Oscar 2017: Surprise?

The formula for winning an Oscar is of course not an exact science, but with the success of Birdman (2014) and Spotlight (2015), both winners of Best Pictures, we should not be surprised by this year’s results, or should we? In this year’s Academy Awards, La La Land (2016) scored an incredible 14 Oscar nominations, tying with Titanic (1997) and All About Eve (1950) for a film with the most nods.

Should we be surprised? For a fact, we know that the Academy loves musical, and it sure feels like La La Land was planned from the very beginning for a big harvest at the Oscars. The 2nd movie to ever to win Best Picture at Oscars was a musical - The Broadway Melody (1929). Not familiar with that one? How about West Side Story (1961), My Fair Lady (1964), The Sound of Music (1965) or Chicago (2002). These are all Best Pictures, and there are many more in between with excellent critical success just shy of “winning it all”.

Yet, it isn’t hard to understand why critics and audience are in love with La La Land - a feel-good, crowd-pleasing musical about love and dreams. Casting the hottest handsome heartthrob in Hollywood and an attractive sexy female lead who can sing and dance better than most. You then add a young (very young at 32) and talented composer in Justin Hurwitz, and an equally young and talent-ed director in Damien Chazelle. Backed by an experienced production company like Lionsgate-Summit with a respectable cost-effective budget of US$30M. Throw in a double or maybe a triple on promotion, advertising and “award-nomination spending”, and you get yourself a Best Picture. If you are lucky, you might win big at the Box Office as well. La La “Landed” a whopping US$432M.

But calculations aside, success of movies like La La Land is excellent news for audiences, especially in an era of super-heroes movies with big stunts and CGI “mo-cap” for a never-ending story in their “Movie Universe”. Marvel, DC, Harry Potter, and now even King Kong has its own sequel-universe.

What constitute as a great movie is different for everyone. There’s nothing wrong with people enjoying action sequences, punches or explosions, some will even argue that super-hero movies have a deeper and more complex story from its comic book origins than a 2-hour novel-adaptation or an original screenplay.

However, the Academy does not judge a movie’s merit by its entertainment value or its box office. It is merely a subjective voting by the AMPAS’ 6,300 members in two rounds of nomination and award. Of these 6,300 voters, 94% are white, 77% are male, with a median age of 62. So is it that much of a surprise that sci-fi movies or stories about latest trends and subculture rarely wins best pictures?

A good old simple musical about two beautiful white couple in Hollywood (where most of the voters resides and work in) seems like a good formula to win.

So the real surprise is, they didn’t win. So much so that the mess created by the PWC accountants was not questioned by presenter Warren Beatty at all. Imagine if he was handed Zootopia’s envelope, would he still went along with it?

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