Laurelin's Light

Random Thoughts from a Confessed Film Snob

23 February 2009

Not Watching the Oscars

This year, for the first time since I can remember, I will not be watching the Academy Award Ceremony.

The reason this is a big deal is that watching the Oscars was always a very big deal for me. I used to host Oscar parties to which I would invite 10-20 people (and then I would get very annoyed that they all insisted on talking while I was trying to listen to acceptance speeches from people they had never heard of). Even during the years when we were living here in Romania (where we are 10 hours ahead of PST) I would host similar parties and we would stay up all night watching movies and socializing until the telecast finally started around 4:00 in the morning (and then I would get annoyed that the Romanian broadcasters had live commentators speaking over the speeches, jokes and presenters).

I would never have dreamed of missing the ceremony for any reason. But that was then. This year I finally, officially, don't care.

There are a lot of reasons I don't care any more, none of which include a lapse of interest in film. If anything, I am more in love with the medium than ever before. The more I learn about film making, film makers and films which have been made, the more I appreciate the art. But that appreciation has helped me to understand that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has little interest in celebrating art, but has much interest in selling the idea that it celebrates art. Hollywood has always been about - and always will be about - making money. The Academy's members are all people who have earned obscene amounts of money making movies. The whole idea of the Oscar awards is to convince the rest of the world that they don't really care about earning obscene amounts of money, what they really care about is making great art (and they just happen to make obscene amounts of money along the way).

So the Academy gives awards not to the actual best films, but rather to the films which do the best job of convincing the world that Hollywood loves to make art. For example: this year's crop of "best" films includes two timely political dramas, a fantasy about the "realism" of India's poverty, a "cutting edge" director doing his take on Forrest Gump and a Holocaust drama with a twist. Those are the kind of movies which the Academy wants the huddled masses to look up at in awe and declare: "Hollywood really does strive to create art!"

The films don't even have to achieve artistic merit in order to be lauded, all they have to do strive for it. Benjamin Button fails miserably and yet it was honoured with 13 nominations(!) because it was so "ambitious". For a comprehensive deconstruction of that particular film you can read my critique which I began here and which I will continue in the near future, but I will add here that David Fincher , although viewed as "edgy" (i.e. not mainstream) has earned more than $1 billion for Hollywood over the past 20 years.
Milk actually deserves its nomination; it's a solid, well-crafted film by a gifted director.
Frost/Nixon is also a solid film, but it's not an exciting piece of art. And given the tight script and superb cast, what exactly did Ron Howard do to deserve a nomination? I don't think that anyone can argue with a straight face that Howard is one of our best directors. He's a journeyman. Given a good script, he'll deliver a good film, such as F/N or Apollo 13. Given a poor script he churn out The Da Vinci Code or The Grinch or A Beautiful Mind or Willow, etc.
Slumdog Millionaire
comes pretty close to succeeding, but it is based on an irreconcilable paradox. We're first asked to believe in the gritty realism of life in the Indian slums and then asked to accept a fairy tale ending. It seems chauvinistic that we are expected to accept that Latika can pass from a life of rape and abuse into "happily ever after" just because she finally found her true love and he just happens to be fabulously wealthy.

Which films do I think were the best artistic achievements of the year? Well, without getting into the more obscure titles which I enjoyed (I'll do that in a later post) and admitting that there are number of films which I have not had a chance to see yet (Synecdoche, New York, In Search of a Midnight Kiss), I would name four: The Wrestler, Wall-E, Frozen River and (yes, I'll say it) The Dark Knight. If these films are (as I would argue) better than the ones actually nominated, why were they not nominated? For exactly the reason I stated above. Hollywood needs the world to believe that it is first and foremost interested in creating art. It is never going to offer up a comic book movie or a cartoon as a poster child for "artists making art". And as for The Wrestler and Frozen River, at the time the nominations were made, each of those films had only earned about $10 million at the box office. That's chump change in Hollywood. The big five nominees all need to be movies the entire world has heard of, otherwise the Academy is not doing its job.

So which of the films is going to take home the gold tonight? I really don't care anymore.

(But if I were a betting man, I'd put my money on Slumdog.)


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