Oscars With Josh #3: Do You Need The Critics?

The past two weeks really hit the ground running with regards to the Oscar race. We had three major film festivals (Telluride, Venice, Toronto) and a couple of contenders already hitting theaters (Sully). While this past week has not seen any major developments in the race, everyday we learn more about the films that will be in contention and whether or not there is any quality behind them.

One of the big mysteries this year was Snowden, which I really enjoyed. I think it walked the line of telling a true story, yet still giving us a dramatic plot we can connect to. The film is really well directed, I like Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Edward Snowden rendition, and the film inspires you to really think about the issue. The movie is almost great for me, it hits bit a slow patch during the second act holding it back from greatness. Even with that patch, the film is definitely a good movie.

Though I know where I stand on the film, critics are split as a whole (the movie currently has a 60% on Rotten Tomatoes). I’m sure The Academy would love to have rewarded Snowden, they gave Citezenfour Best Documentary when it was released, but it does look like the film’s Oscar chances don’t move forward from here.

This does beg the question, does a film have to have critical support in order to be an awards contender? The short answer? Yes. While not all films with high reviews get nominated (just look at 2015’s Carol, Creed, Sicario, all of which received 94% on RT), if your film is nominated, it will have high reviews. Just take a look at 2015’s nominations:

The Big Short – 88%

Bridge of Spies – 91%

Brooklyn – 97%

Mad Max: Fury Road – 97%

The Martian – 92%

The Revenant – 82%

Room – 94%

Spotlight – 96%

There is one big takeaway from that data when we start to forecast for 2016: consensus is a must. The Revenant won Best Film (Drama) at the Golden Globes and the Directors’ Guild of America back in 2015 and many were calling for it to win last year. It was an extremely well directed film that had the now Academy Award-winning Leonard DiCaprio and a strong narrative behind it (paying respect to Native Americans), it looked like it would go all the way. Though it won Best Director, Spotlight ultimately took the top prize. Why? Consensus is key.

Remember, the tomatoemeter does not average all of the scores into a number. That percentage simply tells us the percentage of critics that gave a “thumbs up” review. A film could receive a 3 out of 5 and still be given a thumbs up. With that in mind, when critics give Spotlight a 96%, that doesn’t mean the averaged score is that high, that just means that practically all critics think this is a good movie. On the flip side, even though 82% is a high score, that tells us that there is disagreement on the finer points of the film.

Spotlight debuted at Telluride (September, started building buzz early) to high critical acclaim and (more importantly) a strong consensus: “That was a good movie.” Whereas The Revenant premiered late December (mere weeks before the nominating process started) to some passionate fans and a split consensus. The lesson to be learned from The Revenant is that while an Oscar-contender needs to have critical support, if it ends up being too controversial it may fall to a more consensus-pick.

We also need to remember that critics and Academy voters are 100% different groups. So while Rotten Tomatoes and the various critics awards make for a lot of conversation, it is expected that the two groups of voters will split on some key movies.

Everything I just discussed about Spotlight can be said of this year’s La La Land. The film debuted at Telluride and a big consensus has been set. Emma Stone IS the frontrunner, and the film has the technical aspects of just straight-up sweeping the awards. The film currently has a 95% and if it ends up making money (i.e. “culturally relevant”) it could go all the way. Time will tell what film fills the “Revenant slot” with having passionate fans but lack of consensus.

**An Editor’s Note From Josh**

Hey everybody, as always, thank you so much for reading the site and checking out this column, it means so much. Normally I would hope for this column to be a bit longer and include some predictions, but it didn’t happen this week. If you didn’t see the news over on Facebook/Twitter, I have officially joined the team over at Heroic Hollywood. This is a huge opportunity for me and I am excited to take on a new advancement in my writing. You can read read my first post here. That opportunity kind of sucked up all my writing attention these past couple of days, so I do apologize this week’s column is a big shorter. Thanks again, and we’ll be back next week for more Oscar coverage!