In the past few months I’ve been interviewed a couple of times, the most recent is for Ask Men with a wonderfully titled article, “How Crash Saved the Oscars.” ¬†But a week or so ago I was interviewed by a former critic and journalist who writes for the LA Daily News and he asked me why I thought the Oscars were so important. ¬†After all, he said, we’ve always just assumed the Oscars were a middlebrow group that had nothing whatsoever to do with awarding quality filmmaking. ¬†That isn’t a direct quote but it’s the gist. ¬†This sentiment was echoed by Marshall Fine, who wrote a piece for the Huffington Post, and also by Peter Rainer who moderated our Oscar blogger panel at the Santa Barbara Film Fest.
In other words, film critics have long since dissed the Oscars as a popularity contest, a beauty pageant, a march to mediocrity, a long slow lean to the middle. ¬†Likewise, and clearly, the Oscars have long since dissed the critics choices. ¬†Where you sit along these lines will define you as an Oscar watcher. Do you applaud their choices, watch and rewatch their Best Picture winners or do you politely not comment on their choices at all but prefer to simply predict their winners. ¬†Or do you rail against them 24/7, refusing to accept the condescending notion that “they” don’t know a good movie when “they” see one?
I understand the point of view that dismisses the critics. ¬†After all, it takes a miracle just to get your project to a studio who will have enough faith to back it. ¬†It then takes a miracle to get financing. ¬†Another miracle to get good actors. ¬†At long last you have put your project together. You spend days and nights on the set, one sweaty, ball-busting decision after another — choices to be made, compromises to concede, personalities to cater to, the money depleting, the studio nagging. Then after all of that, the editing, the test screenings — and finally, the film makes it to theaters. ¬†The critics either celebrate it or they don’t. ¬†Most of the time, let’s face it, they don’t. Is it any wonder the industry would choose to diss the critics’ darling?
No, it isn’t any wonder.
Almost every one of my pundit friends doesn’t take the Academy that seriously. ¬†Kris Tapley, for instance, has a totally different list of the films he thinks are the best and the films he figures the Academy will choose. Same goes for Dave Karger. ¬†They will always say things like “Bob the Sound Guy isn’t going to like this movie,” or “they aren’t sophisticated enough to know good cinematography.”
If that’s the case, why do people care at all about the choices they make? Why does it matter at all?
Mainstream Hollywood films are celebrated either for the amount of money they made or the number of Oscars they earned. That final gold standard is often a function of the first measurement in the green.
So the Oscars don’t matter to film critics. ¬†They matter to the industry. ¬†Why? Because they are awards for those who make movies to pat themselves on the back for doing what they mostly aim to do: entertain people. (Bottom-line translation: get butts in theater seats).
In most of the 83 years of Oscar history you will find the winner of Best Picture to be the one that entertained people more than the others. ¬†It entertained them by appealing, usually, to their sense of awe. ¬†It entertained them by appealing to their depth of emotion. ¬†It made them laugh, it made them cry. ¬†None of these things, though, ultimately determine how great a film is or isn’t.
The Oscars are not about rewarding greatness. ¬†That is the trap many of us fall into. ¬†They reward their friends, or those who drove blockbusters, or have contributed to keeping them profiting from the business that is Hollywood. ¬†Does greatness sometimes sneak in? ¬†Yes. ¬†Absolutely. ¬†But not often, let’s face it.
In the end, we have to figure everyone is making money off the Oscar race. ¬†And maybe in the end, that is what it’s all about. ¬†Winning Best Picture will mean a lot more to the King’s Speech team than it will to anyone else. Scott Rudin has an embarrassment of riches already. ¬†David Fincher? He’s way beyond this shit. ¬†Aaron Sorkin? ¬†The Oscars need him more than he needs them. ¬†They should be honored to have a writer of his talent and ability on their list of winners. But David Seidler? It would mean everything to him to win. ¬†EVERYTHING. ¬†What a lovely story his has turned out to be.
Colin Firth is just a magnificent human being, a brilliant actor and good for him that he’s finally getting a gold statue — and it’s well deserved.
The Coens? ¬†They don’t need no stinking Oscars (they might just win something, though – they might win Director in a total upset!) Aronofsky? ¬†He might win Director one day too, but he’d have to way dumb it down to ever win Oscars across the board. ¬†David O. Russell is the only other nominee besides Hooper to whom a win would really mean something.
The truth of it is that whatever wins the Oscar this year will influence what gets made the next year. ¬†And that’s why I love it that there are so many great films up for Best Picture this year. ¬†Let us please have more ¬†of films like Winter’s Bone, The Kids Are All Right, Black Swan, Inception, True Grit, The Fighter and of course, The Social Network. ¬†Let’s hear it for the Academy for choosing these films at all, and the publicists who are mainly responsible for putting them there, and the critics who recognized their greatness early on. ¬†The machine worked this year, no matter what the eventual outcome.
So, why should we care? ¬†Well, we should care. ¬†The economics of the film business dictates decisions enabling the great filmmakers who do all of the heavy lifting. ¬†A Best Picture nominee like Winter’s Bone gives hope to hundreds of other low budget projects that seek to tell, simply, a great story.
And hopefully, even if an independent British film wins Best Picture, the studios will still celebrate the great films they submitted this year by giving us more like Inception, The Social Network, True Grit. ¬†Can I just say, wow.