Lost Sense of Authorship

It’s January, a month devoid of the $100 million franchise blockbusters that litter the screen in the summertime. For passionate moviegoers, Oscar buzz serves as a form of entertainment, as they desperately seek to see the films the esteemed Academy has named Best Picture candidates. It’s award season in Hollywood.

The annual television spectacle is set for February 24. This year, nine films are competing for the little gold man that took the permanent nickname “Oscar” in 1939, 10 years after the ceremony’s commencement in 1929. “Amour,” “Argo,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Django Unchained,” “Les Misérables,” “Life of Pi,” “Lincoln,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” and “Zero Dark Thirty” all stand for the category of Best Picture. That nine motion pictures can qualify for the prestigious award is a result of the 2010 expansion to include up to 10 films instead of five. However, the lack of a commensurate expansion in the Best Director category has lead to a failure to recognize the incredible achievements of the artists behind these masterpieces. Considering the rich cinematic history of the Oscars and the sheer talent of the coveted filmmakers that have walked the red carpet, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences must understand that a Best Picture nominee should correspond to a similar recognition of the director.

To create an Oscar-worthy film, a plethora of elements must fall perfectly in line to assemble the complete motion picture—an intricate puzzle. The writer must produce a screenplay that not only catches the eye of studio executives, but also brings together a cast and crew with a common vision for the screen. The actors must sweep the audience off their feet and provide a vicarious, two-hour experience in another world. The editor must combine these assorted scenes into a final product that masterfully adorns screens across the world.

However, it is the director that takes a story and turns it into an audio-visual experience. The director’s vision becomes the driving force that ultimately creates a celebrated and critically acclaimed work. It is the director’s perspective that takes the audience on a cinematic journey. It is the director that demands and facilitates the breathtaking performances from his actors. It is the director that transforms words on a page into a spectacle of aesthetics.  

To put it in perspective, imagine an author crafting an extraordinary book that not only finds its way to the top of The New York Times bestseller list, but also receives incredible reviews from critics. This same novel that captivated readers worldwide finds itself up for a Pulitzer along with nine other books. However, the author himself is not nominated for award consideration—just the book and, by extension, its publishers.

In a similar manner, the director is the one that puts this intricate puzzle together into a breathtaking film. He or she becomes the captain of the ship throughout the lengthy production process as 100 pages of script come to life. The director is not only the artist behind the film, but also the facilitator and enabler of its physical creation.

It is no secret that the expansion of the Best Picture category stems from primarily commercial concerns. The Academy Awards is a media spectacle that hosts millions of viewers across the world. Each year, the Dolby Theatre (formerly Kodak Theatre) is filled with enough star power to necessitate a pre-show red carpet special. As the human fascination with celebrities drives the ratings, the 2010 move to include more films up for Best Picture was reflected in an increase of five millions viewers from 2009.

This focus on commercializing the event threatens to snub the auteurs that make the marketing possible. For example, if “Argo” continues its current Best Picture winning streak, Ben Affleck could see his work celebrated without any personal recognition, let alone a congratulatory nomination for his accomplishment. Kathryn Bigelow has gone unnoticed for her thrilling adaptation of Osama bin Laden’s death in “Zero Dark Thirty.” In these visionaries’ places are the directors of smaller films like “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which, though beautiful and poetic, should not contend with the likes of Affleck and Bigelow.

The Academy must separate itself from its attempts to maximize its television ratings and reflect on the role it has had in shaping cinematic history. By ignoring the injustice it currently has in place and buying into the consumer aspects of a publicly televised award ceremony, the Academy Awards slowly becomes more like reality television. What would the Oscar for “The Godfather Part II” have been without director Francis Ford Coppola receiving a similar award? What about “Schindler’s List” and Steven Spielberg?

The time has come for the Academy to acknowledge the narrative voice of the director and its correlation with exemplary filmmaking. The artist must be tied to his work and awarded in a similar manner. With the two categories so lopsided each and every year, directors of front-running films will continue to go unrewarded for their work. It is time to right this injustice.

Connor P. McKnight ’16, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Grays Hall.