Why Do the Oscars Hate Laugh-Out-Loud Comedies?

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Funny, well-reviewed films with broad appeal almost never get nominated for Best Picture.

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Universal

The Oscars don't like to laugh. Scan the headlines for posts written about this year's Academy Awards nominations, and you'll notice a pattern: Those that don't have some version of "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: WTF?!" go something like "Bridesmaids Was Robbed!" Sure, it shouldn't be that shocking the stodgy Academy opted for a pandering weepie about a borderline autistic boy trying to connect with his father who died on 9/11 (Hello, Oscar bait) over a raunchy R-rated romp in which one character shits in a sink. After all, only one comedy has won Best Picture in the last 30 years. And Shakespeare in Love was a laugh riot, wasn't it?

Only comedies from Woody Allen or quirky character studies like 'Juno' are rewarded.

But the thing is, this was supposed to be the year that a popular, uproarious hit like Bridesmaids—which was beloved by critics (90 percent Rotten Tomatoes score), awards groups (Golden Globes, SAG, and PGA nods), and audiences (who buoyed it to a $170 million box office haul) alike—made it into the race instead of such divisive, commercially disappointing fare. The Academy rewrote its nominating rules for, seemingly, this very reason.

Back in June, just two awards seasons since expanding the list of Best Picture nominees to 10 contenders, the Academy announced that, after examining those years' voting results, it realized the system was faulted: "In studying the data, what stood out was that Academy members had regularly shown a strong admiration for more than five movies," retiring executive director Bruce Davis said. "A Best Picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit. If there are only eight pictures that truly earn that honor in a given year, we shouldn't feel an obligation to round out the number." Translation: While the expansion was successful in that allowed the inclusion of crowd-pleasing, critically respected movies that may not be prestigious enough to make it into a field of five—like The Fighter, True Grit, or District 9—it also left the category open to filler like Winter's Bone or The Kids Are All Right in order to meet the 10-film quota.

By reconfiguring the way the votes are counted for Best Picture under 2012's new rules—requiring that a film be ranked first on at least five percent of voters' ballots, leading to as few as five and as many as 10 nominees—those controversial and/or filler contenders would be weeded out, while the populist fare would still make it in. Even setting aside the fact that the rule change made nearly no difference in terms of the number of nominees (nine versus the former 10), it was a failure. Popular, praised movies like Bridesmaids and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo didn't actually receive nods, but love-it-or-loathe-it (emphasis loathe) flicks Tree of Life, War Horse, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close did. And the day after the nominations are announced, critics and movie fans are smarting most over the snub of Bridesmaids, which not only had audiences laughing harder than they have in years, but altered how the industry views women in film.

Bridesmaids joins a laundry list of game-changing, hysterical, critically lauded comedies that have been snubbed by the Oscars in Best Picture despite being heralded by other metrics as the year's best. The Academy, it seems, prefers a soft giggle to a laugh. Only comedies from Woody Allen are rewarded, or wry, slice-of-life musings and quirky character studies like Juno or A Serious Man. That bias leaves out plenty of films that are well-made, gut-busting, and, in their respective years, best pictures.

Take Borat for example. The button-pummeling 2008 Sacha Baron Cohen film was a highlight of the year in cinema. Critics, who gave it a 91 percent Rotten Tomatoes score, called it "the finest and most thoughtful comedy released so far this century." On the other hand, Babel (69 percent Rotten Tomatoes score), which scored a Best Picture nod instead of Borat, was branded "just a lot of talk," "an elaborate game of post-millenial Clue," and "stupid." Audiences preferred Borat too, bolstering it to a $128 million box office haul, compared to Babel's $34 million, while awards organizations from AFI to the Golden Globes to the Broadcast Film Critics Association singled it out as among the year's best. It was even on Oscar's radar, earning a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. So though it might, on the surface, seem like a stretch to argue that Borat deserved to Best Picture nominee, the logic is hard to argue. It was a critically lauded, award-winning, commercial hit—which sounds precisely like the kind of thing the Academy seeks to reward. But alas, it was a raucous, R-rated comedy: Snub!

Similar cases can be mounted for a slew of other comedies. Below, we take a look at recent (uproarious) films that, like Bridesmaids and Borat, made a mark on their respective years in cinema, received better critics' scores than the years' Best Picture Oscar nominees, were recognized by other awards organizations, and raked in impressive box office takes. Sure, there are a myriad of factors that go into the Oscar nominations, and some of these suggestions are admittedly more implausible than others. But a proper case can be made for why each conceivably deserved a nomination, exposing the Academy's egregious aversion to laugh-out-loud (often raunchy) comedies. Come on, Oscar. Get a sense of humor:

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Kevin Fallon is a reporter for the Daily Beast. He's a former entertainment editor at TheWeek.com and former writer and producer for The Atlantic's entertainment channel.

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