The Oscars are on Sunday, and everyone’s getting ready. A large block of Hollywood is shut down for the massive tents and red carpet laying. People the world over are getting their Oscar parties ready, passing around Oscar pool sheets at the office one final time, and many are arguing over who’s going to take the top spot. On Sunday, your Flixist editors will be live blogging the entire event, giving you up to the moment coverage of who’s winning, who’s coming across like a dickhole, and who’s pandering to Jack Nicholson.
I’m here right now to tell you that it’s all a bunch of crap, and it doesn’t matter. Through years of decline, the Oscars have become virtually worthless. They are overblown, overly-politicized commercials for DVD releases and fashion. Read on to understand why.
Predictability, thy name is Oscar
I was going to separate this into a couple different categories, but as I collected my thoughts for this article, I realized that a lot of the reason why the Oscars aren’t important is predictability. This year, The King’s Speech is the frontrunner for Best Picture. It is a good movie, maybe even a great one. But the best picture of the year? Doubtful. I’d make the argument that this award belongs to either The Social Network or Black Swan, but that’s neither here nor there. One of the most common Oscar tropes, if you will, is the Academy’s impossible desire for the Costume Drama or the Period Piece. If your film has Englishmen in it, you’d better be damn sure they’re in Victorian-ish garb, or at least looking somehow like aristrocracy. Every year, a period piece makes its way into the Oscars. If it’s a decent movie like The King’s Speech, it can quickly assert itself as a frontrunner for Best Picture. Look at Shakespeare in Love. An ok movie, but it was dripping with Ye Olde Englande, so it became an Academy favorite. The crappy Elizabeth sequel got a Best Costume Design Oscar the same year that Atonement, La Vie en Rose, andSweeney Todd got nominations for the same category. Also, Across the Universe was there, but f**k that movie.
This predictability extends further than the Academy’s love of costume drama. This one’s an oldie, but a predictable goodie. If you’re an actor or actress with any amount of fame, play the disabled, the terminally ill, or a famous person. There will be an Oscar involved if you do. Granted, this has rewarded some amazing performances, including Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot and Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, the unofficial sequel to Big. More often, though, you get Sean Penn in I Am Sam or any musician’s biopic. That doesn’t count Cate Blanchet in I’m Not There, though. That woman’s a treasure.
Stuffy old white dudes
Look, the world sucks. Everything’s run by rich white dudes over the age of fifty. It’s rare to find one that cares about something other than a profit margin. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is no different. It’s stocked with guys that have been on the voting board since the 60s. There’s a lot of Hollywood’s remaining old guard there, and there’s also a lot of the current studio leadership. Which is composed of stuffy, rich, old white dudes. I’m not saying these guys don’t have any taste, because there have been some truly incredibly films nominated for and winner Oscars over the years. The problem is that their taste is fairly unchanging. As I’ve stated before, they like their costumes Victorian and their actors disabled/famous. Which leads us right into…
Science fiction? That’s for nerds!
There seems to be this ingrained prejudice in Academy voters against genre films. Look at this year.Inception, one of the better films of the year, snags a Best Picture nod while getting snubbed for Best Director. The King’s Speech, a film that exemplifies bland, nigh-utilitarian direction, gets a f***ing DGA award. This is a constant theme. Blade Runner, Star Wars, The Dark Knight, the Indiana Jones movies, and many, many more all are in this club of great films ignored by the Academy in every way save for technical awards. Return of the King’s massive sweep might be brought up as a counter-example, but I’ve always viewed that as Peter Jackson being rewarded for his achievement through the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.
I think the Academy still sees genre films the way they were back in the fifties and sixties: as mad-cap killathons with dudes in bad rubber costumes and buxom “lab assistants” pouting every line out. While there’s a lot of crap genre stuff going on, mostly on the Sci-Fi Channel (which I will spell properly goddamnit), I feel that more serious genre fiction has been popping up in the past few years. Look at Moon. That movie was completely ignored by the Academy, despite a stellar performance from Sam Rockwell and some of the best miniature work I’ve seen since, well, Lord of the Rings. Moon is probably in my top twenty-five films of all time, let alone in science fiction. But where’s the love?
The music awards
Politics: there is no stopping it
Studio politics play more a part than they have any right to. Look at the 1998 Oscars. Saving Private Ryan was considered a shoo-in for Best Picture. Spielberg’s war epic was literally making veterans have PTSD flashbacks with its visceral and highly accurate portrayal of World War 2. It has since been the inspiration for dozens of World War 2 projects across all different forms of media. Look at the first three Call of Duty games and tell me they’re not heavily colored by Private Ryan. However, that year Shakespeare in Lovetook the Oscar. Why? Politics. Miramax headed up a multi-million dollar ad campaign promoting Shakespeare in Love as the movie of the year. By the time voting season came around, Private Ryan had already lost. So instead of a triumph of a film being celebrated, we get the one where Claire Danes dresses like a dude and Ben Affleck plays himself.
Despite all this, we’re all going to watch the Oscars this year. And next year. And next year. We may not be bellyaching over who’s wearing who, but it’s all in service of what’s essentially a broken system. And it’s not just the Americans this time. The BAFTAs have a long history of exceedingly biased voting. Just look at the results from this year. But it’s what we have. We’ve been programmed all this time into thinking that this show matters in the larger scheme of things. That it’s inevitably all about raising the best movies up.
Just tell that to Crash, The Greatest Show on Earth, Driving Miss Daisy, and Chicago.