It’s that time of year again for the critics who are lucky enough to still have jobs writing about movies to complain about the Oscars and the Oscar coverage. I get it. I get that no one wants to see their beloved films dumped into the chute and set loose to run a race to win. I get it that they wish all coverage about the Oscars, the contest, the winners, the losers would just “die in a fire.” I get it that they long for the days when “it was about the movies, man.” What I don’t get is why they don’t see the bigger picture.
Manohla Dargis said, quoted by Jeff Wells at Hollywood-Elsewhere.com (who gets a lot of heat from his readers whenever he brings up the O word because movies are pure, damnit. They don’t need awards to make them great — they don’t need awards so that deals can be made so that money can be made so that MOVIES CAN BE MADE -they are made on the collective love by the film critics who still have jobs and can still reach a wider audience and don’t they know that awards make a mockery of the proceedings because all anyone who watches the Oscar race cares about is who wins or loses!):
“It’s a drag how late-summer, early-fall festivals like Telluride and especially Toronto are now too often seen as warm-ups for the Oscars. Both events solicited that attention, and grew more influential as a result. Yet is that what we want from film festivals? This isn’t as true of Cannes…because it takes place in May and remains a showcase for world cinema and French cultural patrimony. It’s where Brad Pitt can work the red carpet, but also where filmmakers as dissimilar asTerrence Malick and Apichatpong Weerasethakul can be talked about without that chucklehead, Oscar, sucking up all the air in the room.”
It’s a drag, man.
True, her point about Cannes being far removed from the game of Oscar is well noted. But she shouldn’t kid herself that the same rules about selling movies and hoping they win awards is any different there than it is here. They still have to sell those movies that hit at Cannes. Maybe they’re selling them to international markets but they’re sure as hell hoping they will win some — wait for it — film awards.
The main difference is that Dargis, and others, respect the judges at Cannes and Venice and San Sebastien and Berlin a lot more than they do the professional Hollywood industry: the end result is the same – people voting on what they liked best. Choosing what is better over there is more about choosing the best film regardless of how much money it made, how hot the star in it is, whose friend produced it. Though it’s perhaps a more honorable way to vote for the best, we’re still talking about a prize, a race, a winner and many losers.
Sucking the air out of the room, as Dargis says, means this annoyance at the subject of whether a film will “do well at the Oscars” or not shouldn’t be the thing people are talking about. You shouldn’t watch a movie and then decide its worth by deciding whether or not it will be an Oscar player. You should just talk about whether it was good or not. If you talk about it in terms of its context with Oscar, you are essentially talking about the tastes of 6,000 upper middle class to 1%ers, mostly white, mostly male industry professionals and retirees. They, it turns out, have a lot more in common with regular folk than critics do.
Jeff Wells got irritated on our most recent podcast for this very same thing. He was mad that I was again talking about a film in the context of the Oscar race – in the context of “will it, won’t it.” I had to remind him that we were doing “Oscar Poker.” We’re not doing “Film Criticism Poker.”
What I see when I read the comments on this site and talk to people at film festivals is that most people don’t want to talk about the Oscar race. I saw no sucking the air out of the room in Telluride. What I saw were people first saying whether they loved a movie or not. The first thing they do is talk about its effect on them. The next thing they might do is say whether they think it will be an Oscar player or not. That is the part that Dargis and her ilk hate so much.
What I get from readers on this site every day is not a manic need to strip films of their artistic dimensions and reduce them to a commodity — I see passionate film advocates. I read heated discussions of what makes one film better and why that should translate to an Oscar win. I see the whole dog and pony show dissected and analyzed a hell of a lot better than the top film critic at the New York Times would ever deign to do. I see, in short, the kinds of debates about movies we used to have in coffee shops but now have online – something I never see at the Times. There is a way to talk about films in the context of the Oscar race without “sucking the air out of the room.”