to this contraction by adopting a risk-averse business model, which led to safe and bankable sequels, remakes and franchise properties essentially taking over the release slate, while mid-budget prestige productions together with lower-end discoverable indies becoming either relegated to look for funding elsewhere or becoming extinct altogether. Unfortunately, even though the world has mostly recovered (with some exceptions, naturally) and adapted to a new post-recession reality, the movie industry entrenched itself in the model of ever-bloating budgets committed to comic book movies, major franchise sequels approaching (and surpassing) double digit labels and studios almost completely outsourcing classy prestige productions for streaming platforms to pick them up, bankroll them, have them released for one week only in two major cities and to ringfence them permanently to make sure their customers would refuse to cancel their subscriptions out of fear of losing access to movies which have been purposefully made unavailable on physical media. AppleTV and Netflix, I am looking at you, by the way.  

One would hope that at some point the tide would turn and that big studios would once more find value in producing original movies helmed by artistically confident voices who would shake up the stale landscape of spandex-laden post-westerns, never-ending franchises and nostalgia sequels. But then, the pandemic struck and not only the trajectory ended up put on hold, but these post-recession sentiments that led Hollywood to bank on safe crowd-pleasing ended up reinforced, which is abundantly clear from the kinds of movies the Academy has voted to include in the conversation about best pictures of the year. Granted, ever since 2008 some comic book movies, sequels and remakes have remained present within the scope of this conversation but now, between Top Gun: Maverick, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Avatar: The Way of Water (the number of colons alone is frightening, by the way), and The Batman sharing a grand total of eighteen nods, they are well on their way to dominate the narrative in the years to come. And it’s important to ask why.  

Why would these “colonic” sequels become so entrenched in the Oscar conversation now? It might just be because the Hollywood monolith, if there is such a thing, has collectively realized that the public at large cares about these movies more than they care about satires about vomiting rich people, localized dramas about fatherhood or about fake biopics about bullish conductors. And if there is one thing that the Hollywood monolith craves, it is attention. This narcissistic self-absorbed mythical creature wants everyone’s gaze focused on it, even if it means Bob Iger having to record a viral TikTok dance. So, instead of adopting a long-term perspective of rewarding and hence preserving the memory of truly accomplished works of cinematic expression, the Hollywood monolith chose to appeal to popularity and “giving people what they want”, thus falling on its own sword, albeit in slow motion. Because it will take years to realize what’s happening and that the American film industry as we know it might cease to exist.  

Come to think of it, New Hollywood Mark 2 might not be on its way to save the world after all, because back when The Movie Brats were about to take over, audiences clamoured for change. They were the ones who were sick to the back teeth with sandal epics and schmaltzy musicals and demanded to see movies that appealed to them. Problem is that the public now wouldn’t want Scorsese Mark 2 or Coppola Mark 2 to take the reins. They might be perfectly happy with Kevin Feige becoming the Emperor of Hollywood and with originality becoming synonymous with fishing out an 80s property that’s ripe for a nostalgia sequel treatment. People want bread and games. They don’t want artistic challenges. And The Academy seems perfectly happy to acknowledge these demands issued by what could easily be a pitchfork mob. And nothing good ever came from anyone bowing to such demands.  

Thus, I feel almost exactly how I felt last year – tired and disconnected. I know it’s easy to say the Oscars don’t mean much because they rarely get to single out movies that do go on to become iconic and timeless, but they do offer a snapshot of where the culture is at this moment and where we are now is not great. We are about to go supernova with comic book movies and franchise sequels achieving parity with cinematic art.  

Nothing is ever the same after a star goes supernova in your backyard. Something will end up consumed and burned to a crisp in the process and I worry it might be the idea that you can still expect an artistically important movie to come out of the Hollywood studio system or that if it were to come out, it would be appreciated according to its merit, not because it ticks the right boxes for the pitchfork mob outside to quiet down for a second.  

But then again, we’ll always have Paris. Grit and artistic honesty will have to emigrate permanently to assuage the American public demanding digestible high-calorie entertainment and politically-aligned, AI-generated groupthink disguised as artistic expression.

I think I told you it’s my flat and I’d like you to leave right away.  


Can I go to bed now? I’m tired, boss.  


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