Why I love the Oscars

Why I love the Oscars February 26, 2016
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Wow. We’re at Oscar weekend already. I thought about doing an Oscar prediction post this year, but I’m horrible at making those (although if you want to hear me take a stab at it, you can listen to the latest episode of the “Far From Hollywood” podcast). And I also wanted to tackle each of the Best Picture nominees (I got as far as The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road), but I became so excited about writing some other things here that I lost track of time. There will be an Oscars post-mortem late Sunday night or early Monday, and if you follow me on Twitter @cdubbs727 you’ll likely see some live-tweeting. But I wanted to go into Oscar weekend with some thoughts. So, I’ve edited this piece I wrote a few years back; the sentiments are still the same. Enjoy!  

I grew up loving the Oscars. When I was too young to stay up until midnight (or later) watching them, I’d videotape them. I’d run home that next day after school and watch the entire show, even though I usually knew by that point who had won. I loved the musical number that opened the show and the monologue that poked gentle fun at the year’s beloved films. I enjoyed the banter between presenters, the lengthy thank-you speeches and the suspense leading up to the announcement of the Best Picture winner. Sometimes I’d rewind and rewatch my favorite moments.

It’s fashionable for film reviewers to hate the Oscars, particularly the most pretentious of critics. They don’t just get bummed out that their favorite movie wasn’t nominated for Best Picture — they seem to actually be offended that more populous films are in the running. They take to Twitter and Facebook and rant about how they’re going to sit and watch their own marathon of the year’s “best” films — which I assume this year means they’ll be sitting around for an evening of Tangerine, Carol and AnomalisaWhich, now that I write that, sounds fantastic.

I understand their frustration. After all, some of my favorite films of last year — including The End of the Tour, Inside Out and The Hateful Eight — were not nominated for awards I think they easily could have won (best actor, best picture and best screenplay, respectively). I don’t quite understand the love for the charming but slight Brooklyn…but then again, there are a lot of people who don’t understand why I walked out so passionate about the diesel-fueled chaos of Mad Max: Fury Road (or the Diesel-fueled chaos of Furious Seven). And while I think Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy and Will Poulter were all superb in The Revenant (Poulter deserved a nomination), I’m on the record for calling the movie a “doughnut” — a lot of great stuff on the outside with an empty center

THE REVENANT

But that’s the problem with trying to name the “best” movie of the year…”best” is such a subjective term. Films are viewed differently by everyone, and while there is objective criteria for determining a good movie (I don’t think there’s anyone who could make a case that Fantastic Four should be a best picture contender), the idea of choosing the “best” film of the year is silly. How can you compare Mad Max to Room? Is it really fair to say The Martian is a better film than Spotlight, when both films are so different in what they seek to accomplish and how they pull that off? When I put together my top 10 list each year, I ran into the same problem–it’s easy to say “these are the 10 best movies I saw this year.” It’s much harder to rank them from top to bottom.

And what of the fact that films can change in value over time? In 1999, American Beauty was a revelation to me; now, it’s embarrassing to watch it and think I was actually naive enough to find it profound. Likewise, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love was a confusing, senseless piffle when I saw it in theaters…today, it’s my favorite film by the director. Who’s to say Brooklyn won’t change in my estimation when I see it again in 10 years? Will anyone still be talking about The Big Short a year from now? Is anyone really still chatting up The Imitation Game?

So yeah, the Oscars are silly. In addition to having the audacity to pick out the “best” film of the year, they’re incredibly political. Prizes often go to the films and personalities that “campaigned” the hardest, meaning those who care about the art and not the game will likely go unnoticed. And then there’s the matter that they take themselves so seriously, acting like the men and women who play make believe on a giant screen are actually doing something on par with our great world-changers. The Oscars are really just Hollywood’s night to get together and say “look at what a good job we did.” As someone once commented, it’s the world’s biggest Employee of the Year celebration.

And yet, I still love them.

I love them because, for one month, our culture’s talking about movies. Good movies. It’s not like it’s summer and culture is buzzing about the latest superhero or robot/alien monster hit. This time of year, good — even great — movies are becoming mainstream conversation.

 

Having long loved the films of Thomas McCarthy (with the obvious exception of The Cobbler), I’m so glad to see Spotlight as one of this year’s front-runners. Not only is it a wonderful film about the importance of journalism and the power of established institutions on society, but if it turns viewers on to McCarthy’s older films like The Station Agent, The Visitor or Win-Win, I’ll be ecstatic. I love the “Fast and Furious” films as much as anyone. But I love that I can point people to Mad Max: Fury Road as one of this year’s best movies, and tell them that it’s a movie that looked at Furious Seven’s skydiving cars sequence and said, “oh, that’s cute.” I’m glad that there are greatly entertaining films like Mad Max and The Martian that are nominated, or that I can maybe say to someone “if you liked The Other Guys, you should really check out The Big Short, because it’s Adam McKay really doubling down on the conversation he started in that film’s credits. ”

Even the films I don’t particularly like have inspired a great deal of conversation. Brooklyn is a film that just never connected with me, but I’m glad others found it charming. I find The Revenant to be an empty film, but I do appreciate the way DiCaprio threw everything into the role. As an actor I deeply respect, I’m happy he’ll likely finally get an Oscar this Sunday. And yeah, I wish he was receiving it for The Aviator or The Wolf of Wall Street. But the man always gives 100 percent. Heck, even something that has no chance of winning, such as Bridge of Spies, is a fascinating part of the conversation. True, most people see the film as “minor Spielberg.” But the fact that this is minor Spielberg is amazing; it would be the best film in many directors’ filmographies.

I love the Oscars. Not because they “mean” anything, but because they’re a celebration of an art form I hold deal. I’ll be watching along with millions of others, enjoying an evening dedicated to the cinema. Some movies I don’t love will win awards, and that’s okay; I’ll make a note of it and move on. I’ll cheer when movies I love take home the gold. And for those who aren’t even named, I’ll just make a note to put in a DVD of them someday soon and give them the love they deserve.

Happy Oscar weekend everyone!

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