I used to do an annual post commenting on the Academy Award winners, but a quick check of my archives reveals that the last time I did an Oscar winner comment post was in 2019. Of course, skipping the pandemic years does make sense, but I also stopped watching the Oscar livestream a few years ago, because just following the announcements on social media and later watching the highlights is a better use of my time. Plus, a lot of the time the sort of movies that get Oscar nominations are not movies I care about or have even seen.
Furthermore, I’ve now reached an age where I no longer believe that I have to be interested in something (Oscar-winning movies, certain literary award winners, the latest Wagner production in Bayreuth, cultural programs on TV), because “true cultured people” (TM) care about these things. So I stopped paying a lot of attention to the Oscars, because while “true cultured people”(TM) might enjoy Oscar bait movies, I sure as hell don’t. At least not in this universe.
Of course, I did miss seeing Will Smith slap Chris Rock live last year, but it wasn’t as if there weren’t a hundred replays of that particular moment. And personally, I wasn’t surprised that someone snapped and slapped an Oscar host, I was just surprised that it took so long for it to happen, considering how rude and condescending many Oscar hosts are.
As for why I’m commenting about the 2023 Academy Awards this year – well, that’s because even though many of the usual Oscar baits were nominated – the hollow historical drama of questionable accuracy, the biopic about a great man or woman (bonus points, if the biopic is either wildly inaccurate or downright offensive), the film that’s not a biopic, but pretends to be one (Lydia Tár may have a website and a Twitter account, but she’s not real, at least not in this universe), the war movie, a famous director revisits his sad childhood, which usually involves their parents getting divorced (at least, Kenneth Branagh’s version was about the traumatic experience of the Northern Ireland conflict escalating and invading his happy childhood), the contemplation of the American navel, the depressing slice of life drama filmed entirely in shades of gray and brown – the big winner of the night was actually a quirky indie science fiction movie with a majority Asian cast travelling through the multiverse.
One cannot state how remarkable the fact that Everything Everywhere All At Once not just won, but won big, really is. For starters, SFF films almost never win Best Picture or the acting categories. Only four SFF films have ever won Best Picture in the 95-year history of the Oscars, all of them in the 21st century. They are Return of the King in 2004, Birdman in 2014, The Shape of Water in 2018 and now Everything Evrywhere All At Once. Considering how many musicals have won Best Picture over the decades and how often musicals get nominated, this is remarkable. Also consider the lengthy list of popular and beloved SFF films that failed to win Best Picture Oscars (and sometimes weren’t even nominated), which includes The Wizard of Oz (had the misfortune of coming out the same year as Gone With the Wind), Miracle on 34th Street (lost to Gentleman’s Agreement), Mary Poppins, Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb (both lost to My Fair Lady), 2001 – A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, Rosemary’s Baby (all three not even nominated, the winner was Oliver!), A Clockwork Orange (lost to French Connection), The Exorcist (lost to The Sting), Star Wars (lost to Woody Allan’s Annie Hall in a decision that aged really badly), Raiders of the Lost Ark (lost to the inexplicably popular Chariots of Fire), E.T. – The Extraterrestrial (lost to Gandhi in one of the most inexplicable decisions), Ghost (lost to Dances With Wolves), The Beauty and the Beast (lost to The Silence of the Lambs), Groundhog Day (not even nominated, the winner was the nigh unbeatable Schindler’s List), Twelve Monkeys (not even nominated; the winner that year was that insult to Scottish history Braveheart, the SF-adjacent Apollo 13 was also nominated), The Sixth Sense (lost to the terrible American Beauty), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (lost to Gladiator), The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers (lost to Chicago and A Beautiful Mind respectively), District 9 and Up (lost to The Hurt Locker in another inexplicable decision), Avatar, Inception and Toy Story 3 (lost to The King’s Speech, another inexplicable winner), Hugo and Midnight in Paris (lost to The Artist, which I’m actually fine with), Beasts of the Southern Wild (lost to Argo, which at least has an SF connection, while Avengers was not even nominated), Gravity and Her (lost to Twelve Years a Slave), Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian (lost to Spotlight, which is one of those winners that have completely escaped my memory), Arrival (lost to Moonlight), Get Out! (lost to another SFF film, The Shape of Water), Black Panther (lost to the terrible Green Book) and Dune (lost to Coda, Don’t Look Up! and Nightmare Alley were also nominated). And a lot of those films were more accessible and more typical Oscar winners than Everything Everywhere All At Once, the scrappy little movie that could. Everything Everywhere All At Once is certainly the weirdest movie to win Best Picture since The Artist back in 2011 (and plenty of Americans are still angry about that).
For starters, while the idea of parallel worlds and a multiverse is far from new, it also hasn’t really been mainstream until fairly recently. Maybe the idea of a multiverse full of parallel universe where things are like ours, but just a little different is just a little too weird for mainstream viewers. As a result, a remarkable number of people assume that Marvel invented the idea of the multiverse sometime around 2020/2021, even though there have been plenty of multiverse and parallel world stories in movies and TV before that, including the original Star Trek‘s 1967 episode “Mirror, Mirror” (which spawned a host of sequels), the 1993 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Parallels”, which sends Worf on an Odyssey through the multiverse and into Deanna Troi’s arms, the 1995 TV-series Sliders, the 1998 German movie Run, Lola, Run (which was famously snubbed by the Oscars and not even nominated, in spite of being a worldwide success) and the somewhat lesser known Sliding Doors, the 2013 TV show Fringe, the various multiverse plots from the DC superhero TV-series, most notably The Flash, but also the entire complex of shows popularly known as “the Arrowverse” (now snuffed out of existence by DC’s latest restructurings) and the 2018 animated movie Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (which actually did win the Oscar for Best Animated Film).
Science fiction has been playing the multiverse game even longer. The 1934 story “Sidewise in Time” by Murray Leinster is usually considered to be the first parallel universe story, though some people also make a case for H.G. Wells’ “A Modern Utopia” from 1903. Jorge Luis Borges tackled the multiverse in his 1941 story “The Garden of Forking Paths”, while Michael Moorcock became the first to actually use the term “multiverse” in an SFF context in 1963. There have been many more since.
Americans superhero comics also really love the idea of a multiverse, because it allows them to reconcile conflicting versions of the characters with each other and to tell fun “What if…?” stories. DC Comics were the first to get into the multiverse, because unlike Marvel, who tried to maintain continuity with their Golden Age comics, DC just rebooted most of their superheroes at the dawn of the Silver Age and quickly found themselves faced with the fact that there were two version of The Flash, Green Lantern and other popular heroes. The solution they came up with in the early 1960s was that there are two parallel DC Universes, Earth One and Earth Two. The number of universes eventually snowballed, until DC tried to consolidate them all in the epic 1985 crossover “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, only for the number of universes to escalate once again, requiring another reboot and so on.
Marvel was more hesitant with the multiverse concept, though the Fantastic Four and the Avengers occasionally dealt with parallel universe all the way back to the 1960s. The first run of the What If…? comic started in 1977, featuring one-of parallel universe scenarios. Alan Moore’s and Alan Davis’ Captain Britain comics from Marvel UK from the early 1980s really dialled up the idea with an often nightmarish trip through parallel universes and also gave the main Marvel Universe the designation Earth-616. A little later, Marvel editor Mark Gruenwald came up with the classification of the Marvel Multiverse that also incorporated spin-off media like cartoons, live action TV shows and newspaper strips.
If you’re a habitual science fiction or comic reader, you ran into the idea of the multiverse a long time ago. For me, it’s been so long that I can’t even tell what my first encounter with the idea of parallel universe was. I suspect it might have been a rerun of Star Trek‘s “Mirror, Mirror”. However, if you’re not a habitual science fiction or comic reader, Multiverses are weird and sometimes hard to get your head around, as reactions from casual viewers of The Flash and the other Arrowverse shows to those show’s multiversal shenangigans show.
So the big question is how did a movie about the multiverse not just manage win a whole lot of Oscars, but also completely trounced the more conventional competition, winning seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Editing? If Ke Huy Quan had been nominated for Best Actor rather than Best Supporting Actor, Everything Everywhere All At Once would have joined the rarified ranks of movies who managed to win all five categories considered the most important. Only three movies have managed this feat, namely It Happened One Night in 1935, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1976 and The Silence of the Lambs in 1992. That’s not just success, it’s an enormous success, particularly for a quirky indie movie.
At The Yale Review, David M. de León declares that the world right now is not just full of terrible things happening, because it always is, but that the pressure to do something about those things or at least care is overwhelming, so the idea of a multiverse where everything that can happen does happen is a lot more seductive or at least a lot more palatable.
Another possible reason is that decades of more subdued multiverse stories, which stick to one or two universes at a time rather than throwing everything at the viewer all at once have softened up mainstream viewers to the idea of the multiverse. Just as decades of timeloop stories and non-linear narratives have softened up audiences to the fact that not every story needs to be linear.
The nihilism that nothing really matters, that there is no point, no fate, not god and that the universe – none of them – doesn’t care about people at all that is addressed (and ultimately rejected) in Everything Everywhere All At Once, is a theme that is increasingly showing up in pop culture – one of the most unexpected examples was Masters of the Universe: Revelation of all things, but last year’s Oscar contender Don’t Look Up! is another, even bleaker example. I strongly suspect that this nihilist resurgence really is tied to the zeitgeist, where terrible things keep happening and things get worse instead of better. It’s definitely a trend worth watching.
Finally, Everything Everywhere All At Once is not just a multiverse story in the way the various Marvel movies are. Instead, it uses the multiverse as a device to tell a story about a family, about intergenerational trauma and about the immigrant experience. And all those are subjects that both Oscar voters and mainstream audiences can connect with and that many Oscar winning and nominated movies have tackled over the years, though in a far more conventional way. The changing make-up of the membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also helps movies gain recognition that would never have won or even been nominated ten years ago.
In general, I haven’t been this happy with a slate of Oscar winners in forever – well, in thirty years of so at any rate. There are only a handful of winners I’m unhappy with, all of them for one particular film, but more of that later.
Let’s start with the good. I’m happy with all the winners in the acting categories. Michelle Yeoh is amazing and one of those actors who should have won a long time ago, except that she made the wrong sort of movies and in the wrong country. Michelle Yeoh is also the first Malaysian ever and the first Asian actress to win an Oscar in the Best Actress category. Miyoshi Umeki, the other Asian actress to win an Oscar, won Best Supporting Actress all the way back in 1958.
Ke Huy Quan is not only immensely likable – who did not get misty eyes at his acceptance speech and when he hugged Harrison Ford? – and gave a great performance, but his story is also a classic underdog story – from Vietnamese refugee kid to child star to “Once you’re no longer the cute kid, we have no roles for you” to Oscar winner. And Hollywood loves underdog stories.
Brendan Fraser is another underdog story. In the 1990s and early 2000s, he was everywhere and then suddenly he vanished due to what was later revealed to be sexual harassment followed by blacklisting. But he made a roaring comeback in The Affair and Doom Patrol. And even though The Whale is the sort of depressing Oscar bait I don’t like and Fraser’s role of the “a fat suit and make-up” (and The Whale did win Best Make-up) school of acting that usually annoys me, I’m still very happy for Brendan Fraser, because he’s incredibly likeable and has deserved the recognition for a long time now. Gavia Baker-Whitelaw reports about a backlash against the Oscar wins for The Whale, since fatsuits are considered controversial. I don’t like them myself and while they make sense in some cases, e.g. where a rapid transformation is needed, much of the time just hiring an overweight person would be a better choice. However, the backlash mostly seems to focus on the Best Make-Up category (which seems unfair as well, because the make-up artists don’t decide to use a fatsuit, they just build the things. The decision lies with the director, so blame Darren Aronofsky), since everybody is happy for Brendan Fraser, even if they don’t like the film. Brendan Fraser seems to have been adaopted by the Everything Everywhere All At Once cast, by the way. Maybe somewhere in the multiverse, there is a version of the film that Brendan Fraser was actually in.
Which brings me to what is probably the most controversial acting award of the evening, Jamie Lee Curtis’ win for Best Supporting Actress in Everything Everywhere All At Once. A lot of people are annoyed by this win, because they would have preferred Angela Bassett or Stephanie Hsu to win. And personally, I would have preferred Angela Bassett or Stephanie Hsu as well. However, there is no way that Jamie Lee Curtis would not have won, at least in this universe. For starters, Jamie Lee Curtis is Hollywood royalty, the daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. She has been acting since her late teens, has been in some hugely successful movies and yet has never had a single Oscar nomination, because most of her acting credits are for horror movies, action films and comedies, i.e. ot the sort of genres that attract Oscar nominations. And her illustrious parents only ever had one nomination each – for The Defiant Ones and Psycho respectively – and never won. So Jamie Lee Curtis won not just because the Academy ignored her for 45 years, but also because it ignored her parents. Of course, much of the same applies to Angela Bassett – a lengthy career, but never really got the recognition she deserved (though she did have one previous nomination for the Tina Turner biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It). But Jamie Lee Curtis also had the advantage of being in the biggest winner of the year.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the movie Angela Bassett was nominated for, did get to take home one highly deserved Oscar for Best Costume Design for Ruth Carter, who also won for Black Panther in 2019.
Guillermo del Toro has managed to break through the Disney/Pixar stranglehold on the Best Animated Feature category with his take on Pincocchio, which is another win that makes me very happy.
The extremely catchy “Natuu, Natuu” from the Indian blockbuster RRR won a highly deserved Oscar for the Best Original Song, beating out four ballads which might just as well have been nominated twenty or thirty or forty or even fifty years ago. There was also a great live performance of the song, complete with an amazing dance number. The win for “Natuu, Natuu” is also the first ever Oscar win for a song from an Asian movie. It’s also a win for SFF, because RRR is alternate history. The two protagonists, though based on historical figures, never met in real life and the British Raj were obviously not defeated via dance battles.
Now let’s get to the wins that I’m not happy with, all of which are for the same movie, All Quiet on the Western Front. If you’d opened any German newspaper or watched a German news program yesterday, you might be forgiven for assuming that All Quiet on the Western Front was the biggest winner of the night and won all the awards, because after several paragraphs of extolling the virtues of All Quiet, there would be a brief note – almost an afterthought – that Everything Everywhere All At Once actually won the highest number of awards and most of the major categories. Meanwhile, All Quiet on the Western Front took four categories, Best Foreign Language Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score. Unfortunately, it did not deserve any of them.
In the interest of full disclosure, like most Germans, I was forced to read All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque in tenth grade and absolutely hated the book. I hated it so much that I gleefully sold my copy at a used bookstore the summer after I graduated and used the credit to buy comics. It’s not the worst book I was forced to read in high school – Emilia Galotti a.k.a. “honour killings are totally defensible, as long as you commit them to further the case of democracy” by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Drachenblut a.k.a. Der Fremde Freund (Dragon’s Blood a.k.a. The Distant Friend) by Christoph Hein a.k.a. “Hey, hitting women is just like hitting dogs, it means nothing, and also women who have abortions are evil. Also, there are no dragons in this book” were both worse, because they promote actively harmful messages. However, All Quiet on the Western Front is the book I hated most of everything I was made to read in high school.
That said, unlike Emilia Galotti and Drachenblut (sorry, but it was never called Der Fremde Freund, when I read it, even though the West German title is false advertising), my adult self does see that All Quiet on the Western Front is a valuable and important book, because it shows the horrors of WWI from a pespective of a young, initially idealistic and then quickly disillusioned soldier. This grunt’s eye view is what makes the book important. It doesn’t matter that this particular soldier happens to be German – he also could have been British, French, American, Russian, Austrian or from any other nation.
When I first heard that there would be a new adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front (the book already had two adaptations in 1930 and 1979), my initial reaction was “Why?” My second thought was, “Well, the 1930 adaptation was ancient even back when I was in high school, so a maybe they’re making this thing so that teachers have a newer film to show. After all, high school students are a captive audience.”
However, there is one huge problem. The latest version of All Quiet on the Western Front is not just grossly inaccurate, it also manages to undermine the point of the novel by introducing a subplot about a German politician at the peace talks in the woods of Compiegne, whereas the novel explicitly sticks to the grunt’s eye persepctive of protagonist Paul Bäumer and the politicians and their manoeuverings, which eventually cost Paul’s life are never seen, as distant from Paul as if they were on Mars. Paul doesn’t even really know why he is fighting or what for, except “for Germany”.
The latest movie also changes the ending and thus manages to undermine both the point and the title of the novel. Because – spoiler alert for a 95-year-old book – the day late in the war on which Paul is killed is considered so unremarkable by the military higher-ups that the daily front report only reads “All Quiet on the Western Front”. Paul’s life and his death meant nothing at all (which would actually bring the movie in line with Everything Everywhere All At Once). However, an unremarkable death on an unremarkable day is not the Hollywood way and so the movie kills off Paul in a hyper-dramatic battle scene, thus completely undermining the point that his death was unremarkable and meant nothing.
Because most Germans have read the novel at some point in their lives, the initial reviews of the movie were respectively savage with some critics even wondering if director Edward Berger had read the book at all. In the Berliner Zeitung, Jesko zu Dohna even calls the 2022 All Quiet on the Western Front one of the worst movies of all time. If you want a harsh review of All Quiet on the Western Front in English, check out Gavia Baker-Whitelaw’s.
Historians also criticised that the movie contained all sorts of factual errors from attacks that wouldn’t have happened that way to soldiers being executed en masse for alleged cowardice, when this was extremely rare in the German army during WWI. Of course, inaccurate historical movies are nothing unusual – hear me rant about Titanic some time – and All Quiet on the Western Front is not the least accurate WWI movie – the much lauded Wonder Woman is much worse in that respect and makes gross errors such as having the Ottoman Empire fight on the wrong side and having Diana kill real life German general Erich Ludendorff, who survived WWI, conspired with Hitler until turning against him for being not Antisemitic enough (!) and finally died of cancer in 1937. Yes, we know that the DC Universe is not ours, but did they have to use a real person rather than a fictional general?
However, once All Quiet on the Western Front won an unprecendented nine Oscar nominations, the German critics suddenly decided that they needed to root for the movie, even though the Oscars are not a football World Cup, where you root for the home team (and I know plenty of Germans who never root for the German team). Instead, you get frankly embarassing contortions such as Katharina Pötter, mayor of Remarque’s hometown of Osnabrück, cheering about the four Oscar wins for a movie which actually undermines the message of Remarque’s novel. Does she honestly think Remarque would have approved of this movie?
Even weirder was the German press cheering the Oscar win for James Friend, the British cinematographer of All Quiet, and completely missing the fact that Friend beat Florian Hoffmeister, the German cinematographer of Tár. If you’re rooting for the home team, you’re doing it wrong. That said, James Friend is probably the most deserving of the people who won Oscars for All Quiet on the Western Front, though personally I think both Empire of Light and Tár were better. Probably Elvis as well.
The win for Best Production Design is completely inexplicable, because the Production Designer basically had to make WWI look suitable gray and grimy and also dress up someplace in the Czech Republic (because all of Europe looks like the Czech Republic, don’t you know) like a small town in early 20th century Germany. Never mind that there are plenty of German small towns that can easily be made to look like the early 20th century. Hell, you could probably have used Remarque’s hometown Osnabrück, though it’s not that small. Honestly, every other nominee in this category would have been a better choice.
As for Best Score, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw explains why Volker Bertelsmann’s score for All Quiet on the Western Front was a bad choice, because it is the sort of music that accompanies action films, not anti-war movies.
As for Best Foreign Language Picture, All Quiet was definitely the worst of the bunch. Personally, I would have preferred The Quiet Girl from Ireland or EO, the Polish movie about a cute donkey, but even the movie about the military dictatorship in Argentina and whatever the Belgian contender was, would have been better. Also shame on India for not putting forward RRR and saving us from All Quiet on the Western Front. At least India makes historical epics of questionable accuracy that are fun.
At least All Quiet did not win Best Adapted Screenplay, which would have been a complete joke, considering that the movie ignores and undermines the novel, and instead lost out to Women Talking by Sarah Polley, the other former child star to win an Oscar this year. And indeed Women Talking and Living were probably the best of an extremely poor set of nominees, since they actually adapt something. Because Glass Onion and Top Gun: Maverick are not adapting anything except their own prequels and All Quiet is an adaptation which ignores its source material. In fact, I’ve noticed that the nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are increasingly only adaptations of anything if you squint really had, probably because there simply are fewer literary adaptations made these days. Maybe it’s time to retire Best Adapted Screenplay and just have Best Screenplay going forward, similarly to how the split between black and white and colour cinematography and costume design ended in the 1960s, when black and white films became an endangered species.
But the question, how did a movie like All Quiet on the Western Front manage to gain so many Oscar nominations and wins, when it’s not very good? This Spiegel article by Oliver Kaever attempts to answer the question and points out that a) All Quiet was produced and heavily pushed by Netflix, who are eager to have award-winning prestige projects on their platform, also see Roma and The Irishman. Oliver Kaever also suspects that the anti-war message of the novel, though not really captured by the movie, might have resonated with American audiences because of the war in Ukraine, which I personally find questionable, since in both the US and Germany, the war in Ukraine is officially viewed as a “just war”, not senseless slaughter like WWI. And unlike Germany – where a lot of people disagree with the official view and see the war in Ukraine as yet more senseless slaughter that should be ended as soon as possible – there doesn’t seem to be a lot of questioning in the US.
Interestingly, the German Secretary for Culture and Media Claudia Roth declared that the Oscar win for All Quiet on the Western Front was also a blow against Putin. My initial reaction was, “Wait a minute, will they tie him down and force him to watch it?” That said, the Best Documentary Feature win for Nawalny, the documentary about Russian dissident Boris Nawalny, really is a blow against Putin.
However, Oliver Kaever also hits on what is IMO the most important point, namely that All Quiet on the Western Front is a movie that caters to American (and British) tastes. Director Edward Berger actually specialises in this sort of fare, German historical movies and series that cater to American tastes. He previously helmed the three season series Deutschland ’83/’86/’89. Now Deutschland ’83 had terrible ratings, when it debuted on German TV and was actually pulled from prime time TV and shuffled off into the graveyard slot, because German audiences didn’t want to see “yet another Stasi drama”. The show then ended up on a streaming service and for some reason, Americans went gaga over the thing and actually caused the streaming service to commission two more seasons.
This illustrates a broader issue with the Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar (and also streaming services distributing films and shows globally that would originally have aired only in their country of origin), namely that the Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar rewards not actually the best movies from the respective countries, but the movies that most appeal to American tastes and stereotypes.
All four German movies to win Best Foreign Language Picture (with the possible exception of The Tin Drum, though I don’t like that one either) are not actually good, let alone the best examples of German filmmaking, but won Oscars because they conformed to American stereotypes, while better movies about the same subjects were ignored and often not even nominated. There are much better movies about former East Germany than The Lives of Others (still the worst of the four German Oscar winners, because it was actively harmful in standardising how we talk about East Germany, by focussing on all Stasi all the time – see Deutschland ’83). There are much better movies about the Third Reich than Nowhere in Africa (a win so baffling the director Caroline Link didn’t even show up, but elected to stay home with her sick baby). And in general, there are much better and more nuanced movies both about German history and the way we live now than that sorry quartet of stereotype confirming historical epics.
However, whenever Germany puts forward a movie that is not a stereotype confirming historical (and the “one pre-selected movie per country” rule is problematic in itself), the film usually doesn’t get nominated, no matter how good it is. Last year’s German entry, the science fiction romantic comedy I’m Your Man, was a vastly better movie than All Quiet and yet not even nominated, because “We want you to make historical dramas, not SF”). Goodbye, Lenin, one of the most successful German movies of the post-1968 era, and a worldwide success was not nominated, even though it is a much better movie about former East Germany than The Lives of Others. But it doesn’t conform to stereotypes. Aimee and Jaguar, a lesbian romance about a German and a Jewish women during the Third Reich based on a true story that made Steven Spielberg cry, was not even nominated, because lesbians were too shocking, I guess. Run, Lola, Run, an early parallel universe/multiverse film that was a worldwide success in 1998, was not nominated. Fatih Akin’s Head On, the movie about Turkish immigrant lives in contemporary Hamburg, which gave the world Sibel Kekili, and Akin’s In the Fade, a movie about neo-Nazi terrorism in contemporary Germany starring bonafide Hollywood star Diane Kruger, were not even nominated either – because Hollywood prefers its Nazis safely in the past and apparently can’t get its head around the existence of a large Turkish immigrant community. There are many more examples.
The most ridiculous example happened in 1991, when the newly united Germany snubbed one Nazi era film in favour of another Nazi era film, because there can be only one, prompting the producer and director of the first film to scream Antisemitism all over the German and international press and eventually persuading Poland, which had co-produced the movie, to put it forward. It was promptly nominated, because it was the more stereotype-confirming of the two movies, though both are actually pretty good and would have been worthy contenders.
This doesn’t just apply to German movies either. The British movies to get Oscar nominations and wins are usually historical dramas, often about the monarchy or the upper class or a war movie. A kitchen sink working class drama, a gangster film or an immigrant drama has little chance, no matter how good, because that’s not how Hollywood sees the UK.
Meanwhile, the Oscars regularly honour American movies which are about explicitly American issues with little interest in whether the rest of the world cares. I tend to call those films a bit snarkily “contemplating the American navel”. And there’s nothing wrong with them – the movies and the Oscars should serve their own audience rather than deliver what the rest of the world expects from Hollywood (which is mostly kicks, explosions, special effects and superheroes, which Hollywood does better than anybody else). However, it’s annoying when good German (or British or French or [insert country here]) movies get ignored in favour of movies catering to American tastes.
Another almost annual issue with the Oscars is that the “In Memoriam” segment omits several notable people whom we lost last year. The Guardian reports about actress Mira Sorvino being furious that her late father, actor Paul Sorvino, was not included. Other notable omissions include Anne Heche, Tom Sizemore, Chaim Topol, Lisa Marie Presley, Leslie Jordan and Charlbi Dean, who actually starred in one of the Best Picture finalists, Triangle of Sadness, before her untimely death at age 32. And while Tom Sizemore and Chaim Topol died very close to the ceremony, so that editing the “In Memoriam” reel may no longer have been possible, this excuse does not apply to the other omissions. The Tom Sizemore and Chaim Topol also reminds me of Bill Paxton, who died unexpectedly very shortly before the Oscar ceremony, and was omitted from the “In Memoriam” segment twice, the year he died and the following year.
Finally, I really love this story about Bill Nighy taking his granddaughter’s Sylvanian Families toy bunny as his date to the Oscars. And I strongly suspect that the bunny wasn’t the only toy that got taken to the Oscars, but the rest of them were probably hidden in evening bags and pockets.
Still, at least in this universe the 2023 Oscars were really good, with the exception of the four wins for All Quiet on the Western Front. Surely, there is a universe somewhere where something more worthy won instead.