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'And the Oscar goes to...': Q&A with UK film industry expert Beecher Reuning

Oscar Statues
Photo by vzphotos.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 11, 2024) The 96th Oscars were held Sunday, where films ranging from “Barbie” to “Oppenheimer” were up for awards for the highest achievements in filmmaking in 2023.

This leads us to ask the question, what makes a film Oscar-worthy?  

UKNow sat down with Beecher Reuning, a filmmaker and assistant professor in the University of Kentucky College of Communication and Information’s School of Journalism and Media, to hear their insight on the Academy Awards and film industry.  

UKNow: What qualities make an Oscar-worthy movie? 

Reuning: The Oscars often celebrate films that are breaking new ground. This could be in subject matter like “Parasite” or “Spotlight” or in technical achievement in films such as “Avatar” or “The Lord of the Rings.” A movie should also tell an engaging story that invests audiences and gives them a memorable experience. On the larger debate of what makes a movie “good,” the following criteria often come up: 

  • A good movie takes the audience on an emotionally satisfying journey. 
  • A good movie is a cohesive product where all the aspects work together to tell a unified story and deliver an insightful message.  
  • A good movie meets audience expectations and surpasses them by taking originally creative risks that audiences weren’t expecting. 
  • A good movie stays on audiences' minds long after they leave the theater. 

UKNow: How do you think the Oscars and other award shows affect the film industry?  

Reuning: The Oscars bring smaller films to the forefront of the conversation. I just watched a great movie called “Anatomy of a Fall” the other night because it was a Best Picture nominee. This is a lower budget French film that incorporates both the German and English languages. Without the Awards Circuit, I doubt I would have been aware of this gem. The Oscars also gives space for the industry to reflect on films that broke new ground and celebrate those filmmakers, crews and studios. 

UKNow: What are the differences you see between a critically-acclaimed movie and an audience favorite movie? 

Reuning: A movie critic watches between 100-200 movies a year, so they often recommend films that take creatively risky decisions that can fly in the face of audience expectations. These movies feel fresh and enjoyable to them. Regular audiences do not have that same bank of movie-watching hours going in which can lead to rejection of those same films by claiming they are too weird or go too far. 

UKNow: What are some common pitfalls that could turn a potentially good movie into an average one? 

Reuning: As a filmmaker, you are making thousands of decisions over the course of a production with the goal of making all of it work together for an emotionally engaging and complete experience. If even one creative choice doesn’t fit within the rest of the movie, it can easily drop from a good movie to an average one.   

UKNow: How do you think good sound design contributes to a movie's atmosphere?  

Reuning: Effective sound design and scoring can elevate a movie from a story we are watching to a journey we are experiencing. This is why I am such a proponent of the theater experience. The visuals, especially IMAX, are breathtaking, but it’s the sound system that demonstrates the ability to teleport you inside the film. It’s not just an explosion you're seeing on screen, it’s a reverberation you are feeling in your chest. 

UKNow: How has technology changed cinematography over the years?  

Reuning: The technology around cinematography has rapidly changed, especially over the last 25 years. For the first 100 years of the film industry, movies were shot on celluloid film which was expensive and required steps such as developing to reach a final product. But with the rise of digital video, making visually professional movies became more accessible while also opening possibilities to manipulate the image in new and creative ways. Just think of the visual diversity of movies today compared to the films of the 1990s. 

UKNow: How do you think society has changed the types of movies that are being made today as opposed to the ‘90s/early 2000s?  

Reuning: The film industry has always gone through stages in the types of movies they were releasing. 1940-1960 is considered the Golden Age of the Western because that’s what the technology allowed and what audiences paid to see. In the 1990s, the box office was led by action, sci-fi and disaster films. Usually, these were movies with one or two aspects incorporating special effects. Think of the dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park” or the boat sinking in the “Titanic.” Computer-generated imagery (CGI) was often contained to a singular, captivating aspect of the film. Then in the 2000s, CGI improved to the point where it could be used superfluously for the complete runtime. Think of films like “X-Men” and “Spider-Man.” This technological advancement led to the rise of the superhero genre which dominated the box office for the last 25 years. Although, I do think we are seeing another shift take place currently, however. 

UKNow: What are your thoughts on the future of the film industry or any trends you see emerging?  

Reuning: For the first time in decades, the superhero genre’s grip on the industry feels vulnerable. Just in 2023, we witnessed five big-budget critical and commercial failures from Marvel and DC (“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” “The Flash,” “Blue Beetle,” “The Marvels” and “Shazam! Fury of the Gods”). Instead, the three top grossing movies were “Barbie,” “The Super Mario Brothers Movie” and “Oppenheimer.” I believe this shows that the market may finally be oversaturated with too much CGI- heavy, interconnected super-hero universe content. Instead, audiences are gravitating towards intellectual property (IP) and filmmakers that they may be familiar with but do not require the commitment of watching dozens of hours before viewing. For so long, Hollywood has relied on direct sequels and interconnected universes, but I think we are starting to see a shift to more original IP-based content made by filmmakers with a distinct name and style. 

UKNow: How much impact do the Oscars have on directors and the way they direct their films? 

Reuning: The Oscars gives studios and independent financiers the ability to take a chance on smaller, art-films that tackle unproven subject matter made by directors with a ground-breaking vision. I do not think a director will or will not make choices based on whether they want to win an Oscar, but I do think many of those directors and films are given the green light because of the ability of the awards circuit to elevate their film into profitability. 

UKNow: How do you think receiving an Oscar affects an actor’s success? 

Reuning: Winning an Oscar lifts performers to a level in the industry where they have more say over the future roles they pick. It also allows their films to work with larger budgets. Studios can justify putting more money into a movie with an Academy Award Winning Actor, because they can make more on the back end by leveraging their notoriety. 

UKNow: Did you watch the Oscars?

Beecher: Yes, I absolutely watched this year’s Academy Awards, mostly for the celebration of great films but also to see Ryan Gosling perform “I’m Just Ken.”


Learn more about Reuning and their work at

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