Do I hate the Oscars? No. Since 1999, the year that “The Iron Giant,” “Toy Story 2” and “The Sixth Sense” cemented my fate as a film fan for life, I’ve been watching them with a fervor that might be described as religious. And every year since 1999 (when those three films won a combined total of zero awards), I have been disappointed with the Academy’s new and creative ways to award generally lifeless exercises in prestige-baiting.
Best Picture has become increasingly defined as the film with the most momentum going into the ceremony, and the actual content of the film matters less every year. As a lifelong cinephile, it’s frustrating to watch studio politics take over the awards season every year, and my disappointment has finally curdled into surrender.
Because even if I don’t hate the Oscars, I hate what Oscar season and all of the surrounding white noise has become. When the New York Film Critics Circle announced their year-end awards way back in November, the Oscar season kicked off, and following the circuit this year, one thing became clear: this is all getting a bit dull. It’s all too easy to base your entire opinion of a film around the awards that it should (or shouldn’t) win this year.
This year, The Weinstein Company threw their campaigning power behind “The Artist,” a charming but slightly silent film and the current favorite for Best Picture, Actor, Director and Original Screenplay (a true feat for a film with almost no dialogue). Last year, the Weinsteins pushed “The King’s Speech” through the precursors and, in a sweep surprising to no one, won the same four awards. It’s no coincidence that last year’s Oscars were a failure in terms of hosting, entertainment and any sort of suspense, as “The King’s Speech’s” victories were pre-ordained by months of awards stacked in its favor.
And that brings us to this year. The ceremony promises to be even less interesting than last year’s, thanks to a barrage of disasters and disappointments surrounding the show. First, Brett Ratner and Eddie Murphy departed. Then the nominees were released to general chagrin.
However, the most damning information against the Oscars was released in Monday’s Los Angeles Times. After some keen investigating, the Times revealed the previously secretive Oscar membership was 94 percent white, 77 percent male and 54 percent older than 60. This actually explains a lot, from the flavorless nominees to the show itself. After Eddie Murphy’s departure, the Academy retreated into familiarity, bringing back host Billy Crystal to host a ninth time thanks to a massive lack of public demand (while also ignoring a quickly-growing Twitter campaign to have the Muppets host this year). Then they did the same thing with the nominees, casting aside younger, hipper and better films in favor of cookie-cutter Oscar bait like “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”
And there’s the problem. A bunch of old, white men making the decisions for what a Best Picture is, or a Best Original Song, or a Best Supporting Actor. Old, white men already make the decisions in Washington and on Wall Street, but movies are different. Movies are a personal experience above all else, a quest to find something of ourselves or something to relate to in a narrative that takes place far from (or maybe disturbingly close to) reality, and we shouldn’t let the tastes of old, white men dictate what the best film is anymore.
But really, what can you do? It’s easy. Do what I’m doing and simply bow out.
Don’t watch, don’t play commentator on Twitter and don’t care.
The Oscars is an outdated awards show with no idea what its audience wants and an archaic membership with a massive cultural disconnect from today’s cinematic landscape. Let Hollywood celebrate itself and its achievements, but we shouldn’t dignify this bastardization of the adjective “Best” any longer.
A better idea? Purge any and all hype from your mind and let the movies speak for themselves. Watch “Martha Marcy May Marlene” next to “The Iron Lady” and decide who the real Best Actress is. See if “Drive” or “The Artist” get more from their intentionally sparse dialogue. Or, even better, go back to “The King’s Speech” and tell me if that’s the Best Picture in a year that gave us “Black Swan,” “True Grit” and “The Social Network.”
It’s obvious that the Oscars aren’t going anywhere. But we don’t have to listen to their opinions, and the films they award are often forgotten by the time next year’s crop rolls around. The events of Sunday night won’t make the un-nominated “Shame” or “Take Shelter” worse films, and it certainly won’t make Best Picture nominees “War Horse” or “The Help” better ones, so why bother? It’s much easier to just ignore the entire process then bemoan “Crash’s” 2006 Best Picture win, or the inevitable sweep by “The Artist,” and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Who wants to join me?
Printed on Friday, February 24, 2012 as: Avoid Oscar disappointment: don't watch