Friday, October 21, 2011

My Complex Relationship with the Oscars

I mentioned last week when I did my post about the 63 Foreign Language Film hopefuls that I will be devoting less time to the Oscar race on the blog then normal this year. Yes, I will still do nominee and winner predictions, but I’m not following every in and out of the race this year. There are a variety of reasons for this – the biggest one being time. I have a two month old baby at home, who eats a lot time, and in addition to her, I work a full time job, still try and watch as many movies on DVD and in theaters as possible – and write about them, and watch every single LA Kings game – even the ones that don’t end until 1 am my time. Oh, and for the first time ever, I’m in a fantasy hockey pool that requires me to change my lineup daily. Something had to give, and the Oscar race went by default. I didn’t even really think about it – I just stopped reading about it.

I have long since had a complicated relationship with the Oscars. On one hand, my favorites rarely win. The last Best Picture winner that was also my favorite film of the year was 2006’s The Departed – and before that you have to go back to 1993’s Schindler’s List. This shouldn’t be too surprising – get any 6,000 in a room and ask what their favorite movie of the year is, and the “consensus” answer will always be a safer choice than most individual answers. People have different tastes, and to win the Oscar you have to appeal to a lot of different ones. Some years, you’re bound to be lockstep in the consensus, but more often than not, you won’t be. That’s true of anyone.

And yet, I have always defended the Oscars for a simple reason – it sets the parameters of the conversation every year. That conversation that every film buff loves – what were the year’s best films, best performances, best screenplays, etc. Even if you hate the Oscars, think they always make the wrong choice, it doesn’t matter. You get to have your say, and the debate is always fascinating. Once a year, film buffs get together – mostly online – and debate their favorite films. Without the Oscars, and all the awards shows that feed into them, that debate wouldn’t happen at all. And if you love movies, you have to love that debate.

But increasingly, the Oscar race isn’t about honoring movies, as much as it is about generating revenue. This has always been the case, but it’s gotten worse – and for once, it isn’t the movie studios fault. It’s the media’s and other awards groups. People who run movie websites depend on Oscar “For Your Consideration” ads to run on their sites for months. Mainstream media depends on those same ads in their papers and magazines. As such, they are holding more and more events to pamper talent, and get studios to pony up the dough. Who cares if the movie sucks, just give us the money.

And awards groups just want to trumpet how important they are, instead of honoring movies. Even something with as long of a history as the New York Film Critics Circle, who just announced that they’ll be holding their “end of the year” vote in late November this year – beating the always first National Board of Review, an organization with little credibility, out of the gate. They then have the balls to say it’s not about being first, it’s about logistical concerns. They need more time to organize the event, which means they need to know the winners, so they can arrange for them to be there, and arrange to have relevant presenters to give them their awards. That’s bullshit, and if you believe it, I have a bridge I’m willing to sell you. Critics awards are supposed to be about movie professionals – people whose job it is to watch movies all year – giving out awards to the films they like the most. Not about being the arrogant internet commenter on every blog post who yells out “FIRST” and has nothing else of value to add to the conversation. The New York Film Critics are now going to vote for their year end awards almost 6 WEEKS BEFORE THE END OF THE YEAR. They say they won’t miss any of the contenders, because studios should have the movies ready by them to view anyway. But if you think Steven Spielberg gives a rats ass if the New York Film Critics see War Horse before they vote, you’re crazy. All this move does is reduce the credibility of the New York Film Critics Circle drastically. And if they don’t see all of the films before they vote, then they’ll slowly start to look like the Golden Satellites of the Critics awards circle. Never heard of the Golden Satellites? Don’t worry, no one else has either.

So really, I don’t care when Dave Poland goes on his website and starts his review of My Week with Marilyn – a film I won’t get a chance to see for another month and a half – by saying that Michelle Williams is your likely Best Actress winner for her performance as Marilyn Monroe. I don’t care what people think the Oscar odds are on J. Edgar, A Dangerous Method, War Horse, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Shame, The Skin I Live In, Young Adult, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or any other “Oscar” movie this season is. For now, I just want them to exist as movies to me, and I want to get a chance to view them as such.

So yes, I will follow the Oscar race once the precursors start coming in – I guess earlier than ever thanks to the New York Film Critics Circle. And yes, I still intend to be a part of the conversation about the year’s best movies early next year when I’ve actually seen them. But until then, I just don’t care. I just want to walk into a darkened theater and see the movies. Is that too much to ask?

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