Feb 22, 2015

Screw the Oscars

Illustration by Paul Blow

For the first time in years, I'm not watching tonight. My Superbowl has become irrelevant (to me).
I know it is irrelevant to you, but as a movie junkie, this was my televised event of the year. And although it was always disappointing, always a bore, mostly always wrong, I always watched.
After an awards season that makes tonight almost a foregone conclusion, where's the fun in it?
I'm going to see a friend play live music with his band instead. Fuck it.
Thanks to the Hollywood Reporter's eye-opening Brutally Honest Oscar Ballots, we have confirmed what we've always suspected: many members don't take the voting seriously. This is not an excellence contest, it is a popularity contest.
People vote for their friends, for bad movies that make money, for actresses that haven't had plastic surgery. Some don't even bother watching the foreign films, or some of the shorts, documentaries or technical categories. They hear Inherent Vice is bad, so they don't even open the screener. They fault screeners not arriving on time for not considering a certain movie.  Or they think that because a movie is about an African-American subject matter it has been nominated on account of affirmative action or political correctness. Then they protest that their not voting for it has nothing to do with racism, that the movie in question is just not good enough.
For the record: Selma is a movie as good or better than most of its competitors in the Best Film category. It is certainly better than the two lame, sanitized British biopics, and more honest than American Sniper. I clarify for all those people who haven't seen it, but who ask if it is really any good, or it's just there because it's Black.
Some of these voters don't even seem to have a grasp of what makes a movie worth a nomination. "It just didn't do it for me", is one voter's main rationale. Only a couple of voters bothered to watch most of the films and explain why they arrived at their choices from a craft perspective. I hope that the seven anonymous members (five men and two women) that shared their voting process are not representative of the rest of the membership. Somehow, I doubt it.
My question is, if as members, don't they know or care that this contest can really make a difference in the life of a film, a filmmaker, an actor, or even crew members?  Particularly for the smaller categories, with tiny budgets, and even smaller audiences, the validation of an Academy Award nomination is important. These people don't seem to care.
Those who vote for people because they like them, or because they are 84 years old, or because they give humble speeches when winning other awards: if they were the nominees, would they like to be voted on for their social skills, their careers, anything but the work under consideration?
The Oscars are an industry invention, a brilliant inside ploy to bring legitimacy and publicity to Hollywood. But they are also big business. The studios don't spend lots of money on awards' campaigns for nothing.
It is not coincidental that the Academy is almost 90 years old and that some of its practices are as dusty as fraying celluloid. They are trying to make the membership younger and more diverse. They should also consider ways of making members watch all the nominees and take their voting more responsibly.
(Now, let's see if I can really stay away...)

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