Thursday, February 16, 2012

Should the Oscars Matter?

Those who follow were probably amused at today's discussion of whether or not the Oscars matter. Both sides had very valid points. But the question that should be asked is whether or not the Oscars SHOULD matter.

In a perfect world, the Oscars would be the ultimate, undisputed statement of artistic merit in film. Is it? No. Has it ever been that? No. So then, one must ask, "What ARE the Oscars?" Quite simply, it's a group that comprises a small percentage of the film community at large who vote every year to recognize a film or some aspect of a film. Are the people who vote on the Oscars the be all, end all opinion of film? No. They are people who just work in the industry who, at some point, received an invitation to have a say in the awards process. So why would THAT mean anything?

Let's use a different industry. Education. Every year, someone is named "Teacher of the Year." Is it an honor? Absolutely. Are they REALLY the best teacher in the ENTIRE country? Who knows? You don't know. I don't know. And no one who votes on the process knows either. There are probably thousands of teachers who work equally hard, produce equal or better results and never receive one bit of consideration. But to actually find out if the winner is actually the "best", it would be an unbelievably daunting task and, even then, it would come down to a person's or group of people's opinion that STILL would not likely select THE ultimate, undisputed Teacher of the Year.

So, if they aren't going to go through the trouble of getting it exactly right, why bother?

Because it's nice to recognize people who are as important to our society as teachers.

The Oscars are there to try and do the same thing with film.

The Oscars face a similar challenge. Hundreds of movies are released in the U.S. every year. Do the Academy voters see EVERY SINGLE film that's released? Hell no. Not even close. If any of them saw half, I'd die of shock. These people have jobs, after all. Not only do they have to make films, spending 15 hour days on a movie set, but then they have to go around promoting them for weeks or even months on end. Go to this or that gala charity event. Do the late night talk shows. The morning news shows.

I imagine awards season must get especially tiring. The People's Choice Awards, the Critics' Choice Awards, the SAG Awards, the Golden Globes, the Independent Spirit Awards, and, finally, the Oscars. And those are just the ones they show on TV in America!!! Don't forget. Many countries also have their own version of the Oscars. They go to those too. Now throw in all the film festivals all over the world, guild awards, critics banquets, etc. It's insane.

But it does lead me to my next point. The Oscars are just ONE of many different awards for film. From an artistic perspective only, does an Oscar for Best Picture mean anything different than any other award? And I mean leaving out the obvious bump in box office or DVD sales and that winning an Oscar gets you on Yahoo's front page? Strictly from an artistic standpoint. No, it doesn't. The Oscars are just the best known version of the same thing as all of the other groups that make some sort of recognition of merit. When it comes right down to it, the Oscars aren't any more or less an indication of what is good art than a Battle of the Bands at a local bar.

So SHOULD the Oscars mean something? Yes. To a select group of people. The nominees, the winners, anyone else who benefits from a nomination or a win. And to the people who LIKE the films the Academy selects. To the rest of us? Not really.

What it boils down to is that the Oscars are like anyone else who makes judgments on films. For example, I find that my taste in films is a mix of Roger Ebert and Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly. If they both like a film, the overwhelming odds are that I will like it too. Conversely, if Rene Rodriguez of the Miami Herald hates a film, I'll be first in line to see it. If the Oscars aren't recognizing the movies you think should be recognized, then pay closer attention to the group that does. If you thought The Descendants was the best film of the year and the Academy is stupid for (likely) picking The Artist? Guess what? The Dallas-Ft. Worth Film Critics Association, Florida Film Critics Circle Awards, the Hawaii International Film Festival, the Kansas City Film Critics, the L.A. Film Critics, the Satellite Awards, and the Southeastern Film Critics ALL agree with you. Next year, maybe pay closer attention to those groups because they seem to like the films you do. And cheer when the movie you loved wins. Then tell all of your friends, "See? The movie I loved was loved by these people too! Go see this movie I loved! Ignore the Academy. They're stupid."

On a side note: There are things I think the Academy can do to make the whole thing feel more legit. They just won't do it. The first step would be to be first. Make it so that the Oscar voters aren't influenced by who's winning in the other groups. Granted, after the Oscars, people tend to stop caring who wins what, but it could produce a more "legit" winner. A film like The Artist probably wouldn't have gotten noticed if FIFTEEN different critics groups, film festivals and guild awards hadn't made a point of saying it's the best. Second, get rid of the nominations. Imagine watching on Oscar night and know that Best Picture could be any one of dozens of films. Or to make it REALLY exciting. Announce the nominations ON Oscar night and give all of the voters in the audience an iPad to cast their vote right then and there. Granted, turning the Academy Awards into a reality show doesn't sound like a more legit option, but the current process is about as exciting as a presidential election. The way it is now, you HOPE it might be an exciting finish (a la The Social Network over The King's Speech), but deep down, you know it won't.

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