On the eve of the 85th Academy Awards, Venue debates the value of Hollywood’s grandest ceremony. Our writers also cast their vote for “Best picture”.

“The Oscars are still the benchmark for industry professional”

Whilst the long awards season springs surprises alongside predictability, it all leads up to the zenith that is the Academy Awards; for it doesn’t get much bigger than the Oscars as a form of merit and credibility if you work in the film industry. But why do they still matter 85 years on?

Oscars - Concrete

Firstly, they remain one of the largest nights in showbusiness. That is indisputable – with viewing figures around 40 million over the past few years, they are still the most watched award ceremony of the season. The Oscars are undeniably still a field day for any news publication – more so in the large celebrity-based culture of today.

The repute of the Oscars still raises the profile of those who would otherwise have gone unnoticed in mainstream Hollywood, for example Marion Cotillard or Matt Damon. Yet underneath the celebrity and ego, the Academy Awards have focused on promoting cinematic quality. With the bigger budgets and demands of today the awards almost seem a chief necessity and incentive for making high-calibre mainstream cinema.

Independent film has also been strongly acknowledged, especially in recent years with critically acclaimed smaller movies like Slumdog Millionaire and The Hurt Locker sweeping the board over big-budget favourites such as Avatar; there is also hope for art-house cinema when the Academy can nominate a long respected filmmaker like Michael Haneke for Best Director alongside an industry heavyweight like Spielberg.

In short, the Oscars are an absolute mix of what the awards season is all about – glitz and fashion, surprises and overdue acknowledgement. But most crucially, they still remain the true benchmark and final hurdle that all industry professionals aim for, and with the highest reputation amongst all the ceremonies of the season the Academy will only build themselves higher.

Sam Warner

“The Oscars are a reflection on the world’s ‘safest’ films, not its greatest”

Alfred Hitchcock. Stanley Kubrick. Orson Welles. What do each of these men have in common, beyond being amongst the best film directors of all time? They have never won an Oscar. The Academy Awards are less an example of the best films produced each year and more an illustration of which films are the safest, the most heart-warming and the least controversial.

Over the past few years the Oscar race has been dominated by producer Harvey Weinstein, who seems intent on achieving the wins he wants. Beginning in 1997 with The English Patient, he has chosen to represent films which are good, not great, and propel them to Oscar glory. The most astounding example of this is from 2011 where The King’s Speech won Best Picture and Best Director over David Fincher’s magnificent The Social Network, a result which caused outcry amongst critics and film lovers alike.

This is not just a recent occurrence either. In 1996, Braveheart won Best Picture ahead of both Apollo 13 and Babe. In 1980 Kramer Vs. Kramer beat out Apocalypse Now. In 1977 Rocky beat All The Presidents Men and Taxi Driver. The post Weinstein era has made these upsets more common; in 1999 Shakespeare In Love bested The Thin Red Line and in 2006 Crash overcame Brokeback Mountain. The list could go on. The Oscars repeatedly seems to choose the most conventional films for the Best Film award, rather than, ironically, the actual best film.

2013 has also proven to be an interesting year for the Oscar race. Weinstein’s big hope, Silver Linings Playbook, has failed to gain momentum whilst Ben Affleck, whose Argo may have a big win, has not been nominated for Best Director. Interestingly, Argo will be only the second film in Oscar history to win Best Picture without a director nomination if it does go on to win the award later this month. Is Argo the best film of 2012? No. Is it the safest? Most definitely.

Charlotte Flight