Thursday, 20 January 2011

Oscar Talk: Actually Talking About Oscar, and its value

The terrible thing about the Oscar race – okay, scratch that; let me restart. One of the terrible things about the Oscar race is how every singular – and sometimes insular – decision they make gets blown out of proportion. It’s something that anyone who takes any interest in Oscar seems guilty of. True, by the very act of “predicting” the awards we’re suggesting that there’s an ultimate master plan behind their decisions. At the moment we have what looks like a two horse race in the Best Actress category, and you just know that if (for example) Bening wins it won’t be evidence of the Academy liking her performance but evidence that they’re receptive of her “overdue” status and are not in favour of the more “daring” Black Swan. However, the more significant potential fallout from the Academy this year will be the war of the Pictures – The King’s Speech vs The Social Network. As I write this I’ve finally, FINALLY, seen The King’s Speech (I’m keeping mum for now) and it looks as if The Social Network is poised to rule the Oscars. What does this mean?
Personally, I don’t think it’s means anything other than the fact that voters and viewers elsewhere seem enamoured with The Social Network which is something that I’m not inclined to cry foul at. I’m a little flustered by the emphasis that’s being placed on this apparent “shift” in the Academy’s taste. A part of me is still hoping for an upset via The King’s Speech – exclusive of personal tastes – just because I’d love to see the headlines that we’d get the next day if the Oscars’ do decide to go traditionalist and choose the Briton piece. See what I just did there? I managed to subtly imply that there’s WAY more credence behind something like an Oscar for Best Picture – and that’s just a little silly. Perhaps, in my naiveté I’m willing to give the AMPAS the benefit of the doubt – but we as viewers don’t look at movies for their overarching implications – so when we prefer (hypothetically) An Education to Precious it doesn’t mean that what we’re REALLY saying is that pretty British things are more valuable than the harsh realities of Harlem. At least, I don’t think so....
Then, why are we so intent on placing that much weight upon the Academy’s decision. Over and over (and over) the AMPAS gets held up for scrutiny, which is theoretically sound because they’re not supposed to be insular – they’re the most respected (I’d wager) film awards’ ceremony in the world, or at the very least the most overtly popular. Their decisions are important – yes. But, the Academy has no responsibility in terms of keeping abreast with current politics or even social norms. True, we expect the film community (producers and directors) to keep up with the times. But if something like The King’s Speech – almost like a pastiche in the way that it’s evocative of eras gone by – trumps something like The Social Network – something that’s ostensibly innovative, hip and whatnot (ironic, too, because the basic themes of The Social Network are quite old) that’s not evidence of them living in the past. Maybe they honestly believe that the “old” one is the one that’s better made – but it doesn’t mean that all “old things” are better. Its decisions should be about film quality, they shouldn’t be held accountable for ensuring that what they choose is indicative of the changing times – at least, I don’t think.
One of my biggest gripes this past year has been the rumblings here and there about how terrible it is that nary a potential Oscar nominee is a minority. It’s unfortunate, I suppose, but I’m sort of nonplussed as to how that’s an issue for voters. So, there aren’t many roles for black women – that’s an issue for producers and casters. Are the AMPAS obligated to ensure that someone, say Halle Berry, is nominated just to “save face” and ensure that the ceremony isn’t whitewashed in the 21st century? (I actually heard someone say that.) Wouldn’t that just end up being subversive? I sure as hell wouldn’t mind if her name is called as the “fifth-nominee”, but if her name isn’t called it doesn’t indicate anything about Oscar’s reprehensibility. Look, I’m as wont to criticise the Academy for their stupid decisions as much as the next prognosticator – I can’t help it. But, sometimes I think we get caught up in just how much they’re responsible for.
What do you think? Any rebuttals? Do you agree?


Fritz said...

Great post!

Univarn said...

Not sure if I used the phrase 'whitewashed' but I know I've discussed the lack of viable potential minority nominees this year. The main reason I do so, isn't because I think the Oscars should be a defining representation of race. Instead, it's because I feel a bit of sadness at the fact that there aren't many minority candidates. Which I think is a greater indication of the way Hollywood is as a whole.

Great post though. I do agree we get caught up in trying to label them as the supreme indicator of greatness in film... which they never will be (nor likely can be). Besides, even if they managed to appease the majority of us bloggers, there's always going to be a group left out.

TomS said...

This is a meaty topic for Oscar-followers, and you did a good job analyzing the"motives" behind the Academy's choices.

I often wonder if moviegoers are so barraged by awards that we no longer see a film on its own merits, but rather as a potential entry in a contest.

I have thought about that a lot, and written about it too.

Sometimes we use an Award victory as a way to vindicate our own preferences.

I hope there is an upset this year as you described (and I am so looking forward to sharing thoughts on "Kings Speech" with you). Otherwise it will be as predictably ho-hum an awards year as there ever was.

But I don't think there's likely to be an upset in the manner of "Crash"; that was a horrible campaign to unseat the clear front-runner because of a certain attitude rampant in Hollywood....(I won't go there now.)

But since that crushing disapppointment five years ago, I have chosen to remain, sadly, as a curious outsider, rather than a full-blown participant, in Oscar madness.

Jose said...

Oscar has the coolest party but whatever they chose as Best Pic, the party ALWAYS ends at 11.

FYC: "The Social Network", best screenplay EVER (I kid of course but I wanna make you roll your eyes)

Walter L. Hollmann said...

You said it! I told someone that I thought The Fighter would take it, and he said, "But Million Dollar Baby won not long ago. The Academy wouldn't give the award to two boxing movies that close together." I said, "The Academy isn't a small group around a table debating what to include and what not to. It's 2,000 or so individuals with their own taste."

I also agree with Tom, that we often see movies and "a potential entry in a contest". Every time I get back from a movie, i have to decide whether or not to put it in my special Excel spreadsheet, and in what categories to consider it for. On the one hand, it's how I keep track of things. On the other, it's not fair to Lady Cinema to treat her like a derby horse.

The Oscars are not the end-all be-all of movie judgment -- that belongs to time and the audience. BUT, that being said, I think they deserve our respect for representing both all levels of Hollywood and a time capsule. Also, it's a cool name: Oscar > SAG

joe burns said...

I agree!!!!

The oscars are often too political in what they vote for:

Public opinion affects the Oscars much more now then it did the 50's, 60's, and the 70's.

Fitz said...

It was just as political then. Just less blatant about it.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

fitz thanks.

univarn THAT'S where i feel you. i'm not mad, for example, that for colored girls isn't getting recognised. i'm interestd in why the response has been so poor, and why more films like that aren't being made for black women. people seem to have good ideas, but end up blaming AMPAS for the wackiest things.

tom ah, such a good comment there. i'm guilty of overanalysing every film i see and sometimes that much analysis makes you kind of jaded, which sucks.

jose damn, i rolled my eyes before i got through the comment. you know me TOO well.

walter creepy, i have my own spreadsheet too (face palm). i love when people go there, though. OSCAR is so elitist...and who IS oscar? ha.

joe and fitz that's the point, though. are they really that populist, or are we mistaken. god, it's such a slippery slope you don't know where to jump in and where not to. the woes of having all eyes on you, i suppose.