The Hollywood Reporter gathered Hollywood A-listers, including first-time nominees Lin-Manuel Miranda and Isabelle Huppert as well as past winners Matt Damon and Liza Minnelli, to ask whether the Oscars still matter.
For the resounding majority, the answer is yes, the Academy Awards and the eventual winners are as important now as they have ever been.
For French Best Actress nominee Huppert, it’s still one of the “most prestigious celebrations of movies.”
“I am grateful that the Academy is bringing attention to a French-speaking actress like me. It doesn’t happen very often, so it gives me even more pride,” the “Elle” nominee says, highlighting the Academy’s focus on films about diverse issues. “You expect some films to be like a window to the world, to make you think, to make you rebel. The Oscars cover so many different movies; they are the perfect example of that.”
Another first-time nominee, Miranda, says watching the Oscars has been a life-long tradition, something the “Moana” songwriter looks back on fondly.
“My brain is a compendium of Oscar moments: Tom Hanks’ beautiful acceptance speech when he won best actor for ‘Philadelphia’ in 1994. Roberto Benigni climbing over chairs and wanting to make love to everybody in the world when ‘Life Is Beautiful’ won best foreign-language film in 1999. Kim Basinger presenting in 1990 and telling the audience that one of the best films of the year, ‘Do the Right Thing’, was not nominated. For her to take a stand, 25 years before #OscarsSoWhite, was incredible — and impressive because time has shown the prescience of that film,” he says.
Watching the Oscars at home as a child is something many of The Hollywood Reporter‘s subjects relate to, adding that they are as much fans of the Academy Awards and the nominees as the rest of us are.
“Growing up in Indiana, the Oscars were religion in my house,” “American Crime Story” creator Ryan Murphy says. “It was a breath of fantasy and a way to imagine what life could be. I used to have slumber parties with all of my friends starting at age 7. We’d do an Oscar pool and all of that stuff. You have to remember there was no Internet back then, which meant there was really no access to these directors and movie stars.”
“For me, it’s the gay Super Bowl. And yes, I’ve lost many an Oscar pool. My most devastating loss was when ‘Rainbow Connection’ from ‘The Muppet Movie’ lost the original song Oscar to the theme from ‘Norma Rae’. I’m still fuming about that one,” he says.
“We are obsessed in my family, so watching the Oscars is like Christmas,” Dakota Johnson says of her upbringing with mom Melanie Griffith and dad Don Johnson. “Billy On The Street” creator Billy Eichner also reveals his obsession with the Academy Awards.
“I took the Oscars very seriously as a child. When I was 14, a special was released on VHS called ‘Oscar’s Greatest Moments Volume 1.’ To this day, I am still waiting for ‘Volume 2.’ It was a documentary with all of these clips from the Oscars and the red carpet,” he says. “My friends and I played that VHS until we wore it out.
Unsurprisingly, past Oscar winners Matt Damon and Liza Minelli are in the pro-Academy Awards camp.
As the daughter of actress Judy Garland and director Vincente Minnelli, who both won Oscars in their lifetimes, Liza Minnelli recalls watching the ceremony as a kid. The “Cabaret” winner says her win in 1973 was all about following in her parents’ footsteps. “I wanted to make my parents proud,” she says. “I still do!”
For Damon, who won the award for Best Screenplay with Ben Affleck in 1998 for “Good Will Hunting”, says he went from watching the ceremony on TV in 1997 to winning in 1998. Though, he admits the win is just a big, exciting blur for him.
“I can’t recall any specific thing except getting up onstage and pushing Ben to the microphone because neither of us had planned a speech, nor had we even talked about it, because we both knew, without saying this to each other, that we would be jinxing it,” he remembers. “And then if we didn’t win, we would know for the rest of our lives that we had a conversation about what the speech was going to be. So we had no plan at all. When we got up there, I realized one of us was supposed to say something, and I pushed him, and he came up with a pretty good one right off the top of his head, but I think it involved us screaming out people’s names.”
Even astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson sings the praises of Oscars.
“The Oscars matter because they give us all something to argue about other than our political differences,” deGrasse says.
Of the 19 celebrities profiled by The Hollywood Reporter, only one thought the Oscars’ relevance was a thing of the past.
“Nothing like watching millionaires in formal wear talk about world hunger. It just makes me want to throw up,” TV personality Anthony Bourdain says. “I understand that they’re well-meaning and have a huge platform, and it’s satisfying to everybody there and to people who already agree with them.”
While Bourdain may be the one dissenting voice, it’s hard to argue with the oldest living Oscar winner, who agrees that after all these years, the awards still mater.
At age 100, Olivia de Havilland, who won Best Actress Oscars in 1946 and 1949, tells the magazine, “The Oscar symbolizes excellence, and for an artist to receive this statuette is the highest of honours.”