Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In Defense of The Oscars.

Well the Oscars are over and the post-show criticisms are in. Like the Oscars themselves, there is nothing new under the sun criticism-wise, at least not in the media coverage. With every passing year though I notice a lot more apathy and sarcastic criticism of the ceremony within my circle of movie-nerd friends. With the avalanche of Facebook status updates filled with baiting-opinions presented as facts overloading my news-feed this past week I felt unbelievably lame for looking forward to and actually enjoying the Oscars. So what is it that makes our opinions so different? We are all around the same age, share similar tastes, and above all, have an appreciation for the art of film-making.

Some of the common complaints I hear are that the ceremony is too predicable, too long, and too boring. It's just one big self-congratulatory celebrity love-fest and that it doesn't really matter because it doesn't really represent the "best" movies of the year. It's all hype, and above all, the aspect of the ceremony that really gets their goat is that the Academy never picks the right films (i.e. the ones they want to win). Fair enough.

Here are my thoughts on the subject. In a lot of ways I think the Oscars are like the Superbowl for film-nerds, a whole years worth of build up, speculation, and over-analyzing resulting in a winner that is usually unsatisfactory for most of the fans. The winner is usually predictable, the coverage is extra long, and depending on the competitiveness of the teams, the game can be boring.

Unlike the Oscars though, people love the Superbowl. No one is made to feel lame for watching it and those few souls who actually do hate it are probably the kind of miserable assholes who complain about everything (trolls). Despite usually being a huge disappointment, every year, people still look forward to the Superbowl, hell, they even look forward to the freaking commercials. To hear certain detractors spin it, you would the Oscars were being mercilessly labored through by the audience, with each additional commercial adding an extra excruciating 30-45 seconds of wasted time to the viewer's life. Despite the fact that the ceremony is rich with tradition, only comes once a year, and is a celebration of the medium that they love most, these folks seem to be hellbent on undermining the importance of it.

Ah yes, the importance of it. Are the Oscars as important as the Academy wants you to believe? No, but they are not meaningless either. I'm not sure if you've observed a casual film-goer recently, but I have had plenty of exposure to them working at the theater. Here are a couple of my insights into the mind of the average (age 15-25) film-goer: A) If it wasn't made in the last 5 years, it might as well never have existed, and B) a lot of people (especially young people) never consider exactly how movies are made or where they come from. A lot of the kids that worked at the theater with me seemed to think that movies were just new stories being churned out to them every week, no thought given to the idea that people make movies and that's there's an artistry and craftsmanship to it.

This is where The Oscars come in to play, maybe not for young people who don't even watch basic television anymore, much less award shows, but for let's say, society in general. For many reasons the modern movie industry seems to think of themselves as a business first and an art-form second (actually it's probably more like forth or fifth). As a society we're encouraged to think of movies as merely entertainment and not, you know, the greatest form of idea conveyance and documentation in our history. I know that last statement is a lightning rod for a lot of people who champion the written word, but I mean no offense. I'm not saying movies as a medium are necessarily better than literature, but rather, that it has the potential to be. It's a fascinating, magical storytelling medium and an incredible form of historical documentation that is treated like frivolous amusement by most people, but...not at the Oscars.

The "Road to the Oscars" is possibly the only time of year that mainstream media coverage acknowledges that there is more to the movies than box office results, that there is something to be said for art and, you know, films being good. For one night out of the year, there is a ceremony that takes movies seriously, that not only accounts for the technical aspects of the craftsmanship, but also reminds us that movies are part of our history, culture, and that yes, they are important. Even though, to me, it seems like a small gesture in the grand scheme of things, to many people it's perceived as this gaudy, lavish, and undeserved celebrity circle-jerk. For many, the idea that people in the film industry get any recognition, much less awards for their work when they've already received so much money as compensation is uncalled-for.

Yes, actors make a lot of money (although a lot of technical award winners involved in the process make much less and do deserve recognition), but comparatively to what some of these movies make, it's a fraction of the profits and in a lot of cases they are very much responsible for the revenue of the film (Johnny Depp in "The Pirates of the Caribbean" films springs to mind). Plus, I'm not sure if you've notice, but there's not much money at the box office in "good" movies these days. The reason I bring that up is because actors (and studios for that matter) need motivation to make films that might not necessarily make a lot of money, and the potential of an Academy Award is not a bad goal.

So what else? Oh yeah, the Oscars doesn't really represent the "best" movies of the year. Well, no shit, it's hard to please everyone when you're picking only one thing. That being said, look at the musical equivalent, The Grammys. The Grammy nominees over the last 20+ years have represented some of the most generic, unimaginative, and unauthentic examples of music imaginable; the most radio-friendly bullshit you can find.. If it sold, it's gold as far as the Grammys are concerned. Juxtapose that with the Oscars who since the mid-1990's have seemingly made a conscience effort to include lesser known films. They regularly get shit for nominating films that "no one's ever heard of" from one segment of the population and get even more shit for not nominating "Drive" from another segment. So yeah, "The Artist" might not have been the "best" film of 2011, but if the Oscars were like the Grammys, they would of picked "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" instead, so you're welcome.

In conclusion, the Oscars are far from perfect, in fact they're kind of a mess these days. So many people complain about them that the producers have repeated tweaked the formula, experimented with new "modern" ideas, and shifted back and forth between tradition and what they think people want. It never seems to please anyone. So why defend the Oscars?? Maybe because no one else ever does? Nah, I just love movies and I love the idea of the Oscars. I want it to be better and I'm going to keep watching hoping for those little pieces of spontaneous moments and emotion that make it work. I sometimes think about the 1996 Awards, a year in-which much was made about "the year of the Indie film," and I think about how little I care about the Best Picture nominees from that year (with the exception of "Fargo") now. The thing I remember from that show was the Cuba Gooding Jr. acceptance speech, which everyone remembers. It was the kind of moment that only the Oscars could produce.

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