The Reader does mean well in the way it presents a delicate issue from WWII, and creates a unique relationship between a grown woman and a teenager that is shockingly believable. The production values and versatile performance by Kate Winslet are also well worth the praise. However, the pedophilic romance between the two leads is more unintentionally creepy than flattering- I actually had to momentarily stop watching after twenty minutes due to the discomfort. It also doesn’t help that the characters are incredibly selfish and never earn our sympathy. As someone who read the book it’s based off of, I can declare that this film fails to retell its themes of German guilt, instead spending time on overusing drama that beautifies something that should be considered unacceptable. After grading it through my grading system, I conclude that The Reader deserves an average grade of C+.
Whereas, Song of the Sea generates the magical, dreamy feel of a childhood storybook composed of circles and watercolors, like a child’s understanding of the big world. It is such a joy to see the way families and legends come together in a way that brings you further in touch with the environment around you. If it does anything wrong, I would have to say that it strays a little too far from reality, using too many plot conveniences to get in the way of some key characters having a proper story arc. But after grading it through my grading system, I would still have to give this delight a solid B.
Overall, it’s pretty clear which is the better movie; but does the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences agree?
The Reader was recognized in the 2009 Academy Awards ceremony, when it won an Oscar for Kate Winslet’s performance, along with gaining four other nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. Song of the Sea was nominated at the 2015 Academy Awards ceremony, but only for the one category it would have been noticed in: Best Animated Feature. Unsurprisingly, it lost this award to the Disney movie Big Hero 6. So, no. The Academy does not agree that the foreign animated film which nobody saw or heard of is a better movie than the prestigious Holocaust film that campaigned the hell out of itself. Why would that be? Why would a specially selected organization of the most elite filmmakers in the nation rather award a by-the-numbers piece of awards-bait that encourages pedophilia, rather than a beautiful, unique tribute to families and mythology?
Because the Oscars are looking in all the wrong places for the best films of the year.
“All eligible motion pictures, unless otherwise noted (see Paragraph 9, below), must be:
A. feature length (defined as over 40 minutes)
B. publicly exhibited by means of 35mm or 70mm film
C. for paid admission in a commercial motion picture theater in Los Angeles County,
D. for a qualifying run of at least seven consecutive days, during which period screenings must occur at least three times daily, with at least one screening beginning between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. daily,
E. advertised and exploited during their Los Angeles County qualifying run in a manner normal and customary to theatrical feature distribution practices, and
F. released within January 1, 2016, and midnight of December 31, 2016.
All eligible motion pictures will be listed in the Academy’s annual ‘Reminder List of Eligible Releases.’ Before the Academy makes the Reminder List available to voters, releasing companies may be required to check their productions as they will appear in the Reminder List and assume full responsibility for errors and omissions.”
As for the films considered for the Best Animated Feature category, several of the key rules are as follows:
“Animation must figure in no less than 75 percent of the picture’s running time.
Films submitted in the Animated Feature Film category may qualify for Academy Awards in other categories, including Best Picture, provided they comply with the rules governing those categories.
Those serving on the committee will be required to see 66 percent of the submitted eligible films.
The committee will view all submitted films and assign each film a score of 10, 9, 8, 7 or 6.”
The only movies to win the Animated feature award have been almost all computer animated, with only one stop-motion movie (Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit) and one hand-drawn animated movie (Spirited Away) winning the awards, and on years where the competition was pretty weak. Everything else was by either Pixar, Disney, or whatever was popular that year. Especially in recent years, there have been several remarkable foreign films included in the list of nominees, such as The Wind Rises, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Boy and the World, and of course, Song of the Sea. Yet none of them got considered to win because it was up to the whole academy, not just the Animation branch, to pick the winner. That is where the problem lies.
Just take a look at this interview hosted by Hollywood Reporter, who asked anonymous Academy members what they voted for in this category. You’ll find a shocking amount of prejudice against animation in general: with the idea that animation is for kids and thus should not be taken seriously. Another thing to consider about these voters is that they have to watch a ton of movies to prepare for voting, along with making time for their own personal jobs and lives. While they may have time to watch the animated shorts, they’re less likely to have time for the feature-length animated films. Since other films in the bigger categories are more adult-like and frankly more mature, and since the Best Animated Feature category is not so much a highly recognized category, they just brush it aside as a lower priority. It’s also worth noting that the pick is usually obvious with each year, so they just go with whatever was the public favorite.
Usually, the members who do vote in the Best Animated Feature category get it right (WALL-E, Shrek, Happy Feet, The Incredibles, for instance), but other choices they probably could have searched a bit more to consider past the public favorite (Frozen/The Wind Rises, Ratatouille/Persepolis, Up/Coraline, Big Hero 6/The Tale of Princess Kaguya). If they desire to be about advancement and acknowledgment of technical artistry in motion pictures, then they should be striving to award something past computer animation. While it has been an incredible medium in animation that opened up countless storytelling possibilities over the years, it’s time that they also recognize older mediums that other countries are innovating for the modern times. More importantly, they should be awarding more mature films aimed for an older audience that utilize the screen space intentionally and artistically.
In fact, this category should be treated the same way as the Best Foreign Language Film category. The rules in voting for that are as stated by their rules:
“Final voting for the Foreign Language Film award shall be restricted to active and life Academy members who have viewed all five motion pictures nominated for the award.”
Again, unlike the other categories, members are required to watch ALL the nominated films in order to vote. Why this rule isn’t placed for every category I don’t know.
This ultimately goes back to my main point of this post: that the Academy is not searching in the right places to consider what to nominate.
Well, before we answer this, there is one crucial action to a movie getting nominated that ought to be acknowledged: “For Your Consideration” campaigns.
There are all sorts of studies on this subject, even Adam Ruins Everything covered this exact issue. Basically, a studio would spend up to $10 million on screenings, advertising, expensive gifts mailed to voters, anything and everything that would raise a movie’s chances of getting nominated, guaranteeing more money for the studio. That is why you don’t see a critically acclaimed February release that only made a couple million dollars at the box office make the cut come nomination time. They don’t campaign, no one acknowledged their existence, so why would the voters go for them when there’s all these recent star-studded releases begging for a nomination? After all, they put in so much effort for a nomination, why let their dedication go to waste?
The problem with this method of voting is that then they’re rewarding movies based solely on the urge to pay something back, not based on it being the best of the best. While The Reader is still a decent movie, it in no way deserved so many awards over other something like WALL-E.
On another note, nobody, not even the Academy, has heard of Song of the Sea until it was submitted to the Animation branch. It did no campaigning, and prioritized telling a good story over making money. Shouldn’t that be the condition of the hearts of all the filmmakers out there? I’d rather see awards go to movies that exists purely to send a valuable message to the community, rather than to make money. Oscar-bait movies are the classier equivalent of big-budget summer sequels and remakes.
That’s not to say that the movies nominated for the major categories are bad movies—not at all. While these paint-by-numbers biopics and European dramas like The Danish Girl, Brooklyn, Bridge of Spies, and The Theory of Everything have their priorities in the wrong place, they still try their darndest to create quality art. I would much prefer something that actually tries to say something important over something that’s just about getting done and out there, waiting for the Benjamin’s to roll in (like virtually everything released in the Summer).
Speaking of summer movies, the Best Visual Effects category is equally as messed up as the rest of the Academy branches. My reasoning is that they are not expanding their horizon to consider films that work to make visual effects invisible to the viewer, rather than impress the audience. If you look at the numerous nominees in this category, they’re pretty much all movies you’d figure would be nominated: The Avengers, Life of Pi, Gravity, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Interstellar, The Martian, Star Trek, Inception, Alice in Wonderland, stuff like that. Basically, if it’s obvious it has CGI based on the trailer, it’s considered. If it’s not obvious, or if special effects are limited, it’s not considered. There were confirmed visual effects shot, both CGI and practical, in Hacksaw Ridge, but did it make the Academy’s 20 finalists? Nope! Especially not over Suicide Squad and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I would much rather see them nominate movies that strive to make visual effects unnoticeable to the viewer, rather than just make a big technical achievement. Art should come over science when it comes to movies!
So bottom line, a new system should take place to make sure that every movie eligible for the Academy Award gets watched and judged fairly. My ideal change of action would be this:
Becoming a member of the Academy should become a full-time job. That way, time is given for each of the members of the Academy to week-by-week, day-by-day, watch every movie as they are released, then assess their quality based on their respective branches. They should not let a single movie surpass their attention at any point throughout the year, even if it’s something stupid like Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, they sustain an open mind to any possible surprises. It’s important, because you never know when an April-release from Japan just so happens to be the next Citizen Kane. More importantly, they have to ignore “For Your Consideration” campaigns, judging a movie purely based on its cinematic quality, not by how hard it’s trying.
I’ve even set up my own system (link here) for how to carefully assess a movie based on objective quality, and so far, it has worked well for me in judging a movie for what it is. I say other experts need something like this, so that way they’re not awarding Best Picture to La La Land just because it’s nostalgic for them. While it’s highly unlikely anyone, especially the Academy, will take my advice, I still have hopes of establishing a little awards show on my own set on this criteria.
That’s basically all my thoughts about the Oscars. Up until now, I remained faithful to their decisions, as they are cinema experts who know more about good filmmaking than I ever will in my life. But after doing some research, and watching more movies, I learned some important things that made me consider otherwise. The motion picture community is all out of whack, and their priorities are in all the wrong places. What should be a night of recognizing valuable art has instead become a money-nabbing empire that shows rich people doing rich people things, passively aggressively telling us what we should value.
This is not how it should go. While I still have faith that these voters know how to award a great movie and recognize artistic achievements, what they are doing right now is only half-baked. There’s always more they can be doing to give unknown, non-White, non-glamorous artists the recognition they deserve.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
89TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS OF MERIT. Los Angeles: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, 2016. PDF.
Amidi, Amid. "Proof That Oscar Voters Are Clueless About Animation." Cartoon Brew. LLC, 29 Dec. 2015. Web.
Collegehumor. "Talent Doesn't Win Oscars. Money Does." YouTube. YouTube, 24 Aug. 2016. Web.
"The Reader (2008)." Box Office Mojo. IMDb, Web.
Reader Poster. Digital image. MoviePoster.com. Web.
Smith, Sam. "Hacksaw Ridge Special Effects." YouTube. YouTube, 11 Dec. 2016. Web.
"Song of the Sea (2014)." Box Office Mojo. IMDb, Web.
Song of the Sea (2014). Digital image. IMP Awards. 11 Feb. 2015.