The LEGO Movie, Oscar snubs, and what matters

The LEGO Movie has earned prizes far beyond an Oscar nomination. But the snub still hurts...

The dust has settled somewhat on last week’s Oscar nominations, and as is the norm, controversy has not been in short supply. The more Oscar-friendly films – such as The Imitation Game – have already arguably been over-rewarded, whereas edgy, genuinely brave and daring movies such as Nightcrawler have been all but blocked out. To be fair, that’s a surprise to virtually nobody: rarely have the Oscars ventured too far out of a mainstream comfort zone when it comes to giving out main prizes.

Yet the snub this year that’s got people talking the most is the bizarre failure to nominate The LEGO Movie for a Best Animated Feature Oscar.

It is, to be fair, a fairly staggering omission. For many people, The LEGO Movie was the finest animated production of last year; a film bubbling with ideas, surprises, and a core desire to entertain its audience, and give said audience lots of things to remember. And that’s before we get to that song. You know the one…

Yet you know what happened next. When the nominations for animated feature were read out, it was the names of The Boxtrolls, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Big Hero 6, Song Of The Sea, and The Tale Of Princess Kaguya that were read out. Within an hour, The LEGO Movie was trending on Twitter. Where was its Academy Award nomination? Had the Oscar voting world gone nuts?

Well, yes. But the thing is, though, is that an Oscar snub for a big movie is far from the be all and end all of it. Go down the list of Best Picture Oscar winners for the past 20 years, and most people will struggle to agree with half of the choices (apologies in advance if you’re part of the A Beautiful Mind fan club). If you’re after an arbiter of what makes an excellent film, the Oscars can never be it.

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The Oscars are, after all, an example of democracy. And as with most democracies, they throw up strange decisions. In the case of The LEGO Movie, it’s unlikely that Academy voters hadn’t seen the movie – it’s arguably the most-seen animated film of 2014 (perhaps behind How To Train Your Dragon 2), in truth – but maybe it just didn’t appeal. The demographic of the Oscar voter suggests an older audience, and maybe that audience preferred the slightly more traditional Big Hero 6 (although even that takes some side turns) to the hyper-energetic LEGO film. Bottom line: enough people, for whatever reason, didn’t vote for the film. That, though, doesn’t change any human being’s opinion on the movie.

So we just dismiss the Oscars as a load of nonsense then, and get on with our lives?

Well, no.

Where the Oscars genuinely matter, and where they deserve to be given an awful lot of credit, is when it comes to shining a light on smaller films. The kind of films that would never otherwise get a multi-million dollar marketing budget behind them, and that otherwise the majority of people would never have heard of. This year alone should give the superb Whiplash the hefty push it deserves. Whiplash is a movie that first screened a year ago, but we’d imagine that most people have only heard of it in the last month. That’s the power of awards season right there.

In fact, let’s go further: the existence of the Oscars, for better or worse, leads to some films getting greenlit in the first place. A studio will gamble a smaller budget on a film sometimes, knowing that if it gets awards attention, it’ll be a profitable venture. Awards are big business.

The LEGO Movie, by the time we’ve got to Oscar season, has already banked over $450m worldwide. It’s the biggest film of 2014 at the UK box office, and Warner Bros is planning at least three further LEGO films as a result of its success. That it deserves an Oscar nomination at the very least is true, but still, The LEGO Movie does not need awards validation.

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For a true measure of its worth, just take on a new superpower that calculates how many people watched and enjoyed it just this last weekend. And next weekend. And the weekend after that. The LEGO Movie has made a strong mark, and is a film loved by lots of people. That’s not going to be diluted one jot by the Oscar snub.

Is it unfair? Certainly. But then it’s not alone in that camp. It was unfair when weird rules meant that Linda Fiorentino wasn’t eligible for an Oscar nomination for her excellent lead turn in The Last Seduction. It was unfair when Forrest Gump swept the board against Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption, and Pulp Fiction. It’s unfair that rules are working against The Babadook, and the stunning acting performance of Essie Davis (had The Babadook been an American studio film, surely she’d have an Oscar nomination at the least to her name). And it’s unfair that American Sniper gets six Oscar nominations whilst something like Pride or Under The Skin doesn’t get a sniff. Academy Award unfairness stories are not in short supply. Rest assured a new lot will be along in twelve months’ time.

But that’s the Oscars, and they deserve to be treated as what they are: a further cog in the Hollywood marketing machine.

Nobody can force on you your choice for the best film of a given year, no matter how hard we all seem to try. The Oscars is no exception. The upside of this year’s Best Animated Feature Oscar nominations is that more people may be tempted to seek out Studio Ghibli’s The Tale Of Princess Kaguya. and the hand-drawn Song Of The Sea. They need the attention far more than The LEGO Movie does, and whilst Chris Miller and Phil Lord deserve Oscar gold in their careers, they’ve still made a cherishable film that they’ll be asked about for the rest of their lives. In turn, their work there has inspired more people too to seek out the gleeful A Town Called Panic, that served as a degree of inspiration for their film. That, too, is a good thing.

And ultimately, there’s the kind of award that the Oscars don’t have the power to hand out. I know of few people who dig out of a copy of Driving Miss Daisy to watch for fun, and that took home Best Picture. Out around the same time? Field Of Dreams. That film continues to delight, enthrall, and move far more people, and it’s not got an Oscar to its name. 25 years on, it’s a film that’s still widely talked about though.

It’s my belief that that’ll be the case with The LEGO Movie. It’s a less tangible prize for Chris Miller and Phil Lord than a statue to go in their toilet. But when, in 25 years’ time, they meet someone who was inspired to go into the business when they saw The LEGO Movie for the first time – which will surely happen – then it may just be the prize that matters more.

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