So, the Academy Awards – or, as most regular people like to call them, the Oscars – happen on Sunday night.
I still don’t know if I’m going to bother watching them or not.
Once upon a time, this was an easy decision: of course I was going to watch the Oscars. Before I had any interest in the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup, I was huge into the Academy Awards. Before I even knew what fantasy sports teams were, I was organizing and betting in Oscar pools. (Yes, even before I was old enough to drive.) My research was meticulous, my scoring schemes elaborate, and most of all, I always made a party of it. Once upon a time, Oscar night was one of my favorite nights of the year.
And so it was for many years. Until, slowly, things began to change. My interest in movies never waned, but my interest (and faith) in how the Academy dealt with them did. At the same time, while the Academy started to tweak its show to allegedly make it more palatable to television viewers, I found these tweaks to have the exact opposite effect on me. Eventually, a threshold was reached, and I’m pretty sure that it’s been a decade or more since I bothered watching – or, really, caring about the results of – the Oscars.
So, what did it? The following list isn’t exhaustive, but I think it covers enough bases to paint a picture.
One year, I opened up my Oscar pool to a new group of friends and acquaintances. Most people who joined up were genuine movie enthusiasts either like myself or at least savvy enough to be involved in the artistic and/or technical conversation. One gent, however, had not seen any theatrical releases that year, nor had he bothered with any but one come home video time. This did not concern him; he was quite certain that he could predict the outcomes based on a formula that had nothing at all to do with artistic or technical merits. I will not share this formula with you – I feel no need to fuel hateful fires – but I will say that it was based entirely on population stereotyping. He won by a landslide; he got all but three categories exactly right and came close on the ones he missed. And while I just can’t bring myself to believe in his horrid stereotyping (which, if I were so inclined, would have made some shifts by the present year that I still can’t bring myself to believe in), it was enough to shake my perceptions, and make me take more notice of other things that bothered me.
I never liked the concept of “Oscar season.” I always felt as though movies that came out during the first three quarters of the year should have the same shot at non-technical awards (the summer pop flicks tended to get the token of visual and sound awards and maybe one other surprise) as those that came out toward the end of the year “when they would be fresh in voters’ minds.” This always struck me as rigging the vote, and while it didn’t always happen – hey, Gladiator – it usually did.
I know you can’t stop it, but damn, I was bothered by the flagrant campaigning. It’s in bad enough taste in the political arena; in art, it reaches the point of being counter to what the mission of art is supposed to be in the first place. And then there were/are the movies that seem very much as though they were made only to compete for awards. (I’m less inclined to see things that way now, in most cases, but then, yeah.)
I hated, hated, hated – and still do – the eligibility rules insofar as release dates are concerned. A release date is a release date. Being released in a couple of theatres in New York and Los Angeles a month before general release everywhere else does not count as a real release date, no matter what the Academy says. General release date or nothing. (And hey, you don’t have to keep with the calendar – why not do what the NHL and NFL do, and arbitrarily decide when the year starts and ends based on the date of the final contest?)
The awards show is for the honorees first and foremost, and not for the television audience. Yeah, I know, that doesn’t sound like I know a damn thing about business (you’d be wrong, and I have the parchment to back me up), but you know what? This is art, first and foremost, and the day that it’s not is the day that it’s meaningless. What this means is that the band needs to shut the hell up when people want to say their thank yous on stage. If six people won the award, they shouldn’t have to pick a spokesperson; everyone should have a shot. And I don’t give a damn how much “over time” the ceremony is running, when Martin Landau wins his award, you damn well let him speak! (Yes, I’m still pissed about that one.) Far from making the Oscars more “audience friendly,” the moves made by the Academy to make sure the program ended in time for the evening news are what finally pushed me over the edge into thinking that they joined the idiot brigade that cared less about the art and artists than about the broadcast ratings.
Alas, along with the enforced brevity of the stuff that mattered, the powers that be also seemed to suck the life and sincerity out of everything else. The presenters looked more and more like interchangeable talking heads uncomfortable with their cue cards. The numbers seemed sanitized and less innovative. Everything got crushed.
And so, somewhere between the politics and the play for television’s lowest common denominator, I decided that I’d had enough.
Crickets chirp for a decade or so.
What made me consider watching again this year was the rumor of all six James Bonds showing up on stage at once, but now it sounds like that won’t happen. And I can’t say I believe in a “Best Short Film” category that doesn’t have Wonder Russell’s Revelation (see it here) as a nominee. But most of my friends will be watching, and all things considered, one could argue that I have something of an obligation to at least take a peek for a variety of reasons… And dammit, no matter what crazy business and politics happen around them, I do love the movies, and this is their night… And I’ll be home… With some wine…
Maybe this is the year that I give the little bald guy another chance. Besides, I’d like to see Adele’s performance. Yeah, that’s it.