January 15, 2016

Underwhelmed by Oscar nods? Try Dixon's picks

Wheeler Winston Dixon

University of Nebraska-Lincoln film studies professor Wheeler Winston Dixon wants you to understand one key thing about the Oscar nominations unveiled Jan. 14: They don’t tell you much about movies today.

Dixon, known internationally as an expert on modern film as well as its history, was among scholars and critics invited to submit a list of 2015’s ten best films to the web journal Senses of Cinema, which some maintain is the most influential web journal on film in existence. See Dixon’s choices here and the entire list of all critics’ picks here.

None of those picks were included in the list of Oscar nominees.

“For me, this year the Oscars are increasingly irrelevant, as they are for many of my colleagues,” he said. “These are a small set of films, picked by industry people to showcase the Hollywood film industry, and they really don’t give an accurate picture of what’s going on in the world of film, even nationally anymore.”

The Oscar nominees for best picture are “The Big Short,” “Bridge of Spies,” “Brooklyn,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian,” “The Revenant,” “Room” and “Spotlight.”

Meanwhile, Dixon’s top 10 for Senses of Cinema were “Clouds of Sils Maria,” “Uncle John,” “Apollo 18,” “Queen of Earth,” “Chi-Raq,” “99 Homes,” “Being Elizabeth Bishop,” “Infinitely Polar Bear” “The Gift” and “Pasolini.” (Caveat: Dixon now says he’d boot “Apollo 18” from his list and add “No Home Movie,” “Maps to the Stars,” and “The Lesson.”)

He’s not surprised if you have heard of few, if any, of those films.

“Only the big blockbusters get ad dollars behind them, and thus national theater screens, while the smaller more adventurous films simply don’t get the exposure they once did,” he said. “Where once everything had to open in a theater to make its cost back, now smaller-scale films can easily be shunted to DVD, VOD, or digital HD downloads with little risk of losing ad dollars.”

Studios want to put the most ad dollars behind the films that cost the most and have the most to lose, he said, while leaving the rest to find whatever audience they can. Even marginally risky films like “Carol,” “Trumbo” and “Spotlight” got only a token release.

Dixon is also among film critics who predict that the Motion Picture Academy will get blowback for its all-white slate in the acting categories. “Straight Outta Compton,” directed by F. Gary Gray, was nominated for its screenplay, but Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq” was nowhere to be seen.

“There are many, many excellent films out there, and performances, that deserve attention, not least of which is Samuel L. Jackson for either ‘Chi-Raq’ or ‘The Hateful Eight,’” Dixon said. “And why didn’t Spike Lee’s film get a nomination? Sad.”

Dixon discusses who he thinks will win the 2016 Oscars in his “Frame by Frame” blog.