A Brief, Profanity-laden Argument Against the Oscars

Damn you, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences!

The Oscars are coming up and, if the past twenty-five years or so are any indication of what we can expect this go around, the voters will get things completely and utterly wrong (The English Patient? Really? Fuck you). To add to the fun, or to avoid repeating the embarrassment of not nominating the two best films of 2008 (not to mention the two best of 2006 as well), the academy has expanded the Best Picture category to include ten films; a move which has staved off Grammy-level ridiculousness by allowing in a number of surprising and excellent films but which, I fear, may ultimately only add to the cinephile’s pain when either the big, or the safe, or the infuriatingly undeserving takes home the statue once again.

Granted last year’s Best Picture winner, Slumdog Millionaire, was an excellent film, but I don’t believe it was legitimately the year’s best film– in fact, I’d say that only twice since 1980 has the Best Picture winner proven to be the best film of the year (in 1993 and 2008– and I think a strong case could be made instead for Reservoir Dogs and There Will Be Blood, but that’s an argument for another time). What does this tell us then? That rarely do the films chosen as Best Picture stand the test of time? That academy voters lack an innate sense of what makes a truly great and lasting film? That the Oscars are all style and no substance- merely another opportunity for the beautiful and wealthy to gather and congratulate themselves (and maybe laugh at Bjork’s awesome dress even though she looked super hot in it and she’s fifty times more talented than any of the retarded fashion experts critiquing it)? Perhaps, but that’s also just the cynical ravings of a blogger whose heart turned black the second Firefly was canceled.

More to the point, it tells us that there is an inherent problem in labeling one film as better than another, especially when you assemble a grouping of films with vastly disparate content and themes.

Take the 2002 Oscars for instance; what might be the criteria for deciding which film was best out of, say, these films: Memento, The Royal Tenenbaums, Artificial Intelligence: AI, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Monster’s Inc., Y Tu Mama Tambien, Donnie Darko, Mulholland Dr., Amelie, Gosford Park, Training Day, Waking Life, and Black Hawk Down. That’s a serious cinematic hodgepodge right there. It would be very difficult to pick just one film as best out of such a diverse grouping of excellent films (and keep in mind that Spirited Away was also released in 2001, just not in the U.S.). It should also be noted that only two of these films were nominated for Best Picture, and neither of those two won (though I would argue that all of these films are considerably better than the eventual winner, A Beautiful Mind).

Better than "Memento?!" Yeah fucking right.

So how do we fix this problem? Well, we don’t quite frankly, there’s no fixing it, even if we tried. The basic flaw is in the award system itself: determining what makes one film better than another is a very tricky, subjective business, and people that aren’t me are inherently wrong, it would seem. It’s a damn shame.

There’s also a very political aspect to the process, a fact which often leaves a small film with an intelligent plot and great acting (*ahem* Moon, for example) without a nomination, whereas a huge box office hit that may be big on spectacle and special effects but lacking any original story-telling or even halfway-decent acting and dialogue (let’s say Avatar), can wind up the Best Picture front-runner because of a big studio push. But hey, it is show business after all, and a film that had a lot of viewers at the box office is likely to have a lot of viewers tuning in to see if it wins Best Picture (Unless of course, like last year, you decide not to nominate two of the best and highest-grossing films of the year in favor of dreck like The Reader and Milk, which were buoyed only by good performances, but that’s neither here nor there).

And perhaps a vote isn’t the best method for determining Best Picture. I’m all for democracy, but it has been known to let us down on occasion (For instance, Allen Iverson was voted onto the All-Star team this year despite the fact that he clearly sucks now, and the less said about the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections the better). Maybe we could establish a complicated BCS-like system determined by an aggregate score of critical reviews, box office intake, and its number of Google hits and Youtube parody videos. Or maybe each year an impartial panel could be assembled to determine the winners (like the grand jury of your favorite pretentious film festival), that way those responsible can be tracked down and punished accordingly (I’m still upset about that Shakespeare in Love business).

That’s it. Those are my best ideas. I’m not much of a “solutions” person. It ultimately doesn’t matter though because people (i.e. me) will always find something to bitch about when it comes to the Oscars, or for that matter cinema in general. Although it might be nice to see a smaller scale award show for the serious film fan put on by a respected cinematic authority (Criterion maybe? Or the folks over at They Shoot Pictures). But that doesn’t seem even remotely likely. In any case, the Oscars aren’t perfect (Quick example: Mel Gibson has won more Best Director awards than Hitchcock, Welles, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Bergman, Chaplin, Lang, Altman, Murnau, and Hawks combined), but it’s the best we’ve got, and there’s a strange masochistic pleasure in lambasting the Academy for say, awarding Kramer vs. Kramer Best Picture over fucking Apocalypse Now. There’s just no living that shit down.

I’ll post my sure-to-be-wrong picks for the Oscar winners tomorrow.


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