If I was Diablo Cody, the blog-celeb cum screenwriter who penned this year's admittedly great yet amazingly flawed indie hit, Juno, I'd start this article out by writing "AYFKM?!", and leave it to the readers to figure out what that means - if they're hip enough. But I'm not hip at all. I'm so unhip, in fact, I could probably use a hip transplant. So I'll just come right out and lay a full "are you fucking kidding me" down, before ripping the Academy a new one for possibly the worst year for nominees... ever. And I'm being generous with that 'possibly' business.
Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a group that exists for basically nothing more than putting on an annual awards show, manages to shit me. Every single year. Without fail.
Most years, that's fine; whenever you try to categorize the best of an artform, especially one that continually struggles with the art/business mix as cinema does, you're going to ruffle feathers.
English Patient better than Fargo? The hell it is.
How Green Was My Valley a better film than Citizen Kane? Are you freaking kidding me?
Ernest Borgnine's performance in Marty was better than James Dean's in Rebel Without a Cause? Oh, just piss off already.
The story of Marty's Oscar glory back in 1956 is the complete explanation as to why the Oscars are ass. See, nobody saw Marty. It was a little black and white indie in a year of blockbuster technicolor studio classics. And it was the year that James Dean came out with East of Eden AND Rebel Without a Cause. And then died.
In short, Marty had no chance of winning anything.
And then came the marketing campaign - a campaign that cost more than the film itself. Ads in the trades, special screenings for voters, press-the-flesh parties, a junket or two, and a whole lot of 'gifts' later, and the Oscars rolled in for Marty in the categories of Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay...
Shameful. And that was way back in 1956 - if you don't think the scam is still playing out today, on a much much much larger scale, you've clearly never cracked open a copy of The Hollywood Reporter or Variety and had to flip six pages of 'For Your Consideration' ads just to get to the masthead.
In fact, the Oscar marketing business is such big biz that my home address from five years ago (and three moves ago) still gets sent copies of movies that the studios really want me to vote for - and I'm not even an Academy voter (Janice in #34, hope you enjoyed Knocked Up as much as I did).
Ask yourself - is it any coincidence that most of the films nominated in the major categories of this years Oscars (and every years Oscars) are more or less all November-January releases? And don't even give me that 'Away From Her was released ages ago' bunk... the actress categories are always so bereft of options that a film released in early-2007 is still in the running - as is evidenced by Cate Blanchett's nomination for the woeful Elizabeth: The Golden Age, or Meryl Streep's charity nom for The Devil Wears Prada last year.
I'm talking the big films - the multi-nod films and the Best Picture films. Atonement released in January. Juno released in late December. No Country for Old Men was out in late November. There Will be Blood launched in January. Michael Clayton is the retro throwback in the group, and even that came out in October. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly gets a spot in the directing category - and that came out in the latest of November.
Into The Wild, Charlie Wilson's War, The Savages, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Sweeney Todd, when did they all come out? Post-October. Most of them, post-December.
The Oscars are broken, but nobody really questions that. What's worth discussing is the level of breakdown that they've sunk to.
When you think of the phrase 'Oscar-nominated film', you generally come up with strong associations of quality, right? You conjure names such as Hepburn and Gielgud and Guiness. You think of Welles and Coppola and Spielberg.
So how about you let this little piece of information roll around in your noodle for a second... "Academy Award-nominated comedy, Norbit..."
How about this one: "Multi-Oscar-nominated film, Transformers..."
That's right. That's what the Academy hath wrought upon cinematic history. Perhaps the worst profitable film of the last five years, and one of the most empty action effects films in far more than that, now have multiple Oscar nominations between them.
Why is it that we buy into the hype and associate the Oscars with greatness? Why is it that the names we associate with the Oscars aren't Stallone and Affleck and Gooding Jr and 'American Idol finalist'...?
Think the soiling of the Oscars is a recent phenomenon? Guess again. Try these 'Oscar-worthy' films out for size.
The Time Machine.
The Phantom of the Opera.
Something's Gotta Give.
Lilo and Sitch.
The Wild Thornberry's Movie
Kate & Leopold.
The Emperor's New Groove.
Mighty Joe Young.
In & Out.
The Nutty Professor.
And that's just going back to 1995. We could go on and on about how Rocky beat out all The President's Men, Taxi Driver, and Network in 1977 for Best Picture, and what a travesty that is.
Or we could point out how, in 1978, two actresses (Anne Bancroft and Shirley Maclaine) were nominated for Best Leading Actress from the same movie (The Turning Point), and how nowadays a lead actress will be nominated as Best Supporting if it's thought someone else is a better shot at winning the Best Leading category.
Or we could talk for hours about how the Best Song category is the reason such monumental pieces of crap as 1979's Thank God It's Friday are called 'Oscar-winning films' (though, to be fair, TGIF beat out some tough competition from The Magic of Lassie). And who could forget the epic struggle of Best Song from 1980, where 10, The Muppet Movie, and Ice Castles went toe-to-toe to make cinematic history?
Or we could talk about the visual effects category - the only way you'd ever see films like Moonraker, The Black Hole, and 1941 fighting it out for a trophy, as they did in 1980.
Even Best Original Screenplay can be a letdown - note the 1981 nomination to Christopher Gore, screenwriter of Fame, and how he parlayed that honor by following it up with... uh... Fame the TV series. And nothing else. Ever again.
What I'm trying so say here is, the Oscars are trashy. They've always been trashy. There's little honor involved in being called the 'best film that was released between November and January that had a decent marketing budget behind it', but I guess if someone tried to invite me and give me a statue, I'd shut my trap and accept it like a good little whore.
But I'd at least have the courage, during my acceptance speech, to thank all those who came before me and blew the doors open so that I could be there...
"Click... Kate & Leopold... 102 Dalmations... Patch Adams..."
And then the orchestra would start up and some 6'4" German süpermodel would grab my arm and drag me off stage before I could get to Waterworld, and people at home watching would be pissed.
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2359
originally posted: 01/24/08 07:26:41
last updated: 01/24/08 07:29:11