I'd be inclined to blame it on the Oscar season making many veer into explicit silliness, but it could just as well be the year end making us make good on our penchant for list making (which I'm a big fan of, so no criticism). The elusive "it" is one of the dozen or so bugbears that every year seems devoted to making me enjoy the Oscar season a little bit less every year. But, alas, as is often the case, I'm burying the lead – when did it become acceptable for “film fans” to salivate over the possible failure of a movie?
Let me back up a bit. Andreas (of Pussy Goes Grr) was discussing a mutual pet peeve of ours regarding film culture on twitter(excellently manifested in this essay HERE), and I mentioned one of the oddities that has slowly revealed itself – so many film geeks seem to not even like movies anymore. The things that become the root for complaints – too long, too periody, too serious, and on and on – seem to emanate from some of the oddest avenues of “criticism”. I didn't realise how pervasive the issue was (or, perhaps just how much it was bothering me) until something space came up for me to actually ponder on. Oscar season is in the air, and as usual as film fans we tend to choose a horse to back.
Overwhelmingly positive response from a screening made Les Misérables emerge as the one to beat. Ostensibly. With the embargo lifted, legitimate critical reviews have begun turning in and many are ebullient but some are not. It’s not sweeping the critics away as a sure-fire “contender” might. And, apparently this is reason to rejoice.
My issue is not one which emanates from Les Misérables alone. I’ve seen it attached to Anna Karenina (“that’ll show Joe Wright thinking he can get away with another well reviewed period piece”), Lawless (“lol, all Shia LaBeouf movies should tank!”), Frankenweenie (“Tim Burton thinks he can just be excused for Alice in Wonderland?”), and on and on. It’s not so much that the films have earned poor receptions, but the praise wasn’t as effusive as expected. Is it some cinematic version of Schadenfreude to revel in potential critical darlings not sticking their landing?
Gwyneth Paltrow’s delightful (albeit much maligned) work in Shakespeare in Love. And, the always astute Nick (Cinema Romantico) observed: “The performance wouldn't be so unfairly unloved if she hadn't won the Oscar, which is just so unfair.” It is the ultimate weight of being an Oscar winner. Your work is scrutinised to a degree that becomes less about attempts at cinematic appreciation and more of ways to destabilise any possibility of credence in the Academy’s decision.
Enter – the general feeling of antipathy which follows Tom Hooper since his Oscar win for The King’s Speech. It’s strange, Rotten Tomatoes – which so many use as a barometer for quality – lists Hooper’s film at a 95% approval rating just 1% below the film it robbed of the Oscar. And, yet, it’s a struggle to find someone online willing to claim that Hooper is not an Oscar stealing hack. This must enter the equation because after its initial positive opening there were a slew of internet film fans bemoaning the fact that they Les Misérables being good was going to mess with their hatred of Tom Hooper. In fact, since Hooper has made some towering television movies (eking out near career best work from Tom Wilkinson, Laura Linney, Samantha Morton and more) we can agree that he’s not a hack, right? Or if he is a hack that stole an Oscar you can hate The King’s Speech but not pray for every film he makes to implode, right?
I’ve already shared where I stand on the AMPAS and the choices they make when I disagree with them. Much of my initial appreciation for moviedom was spill-over from appreciating the Oscars. For that I’ll always have love for them. Even as sometimes I find their choices dripping in banality I’ve never hated the institution for their taste. As I’ve said, AMPAS is akin to an older friend you love who you sometimes often disagree with. To paraphrase George Furth, “Just because some of the decision might be wrong doesn't matter. It is still right.” And, by it, I mean the point of the Oscars – celebrating movies. Because that is film fans relish in, right? Enjoying movies…
It’s why I experience something like cognitive dissonance when people participate in gleeful excitement when a movie does badly. Allow me to step up on my soapbox for a bit but one part of being a cinephile is loving the cinema, right? Shouldn’t we then hope that we’re inundated with barrage of good – great – movies? Wouldn’t film fans be happy when a director they find to be less than stellar apparently ups their game? Wouldn’t we be happy if a movie not on our radar, or one we expect not to love turns out to be good? Aren’t we all sitting around hoping that every film released will add something positive to the industry? It’s why the wan smiles which accompany the “failure” of awards contender baffle me. Hoping that a film loses an award is one thing, exulting in a film failing – or hoping for a failure – is another. Perhaps I read too much into it but it’s difficult to remain joyful amidst the season while such subtle sourness pervades.
Where do you stand on hoping for imminent films to fail? Counter intuitive to a cinphile’s ideology or a logical extension of individuality?
(I’ve vetoed my usual Incoherent Oscar column from the last two years with those typically wild Oscar predictions this year. In lieu of predictions, I still have a slew of other , albeit obliquely, Oscar related thoughts to liberate. So, maybe Incoherent Oscar lives on a different form. Maybe.)