February 16, 2008

Breaking News: The Oscars Are Controversial

TIME magazine's film critic, Richard Corliss, recycles the age-old question yet again in this week's issue: Do the right films win Oscars? The short answer, to no one's surprise, is "no." But did I really need to read the article to hear that for the thousandth time? Granted, it's the 80th anniversary of the Academy Awards ("pop culture's equivalent of the Nobel Prize" - ?), and the average TIME reader might not see many movies, but for those who do this is like hearing that ticket prices are going to increase in the future. Not the most shocking revelation.

Corliss runs through an itemized list of films and actors that should and should not have won Oscar, but what's the point? The fundamental backbone of the entire process is subjectivity, so why try to prove that your picks are better than the actual winners? Instead, enlighten us further about "the problems with the Academy Awards: political pressure, suspicion of outsiders, resistance to innovation." There's really no point in discussing anything else, let alone providing "evidence" (a graphic in the print edition of the issue) of poor voting - Tootsie should have won Best Picture over Gandhi?

What Corliss and most everyone else still fails to understand is that we don't get excited about the "right" movies winning Academy Awards. It's great if they do (and his last mention of No Country for Old Men is right on), but it's never expected that they actually will. Instead, we're all just anxious to see which of the "right" films will sneak through for any recognition at all.
Sure, it's unfortunate that Hitchcock and Citizen Kane and 2001: A Space Odyssey didn't win Oscars, but I think (rather, hope) that people understand an excellent film or actor is not defined by that. Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, and The Shawshank Redemption were all up against each other for Best Picture in 1994. Could you have persuasively justified your vote as the unequivocal "right" one?

The reason to love the Oscars (and the reason for myriad pools and contests) is that it's a thrilling game of chance, with way too many variables to reconcile. That's what the "big" deal is.


  1. Good points. The Academy Awards is a great way to get more people to watch the films that were nominated. This year especially is full of great films that I hope are viewed by more because of it.

  2. Thanks for the look, Joseph, hope to see you more often.

    I agree that the Oscars as an ad-to-get-people-from-not-seeing-Meet the Spartans is another great aspect of the celebration. Especially this last year, as you mention. There are a number of '07 films that will be remembered for decades. Yep, decades.

  3. Pulp Fiction was unequivocally the "right" one.

  4. It is what it is, but I in my circle of friends, an Oscar doesn't mean much. When someone goes: "Hey, this movie won an Oscar!" Everyone just rolls their eyes.

    Still, no matter how meaningless the awards are, we still watch it year after year, speculate who wins and why this and that was not nominated.

    It's been about 10 years since I saw a movie just because it was nominated or won an Academy Award. I've probably seen most of them anyway, but not for that reason.

  5. Glad to see I'm not the only one who has had it with the same filler crap recycled over and over when it comes to entertainment journalism - Trend pieces that are either old news or just plain fiction.

    And this isn't Entertainment Weekly we're talking about here, it's Time magazine for crapsakes.

    What amuses me is that people bitch and moan every year about Oscar's picks as though AMPAS is a democracy. It's not. It's a private club and our little opinions (nor those of the critics) much matter.

    More than who wins or loses, what's interesting about them for me is that they galvanize people's attention on a core group of movies. It's the one time of year when even 'regular' people are comparing and contrasting movies and thinking and talking about them.

    The whole thing is pretty meaningless, but taken as a single slice of the whole movie-enjoying pie, it can be fun.

  6. Matt - that's not persuasive (but it's probably true).

    Soundtrackgeek - you capture it perfectly. We just watch to have fun in the guessing. What, are we going to NOT watch it? But most of us "true" film fans have seen most or all of the films before they're nominated anyway, as you said.

    Craig, while you might think TIME is a pinnacle of journalism, it has started to slip into tabloid mode with increasing frequency. Nevertheless, were this not an Oscar anniversary, there would be NO reason for Corliss' piece.

    The other bit you bring up is great, too. The five nominees this year have been bandied about for months now - it's fun, interesting and it doesn't happen outside of this season.

  7. Great article. I think all the major news magazines have starting slipping into tabloid mode, but I'd expect better from Richard Corliss.

    I long ago stopped expecting the Oscars to routinely reward genuine quality. It's nice when they do, but the reality is that the awards are driven by industry politics, and always will be.

    I love Oscar night, but only because I go to my friend's annual party, watch the show with a big crowd of mutually movie-loving friends, and have fun dishing the winners and the actresses' gowns.

  8. Thanks, Pat. Based on your experience, do you have a year estimate as to when the Oscars "stopped mattering"? I'm curious.

  9. I don't know that I could pick a particular year that the Oscars "stopped mattering" - my impression is that thev've been skewed and political from the get-go. As far back as 1935, for example, they were awarding Oscars to less deserving performances just to correct prior snubs (Bette Davis was overlooked for "Of Human Bondage" in 1934, so they gave her an Oscar the next year for a movie called "Dangerous".)

    There is an excellent article on Salon today by Andrew O'Hehir about the dichotomy between the movies that make money and the ones that get Oscar nominations. O'Hehir claims this isn't an entirely new phenomenon, but does partly reflect changes in the movie industry itself. Here is the link - although you may need to be a subscriber to read the entire article: http://www.salon.com/ent/movies/feature/2008/02/18/oscars/

  10. I hacked in somehow. That's a great article - thanks. What really jumped out at me is that only two BP nominees in the last three years have grossed $80 million or more. That's crazy talk.

    I was wondering how was he setting himself apart from the other journalists (including Corliss) at the beginning, but he really gets going in the 5th paragraph. Thanks again.

  11. Journalism is indeed going right down the crapper and the media conglomerates are wiping their asses with money.

    This is the subject of a whole other rant, but news should not be entertainment nor should it necessarily be profitable. It should be a kind of responsibility.

    (stepping down off of soapbox)

  12. Hehe, that starts the thread you had on LiC a couple weeks ago, Craig. In this case, I don't know how to categorize Corliss - it not's even really news, which I guess frees him from both responsibility and pressure to be entertaining. It's a piece that goes nowhere, compared with O'Hehir's (how do you pronounce that?).

  13. In my head I always pronounce it O'Hearererer, like people trying to pronounce Brett Favre in There's Something About Mary.

    Why? Because the simple things amuse me.

  14. I bet he looked forward to roll call everyday in school.


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