In theory, the Oscars are the culmination of a year in ambitious filmmaking, honoring the very best of the best— a true celebration of an artistic meritocracy. In reality, you’re not just suddenly seeing Natalie Portman everywhere because her performance in Jackie is going to blow your mind. It might. But a project’s “Oscar buzz” isn’t just about the movie; it’s about the industry of that movie, the PR teams and professional campaigners and long-standing media relationships. When Harvey Weinstein wants to win an award, he makes the kind of movie that wins awards, and then puts a crap-ton of money into making sure he wins them. Money that comes after the movie is made, money that doesn’t actually have anything to do with the movie itself.
The Academy has slowly, if, from the sound of it, half-heartedly, been trying to crack down on the swag and parties that Oscar voters have come to rely on. According to their official rules and guidelines,
It is the Academy’s goal to ensure that Awards competition is conducted in a fair and ethical manner. The Academy requires that voting members of the Academy make their choices based solely on the artistic and technical merits of the eligible films and achievements
Okay, so in a world in which the Oscars are actually about honoring the most deserving films every year, it makes sense for voters to receive some things for free. Like… movie screeners, right? Total sense there. But it might be hard to understand how vacation packages, 3D laser printing pens, and cosmetic surgery laser treatments all play into making sure Emma Stone gets named Best Actress, assuming she actually already deserves it. Unless, of course, we just come right out and admit that this is bribery. Bribery for a product these people hopefully believe in, sure, but bribery nonetheless.
Last year, the Academy tried to take things a step further by banning “any nonscreening event, party or dinner that is reasonably perceived to unduly influence members or undermine the integrity of the vote.”
To which I imagine Hollywood replied,
With only “haphazard, case-by-case basis” answers given to inquiring campaigners about hors d’oeuvre budgets and whatnot, the Academy sounds like it may be focusing on smaller categories like documentary shorts. That sure sounds easier to police than a Weinstein, doesn’t it?
As for what is considered excessive entertainment? Even for documentary shorts, that’s up to the judgement call of the Rights and Clearance Coordinator. So just in case you were finding yourself too moved by any of this year’s awards contenders, hopefully knowing that the Academy is working hard to keep their rules arbitrary and lucrative is enough to keep your cynicism alive!