4:30 pm EST, January 21, 2020

When selecting Oscar winners, The Academy should adopt the ‘Top Chef’ judging philosophy

There is controversy every year over which movies and performances get snubbed and recognized at the Oscars, but this year, there are a few things that have me thinking maybe it’s time for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to make a few rules regarding its voting members.

After reading this New York Post article outlining a couple of Academy voters’ reasons why some absolutely incredible performances were left out of the Oscars 2020 race, I couldn’t contain my rage for the biased mindset on display.

It’s important to note that I am more than aware that when you’re choosing the best performances of any given year of film, it’s impossible to please everyone. There are bound to be a lot of deserving people left out of the running, but when standout performances from industry mainstays like Jennifer Lopez, Eddie Murphy, and Adam Sandler are denied entry while repeat nominees run rampant year after year, it’s probably time to take a second look at the process.

The Academy 2020

This is 100% about bias and Academy members being allowed to judge actors/directors/writers/artists by factors outside of their performances. The above-mentioned article quotes one unnamed character actor as saying, “There are a lot of movies, a lot of performances per year for us to watch. Unfortunately, actors become brands. Sandler’s brand doesn’t scream ‘Oscar,’ but Leo DiCaprio’s and Jonathan Pryce’s do.”

The unmitigated gall it must take to be able to say that one actor simply doesn’t have the right brand to be an Oscar nominee. After all, the categories are worded to say that these awards are based upon the movies from 2019, and that we are to consider them to be awards for the films listed alongside their nomination.

I’m sure there are members of the Academy who look strictly at the performances and judge based on that, but considering how vocal some have been in articles like the one from The New York Post, it’s clearly not the consensus. I don’t know if it’s always been this way or if it’s a modern mindset, but it seems like the voting body aren’t all that interested in giving awards to actors who don’t fit a particular mold.

And that’s a damn shame. There is definitely a market out there for an awards show that allows thespians, creators, and skilled filmmakers to have their works judged based solely on the work of art in front of them. This, what I’ve deemed here as the Top Chef philosophy, would dramatically improve the quality, diversity, and integrity of the awards show we all wish was actually awarding the pinnacle of film every year.

You see, each episode of Top Chef exists as its own entity. The judges are meant to forget each and every dish after its been judged. They judge each contestant on the dish that lies in front of them. It isn’t until the season is at its very end that the judges even begin to think about the chef’s performance as a whole throughout the entire season. This is very similar to how Project Runway does their judging as well.

The Academy 2020

I think the Academy could do well with this shift in thinking. If each and every film, performance, and artist were only being judged on the singular item, rather than their politics, their brand, their attitude, or any rumor-mongering that might be floating around town, the Oscars could stand tall and proud as the best of the best of film awards again.

I think it’s worth noting that while there is a 35-page PDF dictating what a film must do to be eligible for the Oscars, there is no set rules for what Academy members should be basing their votes on. It’s my understanding that they don’t even have to see any of the nominated films if they don’t wish, but can still vote to determine who wins the Oscar for that category. The same character actor I quoted earlier from that New York Post article admitted that, “Some voters may not even have bothered to watch Awkwafina’s The Farewell or Sandler’s Uncut Gems.”

This simply cannot stand. At the VERY least, the Academy must find some way to require their members to see the films from which they are responsible for choosing nominees. I’m not saying that every Academy member must watch every film put out in any given year, but I am saying that the performances and films in the award-worthy discussions should be considered mandatory viewing for anyone deciding what does and does not deserve Oscar consideration.

The Academy 2020

And for those who are still overlooked at the end of the day, there is room to give out merit-based awards for careers full of quality work. There are no fewer than eight specialty awards that the Oscars are allowed to present whenever the Board of Governors believes there is a worthy recipient.

Let’s bring those back into prominence. Let’s stop giving out collective Oscars for actors whose truly best performance was overlooked years before. Let’s stop trying to make up for leaving deserving performances out of the running one year by including a subpar performance from them the next year. Let’s award incredible careers with specialty Oscars, and leave the yearly acting, directing, editing, and filmmaking awards to the best of the actual year.

I love the Oscars. I love watching the films and discussing the merits of one performance over another. I love thinking about how the editing of a film like 1917 differs dramatically from a film like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood or Knives Out. I love dissecting the costumes and hairstyles from fantasy and period pieces and considering which is the greater challenge. I want to trust that the Oscars aren’t being awarded based on popularity and glad-handing, but on the devotion to performance and the art we all know and love.

Movies are so special. They can lift you up or enlighten you to stories you would have otherwise never known. They can transport you to distant lands and/or tune you into the things going on right under your nose. It’s time for an awards show that we can all trust to hand the trophies to the best and brightest. And if we can’t, then what are we doing letting them hand out awards at all?

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