The Oscars has long been struggling for relevance for a number of reasons, and this year their floundering seemed more like a cry for help than an actual attempt at importance. Amid a confusing year for cinema, the Academy decided that the best way to get people to tune into the broadcast was to conduct two Twitter polls — and last night, by the power of Zack Snyder’s fandom, they learned exactly just how badly that could go.
I get the idea here: people come out for big-arse action films that don’t get nominated. Marvel makes bank every year, without fail. This year, Netflix’s Red Notice became the most-watched film on the streaming service. Don’t Look Up and The Unforgivable also broke the top ten — and out of all of these? Only Don’t Look Up got four Oscars nods, and no wins last night. It’s hilarious to me that the Oscars want to court the audience who goes to see big blockbuster superhero films with their kids, when they don’t actually care about honouring those films. The Oscars should just let those films win big at the box office, and do a better job of honouring them where they can — like, say, not cutting a bunch of the technical categories from the live broadcast. Trying to shoehorn popular work into the ceremony is never going to be an effective way to get people to watch the show. And, frankly, the Oscars are going to have to learn one way or another that they can’t please everyone.
But not in 2022. Two absolutely meaningless categories, created without any prestige, awards, or stakes attached for the nominated films, were introduced; Most Cheer-Worthy Moment and Fan Favourite. Sure, a handful of Twitter users are going to get something for their trouble, but the creators? The actors, the directors, the producers? Nothing. This is a pathetic gesture toward relevance in a year where the Oscars grasped at straws to get anyone talking about their show.
In an interview with the LA Times before the ceremony last night, Oscars producer Will Packer explained that he’s “excited about the opportunity to have… a fan voice, which typically is not on a show like this… [It] takes nothing away from people who have loved CODA and Belfast and all the other movies. That, to me, is a very kind of Hollywood perspective to say, ‘Well, we can’t celebrate Spider-Man if we’re going to celebrate The Power of the Dog.’ I just don’t agree with that.” But this is exactly what Hollywood did! Hollywood didn’t celebrate Spider-Man by giving it a place on a Twitter poll! This is a desperately ill-conceived grasp at relevance and it shows. Let Hollywood be elitist, I’m going to keep enjoying Spider-Man regardless of whether or not it’s “celebrated” via an online questionnaire.
The real kicker here is that there was a chance for something fun, if not good, but last night polls were the result of anything but that. Instead of limiting Twitter or the Online Fandoms at all, they just let the whole terminally-online world go buck wild! But no, the nominations for Cheer-Worthy moment speak for themselves: The Flash entering the speed force in Zack Synder’s Justice League (2017/2021); The three Spider-Men teaming up for Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021); Captain America’s “Avengers, assemble” in Avengers: Endgame (2019); “And I am telling you I’m not going,” from Dreamgirls (2006); And the Bullet time moments from The Matrix (1999).
This is nonsense. It’s not just odd, this is just straight up confusing. Only one of these films was released in theatres in 2021! If the Oscars are going for relevance, this certainly not the way to go about it. Who will tune into the Oscars to see whether or not Neo wins a Twitter popularity contest? What is the point of this weird attempt at fan service? It’s a bad concept, badly executed, which all resulted in, of course, a bad outcome.
Because, like all Twitter popularity contests, online fandom did exactly what it always does: rally their followers to game an easily-gameable poll system. In this case, Zack Snyder’s most loyal fans — who know a thing or six about getting hashtags trending — immediately rallied and pushed Snyder’s version of Justice League to the top. It’s a moment you could see coming, because the Snyder fandom has already won this contest several times over. The release of the 2021 version of the film says, without question, that Snyder fans have the Twitter/Reddit/forum muscle to coordinate and vote for their man.
Snyder’s Army of the Dead won the Fan Favourite poll too — again, devoid of any metrics other than the online poll that the Oscars decided was its sword to fall on, and again, because the director’s fans are perpetually online enough to know how to make this system work in their favour. In defence of Army of the Dead, it did, at the very least, release in 2021, unlike half of the cheer-worthy moments. I won’t begrudge Snyder this win, or any of the other nominees. If people want to upvote Snyder until their pointer finger goes numb, be my guest. But what does it really say about these films and their place at the Oscars?
Popular movies are popular for a reason. They’re an event; they’re fun to watch, they’re a fantastic Friday night. But the Cheer-Worthy Moment and Fan Favourite awards aren’t honours, they’re overhyped Twitter polls made by an account desperate for engagement, and ripe for online fandom to swarm. If a Marvel or a DC really wants a superhero film to win an Oscar outside of rare moments like Spider-Verse, they’re going to have to try harder to make a film that’s worthy of it. At the end of the night, the Oscars are a bloated, overhyped trade show turned infomercial, and if Hollywood just accepted that this is an awards ceremony rather than a internet popularity contest and treated the broadcast with any kind of gravitas whatsoever, it would be infinitely more coherent and likely more entertaining. Perhaps cheerworthy, even.