The Oscars That We Deserve: 6 New Categories For A New Decade

Posted on February 04, 2020, 1:29 pm
18 mins

Film awards season is coming to its golden climax with the Academy Awards this weekend. I tune in for the red carpet, because fashion. But Truffaut had it right: “A film is like a boat; it’s just asking to be sunk.” And The Oscars are basically a marina fire with a larger carbon footprint, so why not gawk, cocktail in hand?

This year, fortunately, I expect a total conflagration. This is, after all, the same Academy that handed best picture to Green Book last year. Remember that one? The biopic of a gay, black musician, Dr. Don Shirley, was disavowed by Shirley’s family as a “symphony of lies.” But to certain demographics “tired of hearing about race,” Green Book’s fable supports their presumption that racism—a mere character flaw—is over if they just believe it.

(Oh, and then there was Skin, whose racially charged plot was even more hackneyed. It won for Best Short Film in 2019, despite being one of the worst short films that I have ever seen. And I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds in recent years.)

The point of this is not to explain how the Academy could win back those of us who see The Oscars as a farce. They won’t and don’t need to: Gallows humor is all we have left. But this marina fire could at least use some new pyrotechnics.

New Decade, New Oscar Categories: Why Not?

This year, the Academy Awards are keeping to the usual 24 categories. Joker glutted itself on comic fandom and white male rage to earn noms in 11 of those categories—so just shy of half. Maybe it’s time to add a few new ones, or reintroduce some that have been cut—make it an even 30.

Even this won’t solve a more fundamental problem for The Oscars: Picking through a year of cinema, they end up comparing apples and orangutans in overly broad categories. It’s an impossible situation, so at least it stings less when they pick the worst possible option.

Maybe MTV had it right in the 90s, with its unapologetically populist movie award categories: Best Fight Scene, Best Kiss, Most Desirable Male/Female etc. And while MTV was honoring the Best Sandwich in a Movie in 1996, the Academy split Best Original Score into Best Dramatic Score and Best Musical or Comedic Score, only to consolidate them again in 2000. Meanwhile, the Academy also rejected potential new awards, such as Best Casting and Best Stunt Direction.

Some still hope that these will be added eventually. Perhaps the Academy will follow the leads of the Director’s Guild of America or BAFTAs to include a Best First Film or Breakthrough Talent category. Both options would give more attention to emerging talent, which is part of what makes film festivals so vibrant…and The Oscars fusty by comparison.

But since we are dreaming big, I have some left-field suggestions (and three nominees for each) that go beyond even MTV’s threshold for absurdity, but nonetheless feel relevant to our time.

6 New Categories For The Oscars

Best Reminder That White Supremacy Blows

And the nominees are…

Bombshell

Joker

Midsommar

And the winner is…

Midsommar

Dani (Florence Pugh) decides to DTMFA in Midsommar

I know. I know. The Oscars last year proved that racism is over. Put down the tiki torch, Hans.

But sometimes we all need a reminder why White Supremacy is so fundamentally awful. Sure, Joker showed that white men will go full psycho when they get a taste of marginalization. And Bombshell showed how the Heart of Whiteness (AKA Fox News) is basically a well-manicured, cannibalistic cult. But Midsommar (AKA Black Mirror For Pagans) goes beyond them—hyperborean even—to reiterate something that my Black Friends™️ in Atlanta often said: “White people are fucking crazy.”

It’s true. And White Supremacy’s fundamental othering and claim to intrinsic greatness through melanin deficiency truly is insanity of the highest order… Especially when those ethnostatists use a spotty knowledge of rune stones and their wreath-shaped family trees to conjure an “unspoiled” European heritage. Midsommar‘s closed society—with no qualms about chopping outsiders up into party decor—is the future these wackadoos want.

Incidentally, Midsommar was also a more original break-up movie than Marriage Story, but we’ll leave that category off…for now.

Best Exploration Of Identity And Embodiment

And the nominees are…

J’ai Perdu Mon Corps

The Lighthouse

Us

And the winner is…

J’ai Perdu Mon Corps

What? You’ve never seen a severed hand fend off subway rats with a disposable lighter?

As a visual arts critic, I see a lot of work that purports to explore identity (writ large) and embodiment. Artists that succeed in this consistently are rare, but those that do are personal favorites. It’s rarer to see these existential subjects addressed in film, and again, rarer still to see them presented in a truly compelling way.

2018 was a rich year for me, with both Annihilation and Suspiria admirably adapting their source materials to get at these themes. In 2019, The Lighthouse offered body horror laced with fart-jokes, Greek myths and awkward homoeroticism. And though I didn’t much care for the third act of Us or its big reveal, it had moments of genius. (We’ll get to that at the end.)

J’ai Perdu Mon Corps (AKA I Lost My Body), however, was one of those films that got stuck in my head and my chest. It’s so singularly strange and beautiful, and…well, the title really explains why it was a lock to win this one. Which is more than I can say for its odds in the category for which it is actually nominated: Best Animated Feature, alongside four, family-friendly, CGI fantasias. Like I said above: “apples and orangutans.”

Best Attempt To Relate To Problematic Figures

And the nominees are…

Ford Vs Ferrari

The Irishman

The Two Popes

And the winner is…

The Irishman, I guess?

Someone notify Price Waterhouse Coopers: Even after conferring with Me, Myself and I, it’s sort of a draw. Y’all can duke this one out over cocktails at the Oscar Party, because I’m not that qualified to say. I like the idea of the category, but I just don’t go in for the myopic biopic genre as a whole. Thankfully, no one has come yet to revoke my Gay Card for missing Judy.

Let’s review our options here:

There’s Jonathan Pryce reprising his role as the High Sparrow in The Two Popes (AKA My Dinner With Padre). Pryce as the soon-to-be Pope Francis is forced to grapple with his past complicity under Pinochet. But as he and Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) spar over what it means and requires to keep the faith in the 21st century, the corruption and pedophilia and delinquency of the church as a whole is genially elided. Ite Missa est.

In Ford Vs Ferrari (AKA Le Mans AKA Le Manly Mans), the film elides the whole personal life of one of its leads, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon). The film’s nostalgia for the testicle-centrifuging-world of sport car wars gets wholesome typification in the family life of the other lead, Ken Miles (Christian Bale). So we don’t really have to get into the garishness of the 7-times married Shelby, or unpack the gas-guzzling, bone-smashing excesses of the sport in general.

“I heard you paint houses.” Pesci and DeNiro share a first supper of wine and bread.

But who am I kidding? Martin Scorsese may have pissed off the geeks last year for saying that Marvel movies aren’t real cinema*, but he probably deserves a second Oscar, so why not in this category, right?

Some of Scorsese’s best-known films focus on the live-fast, die-youngish, testosteroni glamour of the thug life. In The Irishman, he takes all his craft and aging allies and cutting-edge de-aging tech and 3.5 hours of your life to bring the thug life to a loveless, lonely end instead. Hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro) isn’t rehabilitated in our eyes. All of the gangsters end up just looking like the sad little men that they are, and that I can support.

It’s a beautifully crafted film, though not terribly memorable in the final assessment. Like these men and the central figure of its tale, Jimmy Hoffa, I predict that after the buzz dies down, audiences will soon…how’s it go? Fuggedaboutit.

Best Soul-Crushing Feature Film

And the nominees are…

Clemency

Monos

Waves

And the winner is…

Clemency

Dead woman walking: Alfre Woodard slays in Clemency.

“But depressing films get nominated all the time,” you protest.

Not really. The Academy is charmed by tearjerkers and nihilism, but a lot of that Oscar-bait remains self-conscious, even sanitized. This is not to say these films that end without redemption are better. There are many overhyped directors that think that they have dived deep, just wallowing face down in a sty of misanthropy and sadism. (Looking at you, Michael Haneke.) But films that give an honest aperçu of humanity’s feckless, often cruel frailty do not typically get the noms.

To be fair, it’s easier to succeed with soul crushers in short films rather than features, because the audience can only take so much. (That includes me.) But some stories are too complex to not be features, and that’s precisely why these films are often snubbed, even when they do it right.

Most years, at least the performers get nominations, but not this year. Alfre Woodard in Clemency in particular was phenomenal, but she didn’t make the list. And given the urgency of the subject matter (state-mandated executions within a clearly biased and broken justice system), it feels timely, too. Sorry, child soldiers and parental death—maybe next year will be your time to shine.

Best Disorienting Stylization In A Feature

And the nominees are…

Greener Grass

The Lighthouse

Jojo Rabbit

And the winner is…

Greener Grass

This category will piss everyone off, because it encroaches on Art Direction and Direction. But in its defense:

  1. All award categories are pretty damn arbitrary.
  2. People live for the drama, and this sort of confusing category is bound to stir up some.
  3. Films that dare to muck with reality to create real discomfort rather than an original set piece for a three-act hero’s journey deserve some extra credit.

Many who attempt item 3 rely on saturated visuals, non sequiturs and toothless quirks. Others depart so far from traditional narratives that—unless one can commit to the dream logic—cohesion is lost. (Don’t worry, David Lynch. I love you.) It’s rare to see an alien world built out of familiar materials, whose internal logic remains sound, no matter how bizarre it ends up being.

In The Lighthouse, the rules are clear, but the cosmic horror behind them and the visuals leave one in delirium. In Jojo Rabbit, Hitler hams it up in a naïve child’s fantasy world (the only way this story can be told appropriately), and Taika Waititi strikes a marvelous balance that makes Der Führer comic and abhorrent. What a world, indeed.

Greener Grass is the clear winner for Best Kiss, too.

But Greener Grass is the one that you really don’t escape after the credits roll. It has invited comparison to the works of Lynch and the king of quirk himself, Wes Anderson. To me, the stars/directors Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe conjure a candy-colored purgatory that shares more DNA with early John Waters films and Jamie Babbit’s But I’m A Cheerleader. It takes the dark heart of hetero-conformity to absurdist ends, right down to the parents who realize that they prefer their child once he turns into a dog.

Well, maybe that isn’t so absurd. I mean, don’t we all?

Best Musical Adaptation Or Cover

And the nominees/winner is “I’ve Got Five On It” in Us

I had to include this category, but my recall for other adaptations and covers this year fails me. No matter, because what could compete?

Shall we dance? Lupita Nyong’o fights Lupita Nyong’o in Jordan Peele’s Us.

Michael Abel‘s original score is great throughout, crowned with a masterful adaptation of Luniz’s “I’ve Got Five On It” for the showdown between Lupita Nyong’o‘s dual characters, Adelaide and Red. The song is introduced in the first act, and nicely presages the film’s twist when Adelaide can’t quite find the beat to it. How perfect is it that when she takes on Red, Abel uses the song’s memorable minor key hook to form his “Pas de Deux”? It’s a dark reflection within the film’s own structure.

It’s rare to see a fight scene so profoundly sad, morally complicated AND brutal. Nyong’o fully inhabited both roles. The editing was perfect. Abel stuck the landing with the music, making it one of those rare cinematic climaxes that holds the philosophical essence of the film intact in itself, rather than just resolving conflict into clear winners and losers.

Seeing as Nyong’o and director Peele and Us was shut out at The Oscars this year, this hypothetical award definitely definitely goes to Abel and company.


The actual Oscars are Sunday, February 9. Get inspired to throw your own party with Lisa Cole’s hosting tips.

*shhh, he’s right

T.s. Flock is a writer and arts critic based in Seattle and co-founder of Vanguard Seattle.