“Jonah Hill has more acting Oscar nominations than Robert Redford,” points out The Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon in his article “10 Facts about the 2014 Oscar Nominations That Will Make You Sad.”
Another one, according to Fallon: “Six of the nine Best Picture nominees are rated R. The rest are PG-13. This is sad if you're not an adult. Or have a family. Or are even slightly wholesome.”
The biggest night of the year in Hollywood — a night when the stars gather to celebrate the greatest achievements in the world of cinema — is one that, unfortunately, might not hold a lot of interest for family audiences, who have frequently been left out in the cold when it comes to the major categories at the Oscars.
Especially in recent years, the Academy Awards have tended to favor the more “serious” subject matter that seems to be almost the exclusive domain of R-rated movies nowadays. Out of the last 30 Best Picture winners, exactly two in three — the same ratio as this year’s nominees — have been rated R.
Of the rest, only two were rated PG, and not a single one was rated G. In fact, pooling all 170 nominations in the Best Picture category since 1983, there have been only three G-rated nominees total, and two of them were animated.
Which is all to say that, for families, the Oscars can feel a little bit like watching a stranger unwrap Christmas presents: It may be fun enough while it lasts, but it’s hard to feel overly invested in the results.
Not only does this year not deviate from the trend, it’s also one of the more “restricted” years in recent memory. Most of the categories are overwhelmingly dominated by R-rated material, including the four acting categories, only two of which even feature performances from PG-13 movies (Best Actress for Judi Dench in “Philomena” and Sandra Bullock in “Gravity,” and Best Supporting Actor for Barkhad Abdi in “Captain Phillips”).
Of course, not all R ratings are created equal. The rest of the films run the gamut in terms of content and subject matter. The R rating for “12 Years a Slave,” for “violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality,” for instance, is certainly different from that of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which includes Quaalude-and-cocaine binges, graphic sexual content and, according to a tally by Slate’s Forrest Wickman, a record-breaking 544 F-bombs — 541 more than the minimum to automatically earn it an R. (Other websites quote slightly different numbers; all are pretty mind-boggling.)
While the latter film has been widely criticized for glorifying the greed and debauchery it supposedly seeks to indict — and possibly helping to further line the pockets of the real-life Jordan Belfort, according to Indiewire — Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” earns what some might consider a responsible R rating for realistically portraying the atrocities of antebellum America. Although not completely accurate to every detail of Solomon Northup’s autobiographical account of his time as a slave, it has been praised for its accuracy to the slave experience as a whole. As film critic Susan Wloszczyna wrote in her review of the film, watching it will make viewers feel “that they have actually witnessed American slavery in all its appalling horror for the very first time.”
The fact that there are only three PG-13 movies in the running for Best Picture makes a film such as “Gravity” — thought to be a serious contender by most Oscar prognosticators — all the more special. For one thing, it’s arguably the most appropriate of the bunch for a broader audience (provided one’s family members aren’t afraid of dying alone in space). It’s also remarkable for being one of the few real box-office hits of this year’s Oscar season, having raked in more than $700 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo, which means people actually saw it.
And with its emphasis on visuals over dialogue to tell its story, it is closest to what many term “pure cinema.”
Meanwhile, two of the year’s underdogs in the Best Picture category, “Philomena” and “Captain Phillips,” actually stand pretty good chances with nominations in the acting categories. For Dench, this marks her seventh Oscar nomination (all since the age of 63). For Abdi, “Phillips” was his first movie ever.
Beyond the three PG-13 Best Picture nominees, however, there are still a few categories that might hold families’ interest. Best Original Song will see “Let It Go” duke it out with Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” from “Despicable Me 2,” and a number of popular films such as “Iron Man 3” and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” are up for technical awards.
But if there is one reason for families to tune in to this year’s Oscars, it’s the Best Animated Feature category, which seems poised to wind up in one of two historic ways: If “Frozen” wins, it will mark Disney Animation Studios’ first ever award in the category, and what could be more appropriate than an animated fairy tale originally considered for adaptation by Walt Disney himself? The other possibility is that the award will serve as a farewell of sorts to legendary filmmaker and master storyteller Hayao Miyazaki (“My Neighbor Totoro,” “Spirited Away”), who directed his final feature with this year’s nominee “The Wind Rises.”
Or possibility number three: “The Croods” wins, and a sinkhole opens up and swallows the Dolby Theatre just to reiterate that anything can happen on Oscar night.
The good news is that the Academy Awards’ 86-year history is full of family-friendly options worth revisiting. So even if this year’s nominees skew toward stronger content than most people would prefer, it’s still possible to enjoy Oscar night. Just pop some popcorn and watch an old classic on Netflix or Amazon.
The 86th Academy Awards ceremony will be broadcast March 2 on ABC at 6:30 p.m. Mountain time.
A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.