Thursday, August 6, 2009

Some Guy Named Oscar


You may have noticed that you don't see much Oscar news at this blog, and don't fret, I'm not about to break that habit now. Quite the opposite, actually. In fact, I'm inspired to post about the little gold man only to point out a wonderfully angry post by the always-erudite Edward Copeland, who has weighed in with the reasons for why, this year, he'll be boycotting major awards shows like the Oscars, the Tonys and the Emmys. He writes:

If they no longer care about their own supposed status as prizes for honoring outstanding achievement in their respective mediums but instead have decided they really are nothing more than just once-a-year TV shows, three-hour or longer infomercials if you will, then I say fuck them. I can still love great film, great TV and great theater without having to be caught up with the nonsense of the various awards seasons any longer. No more predictions. No more surveys. No more speculation. Oscar, Emmy, Tony: You are all dead to me.


As someone who has long thought that the Oscars are pretty much worthless — and certainly not worth the massive amounts of coverage bestowed upon them by film writers — I really appreciate Copeland's straightforward dismissal of the awards season hoopla. It's always been the case that the Oscars have little to do with real quality, let alone art, and everything to do with commerce, with hype. So why do so many film critics and film fans care? What does Oscar truly add to film discourse? Every year, practically from December to March, the film blogs are dominated with conversation about the awards: who's going to be nominated, who is nominated, who's going to win, who should win, who did win, who should've won, who shouldn't have won, and oh yeah, who wore that lovely black dress that was just to die for. Amidst all this frantic activity, I can't help but feel that something is lost: namely, the focus on the films themselves, which is what it really should be all about. This is true even when legitimately worthy films are the subject of all this Oscar hype. If given the choice between a weighty, substantial essay about a film like No Country For Old Men or a debate over whether that film or There Will Be Blood should've taken Oscar's top prize, can you guess which I'd rather read?

Copeland ends his piece with an admission that he doesn't really expect anyone to follow his lead in ignoring Oscar. But I say, why not? This year, during Oscar season, instead of contributing to all the hype, instead of predicting who might win or debating between films like they were racehorses, why not just write something about a film or two? It doesn't have to be an Oscar-nominated film; hell, it doesn't even have to be a new film (gasp!). I guarantee you, though, it'll be so much more satisfying than adding to the endless but ephemeral buzz that these awards generate, swirling around like so much cocktail party chatter. This Oscar season, as usual, I definitely won't be at the party. Will you?

23 comments:

Krauthammer said...

ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...

Oscar hype and whatnot is very similar to the obsession over the general horse-race in politics over the issues themselves. I know deep down in my heart that it's bad for the country, but that doesn't mean I'm not checking up on polls every thirty minutes once election day comes around.

The insane obsession over The Oscars has gotten out of hand, especially when so many of those who are most obsessed over them also are the loudest decrying them, but I don't think that I need to boycott The Oscars to be a serious film fan.

The reality is, I'm going to check on on Oscar predictions every now and them, I'm going to get exited over the nominations, watch the broadcast, and argue over friends and family over the results for a couple of days. It's all going to be stupid and meaningless yes, but every now and then I'll let myself be frivolous.

The way that Oscar conversation has spread like a cancer over blogs and even print media is annoying, yes, especially because it's been replacing legitimate criticism,and having some blogs away from all the madness will be refreshing. I just don't think that I'm going to ignore the entire thing altogether.

Juliette. said...

I haven't cared about modern Oscars for some time, but still watch them. It's a tradition for me. Oscars mean about as much as Valentine's Day in the US, but I participate in that too. I still love watching old clips of Oscar ceremonies during the "golden age." It's just nostalgia for something I wasn't around for, if that makes any sense.

So, on this year's Oscar night, I'll probably watch them, but will also write about old movies I love...I usually do. ;)

Sam Juliano said...

In answer to your question Ed, YES I will be there, as I have hosted an elaborate party with a formidable food spread at my home since 1982. It is a tradition. We conduct an Oscar pool, and we masochistically (at least some in the gathering of 35 to 40 people) stay till the bitter end. I have been known to throw temper tantrums when my favorites get shafted. When my favorite film of 2005, Ang Lee's BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN was beaten by CRASH, it took me months to recover, as I engaged in all sorts of blogging controversy. Converesely, when ATONEMENT was (against all odds) nominated for Best Picture last year I jumped so high my hear almost hoit the ceiling (as I weigh over 250, even with current dieting). I have read all the anger aimed at Oscar on all the threads (Marilyn Ferdinand's position always has me in hysterics--she has a real way with words there, and her position is gleefully blunt) but let's face it--it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out this is a blight on society in so many ways. I enjoy competition, and that rare moment when the right film wins (RETURN OF THE KING, SCHINDLER'S LIST etc.) so this does fly in the fact of proper respect for cinema. Woody Allen's view of the Oscars, most unflattering pretty much tells it all.

But WHY do I continue to ignore all the advice? Answer: Because I love movies to death, and enjoy that one chance a year to get friends and family together to "celebrate" the year in film. The fact that we generally forget the following year who won twelve months before is at least a step in the right direction.

No voting is infallible, but the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics are the most dependable and artistically informed of the groups out there.

Edward Copeland said...

Thanks Ed for the shout out. Believe me, this wasn't an easy thing for me to do. I'm someone who has been an Oscar obsessive since before I was even a serious movie devotee. I'm not really even encouraging a boycott of the awards, just the promotion of them and the whole game. I know I'm not strong enough to avoid watching them. There are no Oscaraholic Anonymous support groups for me to take part in, but the changes, specifically their decision to say piss off to film history and jettison the honorary awards, was too much. The Emmys are easy to give up. The Tonys can be since it's not like I can see any of their shows anymore. By making it an infomercial instead of a show where the suspense derives from who wins, Oscar has really devalued itself beyond redemption. Still, part of me hopes they fix themselves again in the future.

Marilyn said...

Ed - I have been completely indifferent to the Oscars for some time. The only year I sat up and took notice was the year of The Pianist. But that was an aberration. The Oscars have no soul, and they are boring in the extreme to watch. Mssr. Copeland is to be commended for trying to get the monkey off his back.

Sam - I'm glad you like my no-nosense approach to the infinite nonsense of the Oscars.
And I'm glad you enjoy having a good party. Just watch that blood pressure, buddy.

Ariel said...

Uh...who cares about the movies or the awards? I only watch it to see what people are wearing. That's all that matters.

MovieMan0283 said...

My take on this was that I came close to not watching the Oscars this year, but eventually caved. Too much nostalgia, too much water under the bridge there for me to abandon it completely.

But then I read this in Edward's comment:

"specifically their decision to say piss off to film history and jettison the honorary awards"

I had not heard this. Frankly, right now all the film industry and Hollywood and the Oscars have going for them IS their history. I mean, there's certainly not a whole let happening in mainstream cinema to be awfully proud of at present. Yes, those endless and often pointless classic montages could seem silly, but at least they showed the Academy had its heart in the right place.

And the honorary Oscars showed Hollywood bumbling its way to some sort of recognition of its past in a more tangible, important way - often this was the only time they got it right - awarding an artist who had been ignored in his day in favor of more ephemeral talent.

If they've jettisoned this part of the show (presumably because the fashionistas find it boring?) they may have jettisoned me as well. I used to tape the damn thing every year, and just for shits & giggles would even watch the actors' faces fall in slow motion as they heard the news that they lost - just before they managed to put on that canned grin (I know, very cruel). I used to buy the Entertainment Weekly issue detailing all the nominations and read it with bated breath. As recently as last year, it was still the Oscar nominees that got me into the theater, where I go less and less these days given the paucity of quality and the egregiousness of the pricing. One of the first film books (check my list, folks, it's right near the top!) was an Oscar book which (ironically, given this news) taught me some of my first lessons about film history. To this day if you name a year, I can tell you the Best Picture winner in less than a second.

If the Oscar telecast is giving people like me the finger, I might as well return the gesture.

Ed Howard said...

Thanks for the comments so far, everyone. I understand some people love the awards (and some just watch for the fashion, heheh), but they mostly just bore me. I usually watch a little bit and check the next day to see who won, but I've never understood how some people get so excited about these things, and so bent out of shape when good movies lose out to lousy ones, as if that's at all surprising.

And MovieMan, yes, this year they've decided to eliminate the honorary awards from the Oscar telecast. Instead, they'll be given at a (non-televised) dinner late this year. That's certainly the final straw in confirming just how irrelevant and nonsensical Oscar really is -- why honor the greats of the past when they can honor modern blockbusters instead? Presumably they just decided that nobody cares about "old movies" anymore.

Hokahey said...

Ed - I feel the same way that you do about all the hype and how the show is an overblown infomercial - and I can't stand the opening act or any of the musical numbers. In recent years, I have watched for an hour or so - I get really tired of the musical numbers - then I set the VCR on to tape the rest of it, so that when I get up early in the morning for school the next day, I can rewind quickly and see who the big winners are. (Guess I can do that on the Net but somehow it's more exciting when they read the nominees and the winner.) Usually I'm rooting for a particular movie or performer - and I want to see the outcome.

I kind of have soft spot in my heart for the Oscars starting back in the 60s when it was a family tradition to watch. Of course, that was growing up in California, so the show started at 5 o'clock and it got over at a reasonable time. (Now I live in the east.) But I always loved the suspense of hearing the 5 (now it's 10! yikes!) nominees for Best Picture and hoping my favorite would win. Yes, often, the most deserving movie of the year has not even been nominated! And even at a young age I could recognize the injustices and the ridiculousness of the show. But sometimes they got it right! I remember when Lawrence of Arabia got Best Picture! How could they deny it!

Nowadays, when I just know The Thin Red Line or There Will Be Blood is not going to win Best Picture, I still get kind of excited about the contest. With 10 nominees, I don't think I'll feel the same excitement - I'll just be wondering which films would have been the top 5 (and I think it'll be obvious); and I also think that the Oscars get more ridiculous every year.

So, I will definitely spend most of my time that night writing something - or reading a book or watching a movie if I'm too tired to write - but I'll look forward to rewinding the tape to reveal Best Picture. Meanwhile, on the blogs, we'll be debating what the top 5 films of 09 were and which was the best - so even if our assessments are more astute than the Academy's, we still love the idea that one or two or five films are the best of the year.

weepingsam said...

I watched the show the year they gave the honorary award to Robert Altman... it can be fun to argue about the awards, who should win, who will, who gets nominated or not - the nominations create a kind of arbitrary pool of films to argue about, like those quizzes people do sometimes (though without the intelligence and continuity behind them, the good ones at least....) Watching the show is almost unthinkable though. I might tune in again when they give a lifetime achievement award to David Lynch, though.... They don't make those shows for me.

Sam Juliano said...

There's always another side of the coin of course.

In 1939, who could seriously take issue with the films that were up for Best Picture, even if the French film RULES OF THE GAME, which was the year's bets film, was not eligible in the Best Picture category.

The Wizard of Oz
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Wuthering Heights
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Gone With the Wind
Dark Victory
Of Mice and Men
Ninotchka
Love Affair
Stagecoach

An exceedingly fine line-up, with only the absence of Hawks's ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS and Ford's YOUNG MR. LINCOLN spoiling the fun. Of course, Mizoguchi's THE STORY OF THE LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS and Carne's LE JOUR SE LEVE came out that year, but again were ineligible for the major categories, aside from foreign film.

The point is, in those years (1940 and 1941 boasted exquisite choices to practically match 1939) there was a stronger sense of ethic an dartistic awareness, that eroded as the years progressed. And Oscar meant something in the 1940's, today it is scoffed at by any true lover of film.

just another film buff said...

No, I'm pulling out too. God knows why I got caught up with the wave last time. This time, I'm confident I can abstain from it.

Jason Bellamy said...

Let me start by saying that both Edward and Ed (opening this week in a double feature with Julie & Julia) make terrific arguments that I very much respect (and often agree with). But ...

First things first: Oscar Night is what it is, and in my mind it has very little to do with the arguments that Edward and Ed are making here. Long intros, musical numbers? Go for it. Send it up. Celebrate. At that point it's just a multi-hour party. Just make it entertaining and give it some sense of momentum. I love cinema, so I'll always love Oscar Night ... for the intro, the speeches and, yeah, even the outfits (the songs, not so much). It's a party with a bunch of movie stars in the same room. I dig that.

As for the hype ...

Yes, there's too much. Yes, it has more to do with commerce than anything (are people just now getting this? really?). Yes, I find articles predicting who will win to be boring, which is why I don't read them (though I do understand why people could get pleasure out of the horserace).

But for as much empty chatter as the Oscars create, as a whole they do add to the film discourse, if for no other reason than that they encourage it. Maybe in this era of the blog, where so many of us have such a constant supply of fellow movie geeks who are always available to share thoughts on whatever cinema topic we toss out for discussion, we have forgotten the importance of keeping the dialogue going. The Oscars create that dialogue.

Sure, it's a shame that last year someone saw two movies prior to January and then raced around to see the five Best Picture nominees and thus thinks that Frost/Nixon is one of the best films of 2008. But without the Oscars, guess what movie conversation falls back to for the average moviegoer? The box office! At that point Transformers 2 could go down as one of this year's great films.

The way I see it, the Oscars are an opportunity to debate greatness. When someone brings up Kate Winslet's performance in The Reader, it's my chance to encourage them to see Revolutionary Road, in which she's much better. Etcetera.

I wish we, as movie lovers, didn't get lost in the Oscars like we so often do. I especially wish that the Oscars didn't inspire backlash campaigns; it's just not worth it. But every now and then, Oscar gets it right. Every now and then, Oscar does draw people to just the right movies for just the right reasons.

I think the horserace coverage, like box office coverage, could stop tomorrow and we'd all be better for it. But the Oscars are a good thing. They're a reason to celebrate and discuss cinema, same as any year-end list, same as any critical roundtable. They are imperfect. They are not as golden as the statuette suggests. We should realize that Oscar isn't the great and powerful Oz but some little man behind the curtain. But he's still a charming little man, and I do think cinema is better off having him around.

MovieMan0283 said...

Jason

Many of your arguments are fair, but for me the clincher is the deletion of the honorary awards. If the Oscars was all about a balance between the tacky and grand, the commercial and the artistic, they've just tipped the scales.

It's been a tough time to be a film buff. There was a time in not too distant memory when movies were a universal art form - and some of the best were often appreciated by the masses as well as the cineastes. We seem to be moving further and further away from that - not only the sense that popular and elite choices for "best" align less than ever, but also in that movies themselves, popular or unpopular, seem increasingly irrelevant to the zeitgeist which is better characterized by television, internet phenomena, and even books. Even the rare Dark Knight or Lord of the Rings is heavily contingent on a pre-existing base of popularity.

All in all, the Oscars' changes seem to be another sign of the times but I hope I'm misreading the writing on the wall.

Aaron said...

The Oscars tend to be written off as a guilty pleasure, as a fashion show. If that's all they were, it would be pointless to complain about them.

But in my mind, they have a disastrous effect on the film industry, and it's not just limited to Hollywood.

Although I've always hated the Oscars, it's been worse in recent years, because whereas Hollywood used to make dramas and adult-oriented films, now anything adult-oriented (even if watered down) tends to fall under the banner of one of the major studios "independent" subsidiaries in order to give the film more prestige (i.e. make it Oscar-worthy); so now any drama is considered "independent" and prestigious, and real independent film struggles to find its place. Standar, by-the-numbers biopics (for instance) have encroached on independent territory. The Academy Awards honors formulas, and therefore the studios cater to the formulas.

But this isn't limited to best-picture material. I've lived in Hollywood, and getting an Oscar seems to be the dream of anyone working there, even when it comes to the awards that they gloss over as quickly as possible at the ceremony. But what does the Academy honor? When it comes to costume design, set design, sound design, anything like that, they like bombast. For costume or set design, it's period pictures, or space films. Are these costume dramas really to be admired? Can anyone tell the difference between them, or how accurately or creatively rendered the costumes and sets are? I firmly believe a certain number of ballroom dramas are made every year just so they can be nominated for these kind of side-awards. But how is a costume designer or set designer to be recognized and honored unless they're sticking to the Oscar formula? Unless we can see that they've done work that's apparent (i.e. it looks like the 70s, or the 1800s, or the 2700s), they will not be honored. So costume designers gravitate towards this kind of thing, the same way actors look for opportunities to play handicapped people. Stick to the formula. No one will ever win an Academy Award in sound for their use of silence, or subtlety. No one will ever get an award for editing a film with a light, invisible touch.

If you want to know how seriously to take the Oscars, take a look at their foreign-film nominees. Why do they even have this category when it means so little to them, when it's a meaningless sideshow? Most likely just so Hollywood can mock the insignificance of non-Hollywood films. What are these films that get nominated, that win? There are many great foreign films coming our way, but most of the films that get nominated are Cinema Paradiso-knockoffs that nobody's ever heard of (have the people who are voting for them actually seen any of them?) When one wins, it gets an obligatory one-week run in NY and LA, and disappears quickly. Exactly 0 of my top 20 foreign films last year got nominated or mentioned at the Academy Awards. They just seem to pick random films out of a hat, and give favor to anything that stars a little boy and an old man. Meanwhile, the audience claps politely, then sits through another Randy Newman-penned children's song, and waits for the real awards.

So while most people tune in to the Oscars to look at pretty people, or bet on the winner, I think a lot of the problems with the modern film industry can be traced directly to Hollywood's love-affair with the Oscars. If the disastrous effect was only limited to what comes out of Hollywood, I'd say fine, but I think it touches everything we see and don't see.

Jason Bellamy said...

MovieMan: I suspect they'll continue giving out honorary awards. You know, like when Scorsese won for The Departed and Freeman won for Million Dollar Baby and Cuba Gooding... sorry, never mind.

Aaron: I think those are all valid reasons to be pissed off at the Oscars. But here's my question: If the Oscars go away, how is any of this improved? Don't costume designers still gravitate toward projects where they can show the great lengths of their talent? And does it matter that dramas are now "Independent" so long as the dramas get made? And if the average moviegoer only sees two foreign films, at the recommendation of the Academy, instead of seeing zero, is that so bad? On top of that, how is the Oscar preventing people from seeking out those films if they aren't now?

Sure, people in the movie industry chase Oscars (or money). Take away the Oscars, don't they just chase recognition of some other kind? And might that other recognition be just as limited in scope as that of the Academy?

I'll take a wild guess and presume that Tree of Life won't look like an attempt at an Oscar. Tarantino is still Tarantino. Lynch is still Lynch. Etcetera.

Again, I think your assessment of the ways that the Oscars hurts the industry is accurate in many respects. I'm just not convinced that eliminating the Oscars would eliminate those problems.

Aaron said...

Hi Jason--
(I wrote this really fast, so forgive me if it's incomprehensible, I'm in a hurry)
You make good points, and obviously I don't know if things would change for the better if they ended the Oscars. It's too much speculation, but if I had to guess, I'd say things would improve. I will try to explain my reasoning.

Basically, I think the Oscars tread an uneasy line between being the fluff everyone sort of knows it is, a big, over-the-top glamorous event in which all the beautiful power-players come together; and being an actual awards ceremony, the most prestigious way to honor the workers and the artists in the film industry (at least, within Hollywood, although it's not specifically limited to Hollywood), . I think that, since we know it's really all about the former (as the comments here attest--"it's all about placing bets, having a party, nostalgia", etc.) in the end, they do a disservice to the people who work in Hollywood (especially in non-glamorous job, particularly on non-glamorous films) and to the audience.

Obviously the Oscars are about the "main" awards: picture, actor, etc (although even these almost never have anything to do with the merit of film) and to the big show. But at the same time it is an awards ceremony that is supposed to honor "achievement" as the categories are named. But we know that "best achievement in editing" doesn't REALLY honor great editing, even though editing is one of the great and most important arts within cinema. Editing is reduced to a side-award, tolerated, not respected, not actually honored. The nominees seem to be chosen at random, and only within a small pool of films that meet the criteria for the type that gets nominated for that award. So where's the place for great, understated, artful, unique editing? Hollywood doesn't respect it, and the audience surely picks up on this fact that editing is apparently (according to the Academy--i.e. all of Hollywood) an art where apparently no one even within the industry can tell the difference anyway. The only appreciation they can get within the community is to cater to Oscar standards; that is, work on the kind of film that will get nominated for that award no matter WHO is editing it. Then you are appreciated, but not really for the work you do. What if great editing was actually appreciated?

(continued...)

Aaron said...

Maybe people (probably very few) will see one foreign film a year based on the Academy's random picks, but is it a good thing? I don't know. By clearly having a complete lack of respect for non-Hollywood films, they write off these films as serious achievements. They essentially deny that non-Hollywood films can be great, enjoyable, not just something we have to pat on the head and say "good job!" to. If they really took it seriously, and nominated films that are great (whether or not you consider a "best of the year" competition valid or not), if Hollywood showed respect towards these films and actually promoted them as "achievements" then the audience might follow suit. If Hollywood can't respect it, why should the audience? Your question is whether if the Oscars didn't exist at all, people would even see one foreign film a year. My guess is that foreign film would be better off, because by promoting "Departures" as the greatest thing to come out of the World Cinema and by offering that as THE film you must go see, they pass their contempt onto the audience- their randomly chosen picture (and I do think it's probably pretty random) is mediocre and that's what they, the people who SHOULD know, promote as great. Perhaps without the Oscars, people would be more inclined to find their own way; anyway, a movie like Departures would never get released here since it is Oscar-bait and only got released after it won - maybe without Oscar-bait crowding the independent market, we'd have more foreign films that cater to foreign film lovers. I don't know. But I don't think the Oscars can be said to have done any good for foreign film, at least not in recent years. Because when people see the one film a year, they don't go back - why don't they go back? Because they hated the one that the Academy recommended above all the others.

Basically, I think when we look at all the comments that say "hey, the oscars are fun," you can't forget that the oscars aren't just billed as fun - they're billed as a ceremony to award the great artists who work on film. And by creating a ceremony that centers around the "main event" and not only rushing through the other bits (which actually make up the bulk of the show) but by not even actually awarding anything based on merit, but only on formula, they do a disservice to everyone. The question is whether things would be better without the Oscars or whether the Oscars should just do a more respectable job of actually honoring greatness. I would take either. But as it is, they are actually doing harm. You see all the time an actor taking a role because it's oscar-bait. If it wasn't for the oscars, he wouldn't have taken that role. Even though he knows the Oscars are kind of a joke, he still needs that Oscar--it still has meaning within the industry, he still wants to get up on that stage and thank his family and god. So apply that to everything the Oscars honors, and I think everyone loses out.

Jason Bellamy said...

Aaron: Thanks for the further detail. You make thoughtful arguments, but obviously both of us are theorizing here, so we're kind of debating in quicksand.

To take the end of your last comment into a further tangent, let me offer a defense of pursuing the Oscar-bait role:

Receiving an Oscar nomination tends to open doors for an actor/actress. Thus, even if it is sometimes (certainly not always) true that actors select a role for its Oscarness alone (not because they are interested in the part itself), taking that job could open up doors to the kind of work that the actor does want to do, the kind of work that the actor might not be getting offered now. Thus, that would seem a wise career move, not just one based on vanity.

I bring this up not to refute anything you said, really. It's just an opportunity to note that we often want directors, actors, whatevers to be starving artists, putting their craft before everything else. If they stray we call them frauds or sellouts.

Meanwhile, most of us tend to take the better paying jobs, even if not the jobs we want. We go for security rather than following our passions 100 percent of the time. (I'd love to blog all day. But instead I've got a demanding day job that pays the rent and gives me benefits.)

Is it a little silly that actors, who should know better, interpret an Oscar win as pure validation of excellence? No doubt. But I don't see that doing significant damage to cinema.

Good trading thoughts with you.

Edward Copeland said...

Oscar has never been able to get the foreign language film category right. It's always seemed stupid to me that they let each country select a single film to represent it and then refuse to recognize foreign language films that are combined efforts of multiple countries such as Kieslowski's colors trilogy or Kurosawa's Ran. It's also stupid because it limits it to one title per country when many countries have more than one title a year worth considering. I always thought they should go ahead and let each country have their official submission but also allow any foreign language film that manages to get a U.S. release of one week like any other film to compete in the category as well, regardless of origin.

Juliette. said...

Goog point-- I've always wondered how BAFTA selects nominees for foreign language film...

Ed Howard said...

Wow, this is a lot of great back and forth here, way too much to respond to. Thanks, everyone, for responding with such substance and obvious passion. I guess this makes one thing obvious: people really do care about the Oscars, one way or the other.

Sam makes the good point that the Oscars were maybe better in the past, that they got it right more often or that at least even if they got it wrong, worthy movies did still win. Maybe so. (Although citing 1939, when the amazing Only Angels Have Wings, one of the best films of the classic Hollywood era, wasn't even nominated, doesn't exactly make your case for you!) In any event, changes in media and studio structures have changed the Oscars quite a bit since then.

Jason also makes some good arguments for the Oscars, I can't really contend too much with any of that. No, I don't seriously think things would improve much for cinema if the Oscars disappeared tomorrow. I'm sure the problems Aaron identifies would still pop up in slightly modified forms; Hollywood seems determined to keep churning out formula films whether Oscar rewards them or not, because beyond the formula being what Oscar likes, the formula is *safe*, and big businesses like things that are safe. So I think the preponderance of stuffy costume pictures and weepy "prestige" dramas is as much due to Hollywood's innate love of safe, proven formulas as it is a reflection of Oscar-baiting.

And your point is well-taken that the Oscars provide a once-a-year opportunity for people who don't ordinarily talk about movies to suddenly talk about movies. So once a year, everyone gets to come together and complain about how disappointing, non-badass and "boring" the ending of No Country For Old Men was, and how it definitely wasn't the best picture of the year. Woo-hoo for more discourse. I kid, but maybe with a bit of truth to it. I guess my point is mainly that for people who think seriously about film more often than once a year, the Oscars are pretty much unnecessary as a conversation-starter, while those who don't really care about movies normally, well, they're the people who went to see the Coens' movie because it was the "best picture" that year, and mainly complained about how bad it was. Is it a good thing for the film and the filmmakers that so many people went to see it who wouldn't have otherwise? Of course it is; I'm sure the Coens made much more money off the film than they would've otherwise, and perhaps more importantly they've earned additional trust from the money men for whatever they do next. But does it add a lot to the film discourse? Eh, I'm not convinced.

Oh, and the foreign film selection process is a disgrace, but then, I mean the whole idea behind it, that foreign film is off in this ghetto and not really worthy of much attention or thought, is suspect to start out with, so of course the nomination process is fucked too. I think Aaron's on to something: I don't think anyone's seen the films they vote for in that category, they just pick that shit like a lottery ticket.

Edward Copeland said...

Not that I'm in a mood to defend the Academy, but at least it used to be the case that the only Academy members allowed to vote for the foreign, doc and short categories were members who attended screenings and proved they'd seen all the nominees. As for the other categories, there has never been such a requirement.