Bell: Why I’ll be watching, even though I shouldn’t be

By Chris Bell
February 20, 2014

For me, the Academy Awards are like that family member who always lets you down. You try to speak highly of them, you do your best to ignore their faults, but when it comes down to it, they never come through for you.

Or in other words, they rarely change.

Year after year, it’s the same thing. The same missed opportunities, the same poor decisions. But what can you do? Family is family, the Oscars are the Oscars; and if you love film, you have to at least glance at the winners.

And I made a big mistake this year. I did something I shouldn’t have: I fell in love with one of the nominees for Best Picture, and it isn’t one of the favorites. Now, I have to watch. Before, I was indifferent to Gravity, American Hustle or 12 Years a Slave winning. Now, I’ll be disappointed if Spike Jonze isn’t on the stage at the end of the night.

Her is a great film; plus, it could definitely use the exposure. My gut instinct tells me Gravity will come away triumphant, though. Her is too ambiguous for Academy voters. More often than not, the Academy seems to favor films that objectively showcase strength. Everyone can see how brilliant the CGI is in Gravity. Her is a tougher sell. It works on differing levels, providing an affecting and thought provoking experience by posing questions to the viewer.

The Academy will be scared that viewers won’t get the film, but in reality, that’s what makes it so good.

This is the biggest problem with the Oscars.

Winners seem to be based on a formulaic scale of quality that suggests greatness should be highly visible. And to make it worse, there is this all-encompassing aura of self-importance that the Oscars have.

It’s as if Hollywood actually believes their films and their awards represent the best of the best. When in reality, the most diverse and ambitious films often come from outside the American studio system.

Of course, there is the Best Foreign Language Film award; a category that unfairly requires countries to submit only one film. Never mind that in 2013, two of the year’s best films were from France: Blue is the Warmest Colour and Stranger by the Lake (neither of which were submitted).

It’s also telling that a foreign language film never wins Best Picture.

And why is this? Oh, probably because Hollywood knows North American audiences are allergic to subtitles, thus preventing the would-be winner from making as much money as other potential winners – I mean, that’s what it comes down to right?

The Oscars tell us which films and which actors are the best, and then we buy the films on Bluray, or see them again in the theatre. Plus the good-ol’ Oscar seal of approval hangs over each winner like an Olympic gold medal; assuring us that upcoming films are worthy of the ticket price, because Oscar winning so-and-so is the star.

But I guess it isn’t all bad. Despite some laughable omissions, there have been plenty of creditable winners in the last few years.

Take 2009, for example. Everyone thought Avatar was a lock, and then the Academy broke from formula and handed Kathyrn Bigelow an Oscar for Best Director, followed by a Best Picture win for The Hurt Locker.

But then came one of the worst best picture streaks in the history of the ceremony (The King’s Speech, The Artist and Argo). Not to say those films are bad. They are well-made and well-acted, but they’re also safe – as in, easy to understand, and easy to digest.  

Television is now the medium that takes chances, and Hollywood needs to catch up. People need to be given a reason to care about movies again – so why not mix things up and start handing out Oscars to films like Her? While it may not offer the same exciting experience as Gravity, or the heaviness of 12 Years a Slave, it is the kind of film that has lasting appeal.

It will only grow stronger as time goes on, and if the Oscars hope to do the same, they need to start predicting greatness, instead of playing it safe.

Chris Bell, MA’11 (Film Studies), currently works in the film resource library for the Faculty of Arts & Humanities. In his spare time, he writes on film for, and regularly visits Hyland Cinema.


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