The Oscar Nominations came out today, and you know what that means! That’s right! It’s time for my annual rant to my film students about the meaningless crassness of the Oscar awards! Hurray! And this year, you can share in the crabbiness!
I know, they seem fun and harmless, but the thing to understand about the Oscars is this: they were created during a period when the US dominated the film market, but more and more countries were developing better and better cinema. Out of fear of losing control of the industry, the studios decided to create an awards program to promote American films. Presto: The Oscars. The big tip-off, of course, being the inclusion of a “Best Foreign Film” category, since re-named the “Best Foreign-Language Film” category. There’s the best in every category! And then one for all those other, weird, explosion-deficient countries where people’s teeth aren’t as eerily white as ours.
Obviously, Hollywood loves to give itself awards – in fact, there are more awards ceremonies in Hollywood for Hollywood each year than there are days in the year – and sometimes joke, Hollywood roasts like the The Golden Globes that were never intended to be real awards have cameramen show up because celebrities! And so everyone sobers up and pretends they’re real awards, but the Oscars, like buildings and whores (as John Huston says in Chinatown) got respectable with age.
*Side note: that entire paragraph is one sentence. Feel the power of my grammatical disdain!
Really though, it’s still a promotional game. Never minding that studios will regularly spend more to promote a movie for Oscars than they spend on the production of the movie itself, there’s a very specific formula to making movies to get nominated for the Academy Award. Obviously, there are frequent surprises (Hugo, this year, was really good and I loved, loved, loved Midnight in Paris), and often the films nominated in the Best Screenplay category are among the very best mainstream American films of the year. Also, I’ll admit, every so often I’ll still watch the awards for a little while, often as an excuse to sit there and scoff, and harumph and Ooh! Peter Dinklage, I like him! and Pshaw with derision.
My favorite year was 2001, when they announced Gladiator as Best Picture. Just as they announced it (and don’t get me wrong, it’s a perfectly fun, Saturday afternoon sword-and-sandals action movie), I said, “What?!” and right then the TV blew out. I don’t know if I did it with the power of my mind or if the TV died in outrage, but it would have been a perfectly poetic moment if I hadn’t then had to buy a new TV.
I feel like there’s no more crass example of award grubbing than this year’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Admittedly, I’m biased against the film because I like the book so much, but the film has been tailor-made to win Oscars in every way except genuine excellence, from the production team to the ad campaign. The story of someone with a mild, kind of charming, disability he must overcome amidst family upset, set against a backdrop of cataclysmic world events… or am I thinking of The King’s Speech?… the film is supposed to be awful, but it has everything it needs to be Oscar Bait, including the all-important “Aging actor whose work hasn’t received proper recognition” to snag that Best Supporting trophy.
Anyway… not to be a killjoy about the whole thing. I’m sure there will be some wonderfully scandalous outfits worn to the show… And Hugo really is good… I’ll go watch “A Trip To The Moon” and listen to my Victrola now.