[This post was originally published here on January 16, 2013. I'm revising and reposting it on the occasion of Oscar Sunday.]
It appears that a lot of people have completely misunderstood what cinema is for, concluding that it’s all some big cockamamie competition.
Here’s a tip:
If you lament what a bunch of 60-something white guys did or didn’t like, you are behaving as if their opinion is what matters, and thus you are giving them the power that they claim for themselves.
In truth, what they like or dislike cannot confirm, add, or detract from the power within a work of art.
(Wouldn’t it be a shame if only 14% of Oscar voters were younger than 50? If 93% were Caucasian, and 76% were male? Yeah, it would. And that’s what The LA Times found in their 2013 survey of Academy members. Here are more interesting stats regarding Oscar history…)
The more we cheer or grumble about what that small, skewed demographic thinks, the more the global conversation about art will be distracted by, and corrupted by, the lie that art can be meaningfully discussed in the vocabulary of competition.
And the more the madness will go on, disrupting the conditions necessary for close attention, for contemplation, and for the kind of discussion that opens up works of art so that they can speak meaningfully into our lives.
If you’re in a mood for a circus of ego and glamor and commercials, watch the Oscars. Sure, you’ll see some memorable things, laugh at some memorable jokes, and hey… U2!
But if you’re in the mood for art, watch a good movie.
And there are other things we might do with our time this evening. Father James Martin has a suggestion.
Knowing the Academy, they’ll probably decide that the big award goes to Gravity… which remains, for me, the least interesting of the whole celebrity-studded stack. Remember, these are mostly the same voters who picked films like
- Crash over The New World and Junebug;
- Argo over Moonrise Kingdom and Lincoln and The Master;
- The Artist over The Tree of Life and A Separation; and
- A Beautiful Mind over Gosford Park, The Fellowship of the Ring, Spirited Away, and The Royal Tenenbaums.
So that tells you something about their ideas of great art. But what does it matter? So it’ll win a historical footnote and a bunch more money. That doesn’t add power to the art.
I’m more interested in discussing what films have to offer than what awards they win. So, for the record, here are some reviews, comments, and first-impression notes on the nine films that the Academy decided to acknowledge.
- Gravity - Reflections on why I couldn’t wait to leave this film behind.
- American Hustle – First impressions.
- The Wolf of Wall Street – Reflections, in which I personally disagree with those who condemn the film as evil.
- Nebraska – First impressions, at Letterboxd.
- 12 Years a Slave – My review.
- Dallas Buyers Club – First impressions, at Letterboxd, in which I conclude that Hollywood will give it two big acting Oscars.
- Her – My review.
- Captain Phillips – First impressions, at Letterboxd.
- Philomena – First impressions, at Letterboxd.
Allow me to humbly recommend a few that were deeply meaningful to me this year… films that the Oscars ignore for no good reason.