I’d like to thank the Academy. For inspiring me to watch something else.

Tonight, every seat in my living room was full of movie fans.

We had good food, good drinks, and an amazing chocolate-raspberry pie.

But you know what we didn’t do?

We did not watch the Oscars.


Hey, I hear that the show was better than usual. Glad to hear it.

But while the Academy focused on their idea of ‘Best Picture’ nominees… movies that I found forgettable, disposable, predictable, and in one case downright boring… we watched stuff that I find to be much more interesting, memorable, and worth revisitng:

  • Andrew Stanton’s WALL-E (which deserved far more than just Best Animated Feature),
  • Jeff Nichols’ incredible debut Shotgun Stories (my favorite movie of 2008),
  • a series of Heath Ledger’s best moments from The Dark Knight (which was also better, in my opinion, than any of the Best Picture nominees) (and thank you, Academy, for at least recognizing the brilliance of Ledger’s performance),
  • the first ten minutes of Flight of the Red Balloon (which many critics across the country chose as the best film of 2008, and it was #3 on my list),
  • and the first ten minutes of Silent Light (a film that didn’t even register on the Academy’s radar, but which will still be revered decades from now).

And it was interesting…

  • We got through the evening without seeing a single commercial.
  • We didn’t hear a single political diatribe.
  • We didn’t have to listen to Bill Maher.
  • We didn’t suffer through any Oscar montages of past films that shouldn’t have won either.
  • We didn’t have a boring or disappointing minute.

If the Academy learns to tell the difference between gourmet cuisine and typical meat-and-potatoes between now and next year, maybe I’ll find some interest in watching it. But I suspect I’ll have another Non-Oscar Party next year. In fact, I may just make it a tradition. Mark your calendars. You’re invited.

So I’d like to thank the Academy for inspiring me to find something better to do last night. I had a fantastic time.

(Oh, and if I missed anything that was really, really meaningful… there’s always YouTube.)

UPDATE: Yikes! I should have placed bets. I guessed Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Animated Feater, Director… Of course, I don’t *agree* with any of those choices (save Animated Feature), but what else is new?

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  • To sum up: Sometimes I can stomach all of the nonsense of the Oscars. Sometimes I can’t. This year, I really, really couldn’t. So I decided that I wanted to do something different, and spend that precious time experiencing some wonderful art instead of watching a bunch of hoopla about films that, for the most part, I found forgettable and disposable. So shoot me. I’ve got no gripe with anybody watching television instead. My only objection is to the ongoing, obvious lack of artistic appreciation, and how our culture’s biggest film-oriented event so often overlooks excellence in favor of mediocrity. No, that’s nothing new.

    And now, in the interest of withholding the lash of my comments from the backs of those who are annoyed (and yet keep coming back for more), I’m going to feign disinterest and move on now.

    Let’s go discover the best stuff the big screen has to offer, and let’s discuss it and celebrate it. Maybe it’ll catch on and make a difference.

  • In response to Peter:

    See, Jeff, when you say things like “It was the most enjoyable Oscar night I’ve ever spent,” that’s when I begin to worry. Don’t you already have movie nights with your friends? Don’t you already celebrate and cheer and applaud and get misty over the films you like? So what made last night so special? The fact that you were hosting thisparticular movie night in order to spite someone or something?

    Perhaps I just want to suggest an alternative to watching Hollywood’s self-congratulation for a change? Can it be an act of “casual, positive protest” rather than a spiteful one? (I’m not getting hung up on the word, I’m just saying it was not a tone of frustration at the party. It was a tone of celebration.) I hope so. That’s what we did last night anyway. As a matter of fact, we didn’t even talk about the Oscars.

    You say you’re not “excited” by the Oscars, but the fact that you oppose them so vigorously suggests that, deep down, you really are “excited” by them in at least some sense of the word.

    I’m excited by the potential of any event that declares itself a celebration of excellence and whatever is “best.” I’m excited by the possibility for something. But then the folks they select to bring to the stage are already a list that shows a narrow vision of excellence, at best, then I’d like to make some sign of objection… but I’d like to do it in a positive, proactive way. Call it the opposite of a hunger strike: I’ll “fast” from Oscar’s meager offerings, and choose a feast instead. And recommend that others do the same, if they’re going to set aside the evening for the sake of Love of Movies.

    I thought you were saying the Oscars had sinned by failing to acknowledge box-office hits.

    Huh? No. I don’t think box office should have anything to do with Oscar nominations. I think excellence should.

    Now you’re saying the Oscars would have sinned if they had nominated those films?

    No. I’m saying popularity shouldn’t have anything to do with it. I’m saying artistic excellence should… which might include box office hits, and it might not.

    But would it at least be fair to say that you’re a cheerleader? The one thing you talk about almost as much as food is the amount of cheering or applauding that you and other people do (or are perceived to be doing).

    If encouraging people to grow in their appreciation of the finer things makes me a cheerleader, well, if that’s the term you want to use for it, then fine. But I’m more interested in discussing the films and their finer points than in empty enthusiasm. I can’t dance, and I’m terrible with pom-poms, so I really don’t think I’m cut out for cheerleader.

    Oh, and just for the record, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? was a British game show before the Americans picked it up. So it’s a perfect subject for a British filmmaker, working in a former British colony.

    I’d forgotten that. You’re right, but it doesn’t change my point… which was that the popularity of the show, the proven crowdpleaser quality of it, is one of the smart, easily-marketable features that a great film like Munyurangabo lacks. (Heck, that movie can’t even find a distributor, because distributors know what people want, and so they know that they’re going to have a heckuva time marketing a meditative film about two boys walking across Rwanda.)

  • I’ve yet to see ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, but at least Best Picture didn’t go to ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’, which I managed to stay awake through but came out [almost] feeling like going home and putting on ‘Forrest Gump’ (which I had only seen twice before). I may have reacted rashly as I had heard about the comparisons between both films. Personally, I though Tom Hank’s gawkiness had a more interesting physicality than Brad Pitt aging backwards.

  • Ryan said,

    Yes, this year *may* be worse than others (I’d argue it’s not), but we should all just learn to roll our eyes and move on.

    For something that doesn’t merit serious discussion, it sure is an expensive, heavily-promoted affair. As Seattle newspapers are going bankrupt, they gave a few entire, full-color pages to it today. At work, the first thing I heard people talking about today was the Oscars. When I visited my favorite sites, it was the #1 topic of conversation. To just bypass it without raising my annual questions would be like being a football blogger who decides to skip a year of analyzing the Super Bowl. If you want to roll your eyes and move on, hey, I totally understand, and more power to you. But so long as my culture shoves the Oscars in my face, I’ll respond by questioning the Oscars’ credibility.

    If it doesn’t merit “intense discussion,” why are so many writers and cinephiles I respect discussing it today?

    As with any persisting cultural problem — obesity, pornography, traffic problems, whatever — I think there are better responses to the celebration of mediocrity than just to bite my tongue and go on.

    Now, if I were *just* complaining, and not striving to celebrate the good stuff, (and not striving to actually create some good stuff on my own), then I’d feel a little guilty about only speaking up when something bothers me. But most of my posts on this blog are about the good stuff. Once in a while, for the sake of good health, you’ve got to get your hands dirty and deal with the disease.

  • See, Jeff, when you say things like “It was the most enjoyable Oscar night I’ve ever spent,” that’s when I begin to worry. Don’t you already have movie nights with your friends? Don’t you already celebrate and cheer and applaud and get misty over the films you like? So what made last night so special? The fact that you were hosting this particular movie night in order to spite someone or something? That seems a bit dangerous to me. Especially when it becomes the occasion for multiple blog posts which basically exist to express that spite (for lack of a better word — and please don’t get too hung up on the word itself, it is just the first one that comes to mind).

    You say you’re not “excited” by the Oscars, but the fact that you oppose them so vigorously suggests that, deep down, you really are “excited” by them in at least some sense of the word. Some people might suggest that, if the Oscars are as basically irrelevant as you say, then an attitude of indifference might be wiser, or less taxing, at any rate.

    You ask, “Should we hope for the Oscars to celebrate what the culture has already celebrated as having made them happy, or to celebrate what sets the standard for cinematic artists?” Well, damned if you do and damned if you don’t, I guess. I thought you were saying the Oscars had sinned by failing to acknowledge box-office hits (“what the culture has already celebrated”) like WALL-E and The Dark Knight. Now you’re saying the Oscars would have sinned if they had nominated those films? I doubt it, but still. Just count yourself lucky that WALL-E (a critical darling, though I’m not exactly sure what “standard for cinematic artists” it sets) won Best Animated Feature, instead of Kung Fu Panda, which is a much bigger hit worldwide and swept the Annie Awards a few weeks ago. (This year marks only the second time this decade that the Annie Awards and the Oscars have disagreed on the best animated feature.)

    Very well, you might not be a fanboy. But would it at least be fair to say that you’re a cheerleader? The one thing you talk about almost as much as food is the amount of cheering or applauding that you and other people do (or are perceived to be doing).

    Oh, and just for the record, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? was a British game show before the Americans picked it up. So it’s a perfect subject for a British filmmaker, working in a former British colony.

  • Jeffrey,

    The Oscars don’t merit such intense discussion. The Oscars are perhaps worth a passing glance, but certainly no level of fixed attention. Similar complaints to yours are made with every successive Oscar season. In truth, the Academy rarely gets it right. Yes, this year *may* be worse than others (I’d argue it’s not), but we should all just learn to roll our eyes and move on. The Academy has been getting it wrong for decades. We shouldn’t expect them to start getting it right anytime soon.

  • DHM Carver: That’s *exactly* what I’m talking about. If we don’t learn how to appreciate excellence, it will go away, and we’ll be left with the mediocrity we so consistently celebrate. I’m glad you enjoyed Slumdog. Most people I know did, including Anne. As was the case with so many years before, I protest out of a personal sense that something is being overpraised rather than a sense that something shouldn’t be praised at all. (And yes, I too think Winslet deserves high praise. I just would have chosen different performances to praise. But that’s nothing new. Too often, the Oscars are where the Academy hands out awards to actors in apology for misunderstanding which performances really deserved it at the time.)

    Nicholas: LOL. Amen. (And I don’t blog to be loved, but thanks. I’ll send you a candy heart.)

  • Chad, I encourage you to have the same kind of gathering next year. I wish I’d thought of it earlier. It was the most enjoyable Oscar night I’ve ever spent. And thanks to the Internet, if I missed something really special… behold! There it is today.

    * * *

    Brian R. – No, you’re right. Once in a while they actually *do* come up with the name of something or somebody who really did exemplary work.

    Of course, you could achieve the same thing by throwing a dart at a list of the films released during 2008.

    I’m not saying they never acknowledge great movies. But I’d rather the Oscars were one of the *more* trustworthy and reputable award programs in the world, not one of them most embarrassing.

    * * *

    Peter – I’m not knocking the Olive Garden. I’m sorry if that offended you. I’m not even knocking Applebee’s.

    But I’m curious: Have you ever had a dining experience there that deserved the highest honors that the restaurant industry has to give, in view of all that is available internationally? Let me know. I’ll take my wife out there for our anniversary instead of to our usual favorites.

    Should we hope for the Oscars to celebrate what the culture has already celebrated as having made them happy, or to celebrate what sets the standard for cinematic artists? I’d prefer the latter, but perhaps I’m in the minority.

    No, it isn’t ironic that we focused on Heath Ledger’s scenes at my party. Not at all, if my priority is to focus on and appreciate great stuff. I never said the Oscars had nothing of merit to offer. But we did watch some of his scenes in their entirety, hearing someone talk about why they work and what is particularly outstanding about how they were crafted. And there were no commercials, no time limits, no montages to remind me of what *else* didn’t deserve honors in past years. I’m glad to hear that there was a little bit of attention to considering what actually made certain performances notable last night during the big show. What a great idea. Let’s not just announce something was great. Let’s encourage people to think about why. Appreciation is about so much more than just shouting “We like this!

    And please tell me you didn’t just implicate me as just a “fanboy.” I happen to think that, from among the few films that the Academy actually bothered to notice, WALL-E *deserved* a Best Picture nomination more than the others did … and I can make a thorough case as to why. I tend to think that “fanboys” are characterized by blind, irrational devotion to an idea. Look, The Purple Rose of Cairo doesn’t inspire me to sing its praises as it does you, but I’m not going to write off your respect for it by slapping you with a “fanboy” label. I respect that you’ve thought it through. Please extend the same courtesy to me, even if you don’t agree.

    * * *

    Seth, thanks for the encouragement. You’re right.

    But I think it is possible for a culture to learn to acknowledge and appreciate real excellence. It’s a matter of education, experience, and learning to trust something more than marketing and celebrity.

    You said, “I doubt that Slumdog Millionaire had either a big budget or Harvey Weinstein at its disposal.” Okay, may be not Harvey, but I saw ads for Slumdog everywhere: on prime time television for many weeks now, and ads all over the internet. Somebody was paying for the banner advertisements, and it’s saturated in a style that is very, very trendy right now.

    It’s not like Slumdog is the equivalent of Still Life or Flight of the Red Balloon or Let the Right One In in the challenges facing its marketers… if those films even have marketing budgets worth mentioning. It was an independent film that marketers knew they had a good chance of selling, and who can blame them?

    – A popular American game show figures heavily in how it builds suspense.
    – It has an irresistibly glamorous actress whose blinding smile features heavily in promotions.
    – It has music that’s on the leading edge of trends in what’s popular.
    – It has the rapid-cut style that will enthrall even those with the strongest ADD.

    These aren’t criticisms — I’m not knocking it. I’m just saying Slumdog did not have the typical challenges of an independent art film on its road to Oscar. Danny Boyle himself told me that he takes on projects that most people will really want to see on a Friday night when they’re tired and they just want to be entertained. And then he *works* at finding way to *insert* ideas that will actually cause them to think about something. Good for him. But this year, I saw plenty of films that aimed higher than that in terms of artistry. Even from American filmmakers.

    The state of the arts could be worse in American culture, but I see so much potential for improvement. And so long as the Oscars fall so very short of their potential, I’m unlikely to get excited about them. I’ll probably continue to encourage people to look at what the Academy has decided is exemplary, and then look at [insert overlooked masterpiece here], and decide for themselves. I’ll keep looking for stuff that actually nourishes me, and when I find it, I’ll suggest it. Even if I don’t turn cartwheels over a movie, if I find an interesting conversation happening around a movie, I’ll recommend it. Because it’s not about my personal tastes… it’s about what is really going to get us thinking, and what the art will continue to reveal upon examination and re-examination.

    Please be patient with me when I occasionally utter a sigh of discouragement over how many overlooked opportunities and how unappreciated excellence goes by.

    * * *
    Ryan, “Next topic, please?” I’m sorry. Am I boring you? You’re right… forgive me for talking about something I care about. I’ll get back to the business of entertaining you. What kind of subject would be more important? I’ll check your site to see what you really want to talk about.

  • It’s okay, Jeffrey. I still love you. Any awards program that hands out more nominations to Benjamin Button than anything else is pretty fracked up.

  • DHM Carver

    I am no fan of the Academy, long gave up on it as a barometer of quality — I pay more attention to the Golden Globes for indicators of merit, but I think this year was more of a mixed bag than appalling. I am glad to see Kate Winslet (who has eschewed a purely safe career path) get recognition, and I was pleased about the success of “Slumdog Millionaire” — partly because I truly enjoyed the film (I had heard so much hype about it before I saw it that I was prepared to be underwhelmed), but more so because it has been a huge success (and markedly profitable) in a time when the studios are gutting or closing their independent film shops. Slumdog’s being left on the US studio scrapheap to Oscar success for Fox Searchlight is part of the buzz. If Sumdog’s success gives pause to those who are gutting the money behind independent cinema, then this year’s awards have had salutary benefit.

    I wish I had your faith in the ability of American film audiences to change their tastes. I live in a city with a metropolitan area of over 800,000 people — and have watched cinemas showing interesting, challenging films go under, and see meagre audiences for the scraps of such films that are on offer. As a nation, we don’t want quality — we want bread and circuses, and happy endings. I am not sure how to stem this cultural desertification, I just know that the desert grows, and the oases are drying up.

  • Okay, we get it. You hated how the Oscars bungled their nominations this year. Next topic, please.

  • I’ve got to agree with Seth H. a bit here… I don’t agree with hardly any of the choices either (go to my site to see my list) but I watched the show and I believe – regardless of who was nominated or won – that it was the best Oscar awards show I’ve ever seen. Sorry you missed it. :) (And yes, Andrew, the way they handled the Acting categories was simply fantastic and very touching! And Kate Winslet’s speech was incredible – even though, Jeffrey, I wanted Anne Hathaway to win it.)

  • I like the idea of a boycott party, but not because I think the Academy screwed up.

    I think the Academy did an adequate job of picking movies that weren’t Applebee’s or Olive Gardens. I’d rather a Slumdog Millionaire than a Titanic or Chicago any day. Did films get overlooked? Of course they did – it happens every year. Several of the films I loved weren’t represented. But the way some of you all are talking you’d think the Academy was handing out multiple statues for films like Love Guru, Hancock and Twilight.

    That said, I wish I had boycotted the broadcast last night because watching the Oscars was too much like trying to watch American Idol. Unfunny hosts. Annoying musical numbers. Way too long. Way too boring. Way too much talk about fashion and make-up.

  • I can understand your frustration, but at the same time I think there’s virtue in coming to grips with the fact that you’re always going to be in the minority and learning to be gracious about it. Hollywood is always going to want to pat itself on the back. So it’s been going now for over 80 years. Still, they haven’t put a stop to the kind of filmmaking that you and I appreciate (and that’s double awesome since you and I tend to appreciate different kinds of movies altogether). As long as we still get to see movies that affect and entertain us, we shouldn’t worry about what the cult of personality chooses to honor instead. After all, Oscar is just one fish in a great big sea of superlatives. Yeah, I watch it every year, but that’s more out of tradition and enjoyment of the theatrics than any illusion that it truly awards the best, though it occasionally has in the past. 2003 comes to mind.

    If all else fails, think about this: Your blog gets, as you said, gets between 1,500 and 2,500 hits a day. As long as you keep recommending the films you think are worthy of our time, many of us will keep checking them out. I for one rushed out to see Rachel Getting Married after you and several others praised it so highly, and it wound up being in my top 10 of the year (just ahead of Benjamin Button and Slumdog Millionaire, though I know you don’t want to hear that). I in turn have recommended it to several people. I don’t know how many actually bothered with it, as my opinion isn’t quite as credible as yours, but I’d like to think that some of them eventually will. And that is what I think counts…spearheading a series of small impacts. It’s not as showy and loud as the crack of Oscar’s golden sledgehammer, but it still keeps the art form afloat. Jeff Nichols isn’t a multi-millionaire, but he’s getting to make another movie. To me, that’s comforting.

    For what it’s worth, here is my top 5 of the year (subject to change as more DVD’s come out):

    1. The Wrestler
    2. The Dark Knight
    3. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
    4. WALL-E
    5. Pineapple Express

    Yeah, not the artiest list ever, but I liked Snow Angels and Synecdoche, New York and Shotgun Stories a lot as well, so I don’t feel too much like a cretin. Said the guy who has Hustle & Flow in his all-time top 10. Yes, all-time.

  • Brian R

    @ Andrew: I also really appreciated the new presentation technique for the best act(or/ress) nominees. However, some of the affirmations were better than others. Adrian Brody, did you really just start your appreciation of Richard Jenkins using the 8th grade paper-writing trick of “When you google Richard Jenkins…”??? Translation: “I actually didn’t know much about you before The Visitor, but whoa you’ve actually done a lot of movies.”

    @ Jeffrey: If I’m not mistaken, The Class was nominated for best foreign picture. And Man on Wire got its due. I guess they couldn’t get everything wrong.

  • Hey now, hey now. I’m lucky if I make it to the Olive Garden once a year. Don’t go knocking the Olive Garden.

    There’s an analogy in that, somewhere.

    Side note: I doubt that Slumdog Millionaire had either a big budget or Harvey Weinstein at its disposal. Of course, it’s also a non-American film, so maybe it escapes your critique of the state of American cinema. But the point is, that was the film to beat this year, and it had neither of the assets that you suggest are so essential to claiming the top prize.

    And it’s kind of ironic, isn’t it?, that your boycott party focused only on Heath Ledger’s scenes in The Dark Knight, since that is pretty much exactly what the Academy did, too. I could handle a party that showed only highlights from WALL-E, too, but my kids watch it often enough that I don’t feel a need to sit through the whole thing again just to make a point. Especially since I am becoming increasingly conscious of the movie’s plot holes. (For what it’s worth, I can think of some plot holes in The Dark Knight that would probably bug me, too, if I were exposed to that film as often as I am exposed to WALL-E. Which is partly why, despite putting both films on my own top ten list, I don’t side with the fanboys who insist that it is a great injustice that neither of these films was nominated for Best Picture. It’s not like either of those films was perfect or anything.)

  • Andrew, that is one wild story. Hey, when will I see you again? Coming up to Seattle anytime soon? Shoot me an email sometime.

    Seth, That’s a perfectly fair response. I deserve it.

    But you know, I’m just so weary of watching great, great movies go almost entirely unnoticed by the Academy. It’s nothing new, but it’s just dispiriting, because so many people all over the world who don’t pay much attention to movies *do* pay attention to the Oscars. When I think about all of the affecting, inspiring, challenging art they’d encounter if only they were introduced to the stuff, it’s continually frustrating. It’s like hosting a global celebration for excellent cuisine, and giving the top awards to the Olive Garden and Applebee’s.

    And I’m not just griping because my favorites were skipped. I’m disappointed because if you look at surveys of what reviewers loved, and lists of what films won awards in other parts of the world, you come up with a very different — and yes, better (in terms of artistry) — group of films. And these films *might* have been enjoyed, might have been popular, if they’d had the budgets that these nominees had, or if they had Harvey Weinstein fighting to get them seen.

    So I sound a little venomous because I *am.* American cinema might improve, and audiences might discover more rewarding movies, if marketing budgets, politics, and celebrity weren’t such major factors in what wins awards.

    But that’s the world we live in. So I’ll just go on jumping up and down and trying to make noise for those films that don’t get noticed….

    …like The Class, which is playing a brief engagement in one theater here in Seattle right now, and is very likely to be #1 on my favorites list for the year, come December.

  • As someone else whose favorite films of the year went somewhat unrecognized, I have to say that I feel like you’ve been a little immature in your response to this year’s nominations. Is there anything wrong with choosing not to watch the show because you know your favorite films won’t be awarded? Absolutely not, and I’m glad you had a good time at your party. But to repeatedly state (rather venomously at times) that the Academy “screwed up” and “got it wrong” just because they responded to a different set of films than you comes across as a bit snobbish. I don’t want to insult you or anything, and I don’t think you’re truly a snob…I just thought it should be said.

  • Two things (okay, more than that):

    1. Sounds like a magnificent party; I wish I could have been there (since the invite’s out, maybe I’ll be there next year!).

    2. Flight of the Red Ballon is waiting for me at the library.

    3. There was one really good thing about the Oscar’s tonight: In the acting categories, instead of showing clips of the nominated performances, previous winners in that category talked to the nominated actors about what they appreciated about the actors’ performances. It turned out to be a very effective way of honoring their performances, and I was grateful it was included.

    4. Quick story: My brother Matthew began his travels to Indonesia yesterday, and, because of time zones and the direction he’s flying, the 22nd of January didn’t even exist for him. When he found out that was going to happen he said, “Talk about the ultimate Oscar boycott.” I thought you’d appreciate that.

    Thanks for your wonderful blog. Hope you and Anne are doing well.

  • I’ve just been feeling bitter the last month having to watch all this Slumdog Millionaire hype and knowing that Wall-E wouldn’t get its due. I wish I could have been at the party. Maybe I’ll start my own next year.