This is a weird confession for a movie critic to make, but I skipped the Oscars last year.
Part of it was due to professional obligations, as I was working at Sundance when the nominations were announced, and amidst all the hubbub and excitement, I barely noticed. I recall someone mentioning that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was up for Best Picture, and after hearing that, it seemed rather pointless to investigate any further. The night of the ceremony itself, I was finishing a projection stint at a festival in Arizona, busy packing up equipment during the telecast, so I’m told that I missed zero surprises and a lot of terrible Billy Crystal jokes. I was weirdly OK with this, and since nobody has ever mentioned The Artist again since it won all those awards, I don’t feel like I lost out on some big cultural moment.
Which is strange because the Academy Awards used to be my Super Bowl, the grandiose culmination of a long year of surprises and disappointments, as well as an excellent excuse to get loaded and yell at the television on a Sunday night. My annual Oscar parties became notorious affairs, complete with Mom’s famous calzones and elaborately mean-spirited drinking game rules written specifically to mock the acceptance speeches. In fact, a former PW editor was in attendance at the first of such soirees, when I attempted to throw the television out of my dorm room window when Forrest Gump beat Pulp Fiction.
A few years ago, I stopped having Oscar parties. I explained at the time that it was to protest Bruce Springsteen not being nominated for Best Original Song for The Wrestler, but really, I just didn’t care much anymore. As someone who tries to make a living writing about movies, I realize that indifference to the Academy Awards is a pretty stupid career move. It also makes you sound like one of those snobs who think they’re too good to take part in a pop cultural event. But in all honesty, I find Hollywood’s awards season—which nowadays begins in September when the heavy hitters are unveiled at the Toronto Film Festival—to be something of a grind.
I’ve begun to feel sorry for the participants, or at least as sorry as one can feel for ridiculously good-looking multi-millionaires, as they drag themselves from one red carpet event to another, giving the same speeches and sound bytes; the sheer volume of precursor awards ceremonies is staggering. Oscar campaigning, just like any political campaign, is a full-time job, and one must be available for almost nightly screenings, talk-show appearances, shmoozy meet-and-greets and all sorts of absurdly expensive events designed to woo the elusive Academy voters. Ben Affleck’s been talking up Argo for five months now; don’t you think at some point, he might want to just go make another movie? How many times can he fake a smile at the same “Argo fuck yourself” jokes?
The warp speed of our new media landscape can’t help but leave the Academy in the dust. Curious as a couple of this year’s choices were, there’s still a been-there, done-that feeling, thanks to the echo chamber of the Internet. By the end of the year, there are always just a handful of films left in contention, and the web’s need for constant content means most of these movies have already been chewed over from every possible angle. Like recently, when Zero Dark Thirty was endlessly debated to death weeks before it was even released in most of the country.
I try my best to steer clear of Oscar blogging, a truly bizarre cottage industry in which people somehow manage to make money by prognosticating the fickle tastes of an institution that gets everything wrong most of the time. I probably should just get off Twitter and go read a book or something, but Hollywood’s release patterns strategically insure that there’s nothing else available to write about at this time of year—which is why you see so many articles like this one.
And hey, it’s not an embarrassing list of nominees this year. There’s only one real stinker in the bunch (Les Miserables), and while the exclusion of Kathryn Bigelow from the Best Director candidates is galling, I’m not about to throw in with conspiracy theorists saying she was snubbed because of the torture controversy. Lincoln sure is a terrific movie, and while I doubt Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis even have shelf space in their homes for any more awards, it would be nice to see them win.
If I’m not working that night.
Remembering Roger Ebert