Black Panther's nomination shows the Oscars is changing for the better

Commentary: After years of struggling to balance and subvert the idea of "Oscar-worthy" movies, the Academy did OK this year.

Mark Serrels Editorial Director
Mark Serrels is an award-winning Senior Editorial Director focused on all things culture. He covers TV, movies, anime, video games and whatever weird things are happening on the internet. He especially likes to write about the hardships of being a parent in the age of memes, Minecraft and Fortnite. Definitely don't follow him on Twitter.
Mark Serrels
3 min read
Marvel Studios

Getting angry at an awards show has to be one of more futile, damaging aspects of the human condition, but there were two specific moments I allowed myself to get at least a little bit angry at the Oscars.
The first time was 2015. When the Best Animated Feature went to the mediocre, Iron Giant by-the-numbers Big Hero 6 instead of  Song of the Sea or The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, which is -- for my money -- the best Studio Ghibli feature ever made. 

That was just the jab. The knockout punch came next year, in 2016, when the Academy celebrated Oscar bait in all its forms, snubbing Mad Max: Fury Road for Best Picture and George Miller for Best Director. In hindsight it was truly one of those "what the hell did you expect moments?" Of course a movie like Mad Max: Fury Road would be overlooked for a dreary method-fest like The Revenant. Of course Best Picture would go to a workmanlike "issue" movie like Spotlight

But I had hoped for a switch in thinking. Personal taste is personal taste, but Mad Max: Fury Road was clearly the best and most important movie made that year: a brain-leaking, pitch-perfect allegory of misguided masculine power structures disguised as a two-hour long series of explosions. Yet it was ignored because it didn't fit the mold of what an Oscar-winning movie should look like. 


Fury Road was robbed, people. ROBBED.

Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

That year the Academy had the chance to subvert those perceptions, but it didn't. It bailed out of naming an action movie Best Picture. It played things safe and made the wrong decision.

And then things got worse. 

In August last year, word got out that the Academy was considering a "popular" movies award, an award that would have cemented "high art-low art" modes of thinking that went out with black and white television. It was the perfect example of an out of touch Academy who clearly had no idea what a good movie looked like in 2018.

Thankfully that plan did not go ahead. 

Fast-forward to 2019 and this year's Oscar nominations are out. The big surprise: They're mostly OK? Don't get me wrong, they're not perfect. Bohemian Rhapsody, despite a decent performance by Rami Malek, is... not good. I'm disappointed that Hereditary, one of the most interesting horror movies of the decade, was completely ignored -- particularly Toni Collette, whose performance carried the movie.

But look at the list! Black Panther, the most subversive comic book movie Marvel Studios has made to date, scored a nomination. The crowd pleasing A Star Is Born did alright as well. A truly brave Academy would have chucked Into The Spider-verse in the Best Picture list, but baby steps, people, baby steps. If that ridiculous "popular film" category got the green light, none of these movies would have made the cut. All that progress would have been ruined. 

2019's nominations seem to represent an awards show that's evolving, slowly, to represent a more modern idea of what a "good movie" looks like. Imagine an alternate universe where a movie like The Shining could win Best Picture, despite being "just" a horror movie. A universe where Christopher Guest could get a best supporting actor nod for Spinal Tap. That's the kind of universe I'd like to live in. 

And it feels like we're getting there. We'll see who wins on Oscar night, but last year Get Out did tremendously well, despite existing at the dreaded intersection of horror and satire. This year a comic book movie is nominated for Best Picture. There's work to be done, but things are changing for the better.

2019 movies to geek out over

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