How much power do film critics really have in the awards race?


Among the top 10 nominees for this year’s picture, Netflix Don’t look up is probably the most contentious. Adam McKay’s star-studded satire on climate change – in which Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence play astronomers trying to spread the news that a comet is hurtling towards Earth and will destroy all of human civilization – is the lowest-rated film of the category and the only title to be considered “rotten” with a score of 56% for Rotten Tomatoes. (The last Best Picture nominee with a similar designation was the 2011 post-9/11 drama extremely loud and incredibly closewhich received an RT score of 45%.)

Perhaps discouraged by the critical reaction to his film, McKay – a former Oscar winner for writing the 2015 screenplay The big court — took to Twitter after its Dec. 24 launch on the streamer to share his theory on why the film wasn’t in touch with critics. “I love all the heated debate about our movie. But if you don’t have at least a small tinge of anxiety about the collapse of the climate (or the fall of the United States), I’m not sure Don’t Look Up makes sense,” he posted on Dec. 29. “It’s like a robot viewing a love story. ‘WHY ARE THEIR FACES SO CLOSE?’ ”

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Journalist David Sirota, who served as an adviser and speechwriter for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, and who this year shares a Best Original Screenplay nomination with McKay, followed that up with another message: – it’s art, you don’t like it. But when someone does that, it proves that some critics’ anger is about something deeper. They are mad that the film raises uncomfortable questions about the media industry they find themselves in.

The accusation that film critics collectively dislike a film because of deep-rooted shared resentment and anger over its message is just as much a bad faith argument, which suggests that its filmmakers don’t didn’t want to hear criticism about him at all – or at least don’t fully accept the critic’s task. But it also accentuates the filmmakers’ deep sensitivity when it comes to critic takedowns – especially at the heart of rewards season, where only the best of the best tend to be elevated to trophy status.

The role of the film critic in today’s media environment is frequently debated on “Film Twitter” – most often when fans of a popular film take umbrage with negative reviews – and this Oscar season, the film critic’s influence on the race appears to be under the social media microscope. The films that garner the most attention from the Academy are often the highest rated feature films of the year; 2021 was no exception. Six of the top image contestants have an RT score of 90% or higher: CODA (96 percent), drive my car (98 percent), King Richard (90 percent), Licorice Pizza (91%), The power of the dog (94%) and West Side Story (92 percent). The other three are considered “fresh”: Belfast (87%), Dunes (81%) and alley of nightmares (79 percent).

But while the Academy constantly receives mockery from critics for nominating prestige Oscar bait rather than crowd-pleasing populist fare, awards pundits have counted film critics — who often defend films and performances overlooked by Oscar favorites in their professional band picks – on the insider list blocking box office hits like no time to die of the higher category of the Academy.

This is the explanation of the success of Janus Films drive my car, Japan’s submission for International Feature and Highest Reviewed Film in the Best Picture category. Its Oscar momentum accelerated after groups of critics across the country – from Boston to Los Angeles, from New York to Seattle – named it their best film of the year among the most publicized titles campaigning for their laurels. It’s perhaps the only example this year of a film whose critical response earned it more attention from Academy members and propelled it to a name among contenders such as The lost girl and Tick, tick… Boom! Compared to films backed by studios with generous marketing budgets, drive my carwhich only grossed $4.6 million worldwide, apparently came out of nowhere – a member of the SAG Award nominating committee admitted to me that they only heard about it a few days before the announcement of the Oscar nominations on February 9. feature and picture, it earned nominations for Adapted Screenplay and Director.

While drive my car benefited from the critical love (and the expansion of the Academy’s electorate undeterred by the subtitles, with 25% of members now based outside the United States), it’s hard to claim that critics have the most power over the success or failure of a film – Don’t look upOscar nominations for Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Editing and Score prove otherwise. McKay’s film also earned six Critics Choice Award nominations, including Best Picture (five more than drive my carBest Foreign Language Film) and has also won awards from the African American Film Critics Association and the National Board of Review, as well as critics groups in Detroit, Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Diego.

The truth is, Rotten Tomatoes critics’ score is far from the only variable determining the Best Picture Oscar. Of course, at the end of the day, while critics may play a part in the selected films, they don’t vote for the top winners. They can just hope, along with the rest of us non-Academy members watching the Oscars, that their favorite movie might bring home a statue or two by the end of the ceremony – and they’ll probably share their consternation if not. .

This story first appeared in the March 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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