It’s Oscar time! That night when all of Hollywood’s brightest show up in all their finery to celebrate, well, themselves. But I joke about the perpetually exaggerated and often fake Oscars.
I love the Oscars. As a lifelong movie buff, watching the annual televised Best Movies/Actors/Directors of the Year crowning was like watching the baseball playoffs. I knew my team might not win (and, being a Red Sox fan in the 70s, 80s and 90s, it didn’t), but it was exciting to know that at least the competition was unquestionably between the best possible competitors. . The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences told me.
Of course, as I got older, wiser, and grumpier, it all turned out to be a bunch of nonsense. The Oscars may not have had a steroid scandal, but the Oscars shine faded as this naïve little movie fanatic learned how cinematic sausage was made. The fact that the Academy was made up mostly of industry stalwarts meant a predominantly white, old, and decidedly average electorate.
Box office, studio lobbying, and star power trump quality and adventure when it comes to handing out these statues. A quick glance at the list of Oscar winners is an exercise in aggravation (“Green Book”, “Crash”, “Dances with Wolves” rather than “Goodfellas”, for crying out loud?) , or blank stares as I try to remember what an already fading Best Picture winner looked like. “The King’s Speech” was the one about it – king. Who gave this speech? I almost got it.
But, hey, we’re here to celebrate Sunday’s Oscars, not to bury them in the well-turned land of exhausted but very real gripes. OK, one more — this year’s decision to eliminate several major categories from the live broadcast of the Oscars (8:00 p.m. Sunday on ABC) is the latest chip in the Oscars artistic integrity veneer. Yeah, the Oscars airing is going on too long, but may I suggest cutting out those pointless edits of movies past (“Hey, remember how much you liked, uh, westerns?”), rather than relegating awards like the best original music, film editing, production design, makeup and hair styling, sound, documentary short, live action short and animated short to a pre-recorded afterthought.
However, there are still some gleams in this gold-plated statuette. Despite themselves (and perhaps because the Academy is admitting more people of color — and under 70), voters have made some surprisingly bold (for them) choices in recent years. “Parasite” was exactly the kind of bright, tough (and not English) best picture that would have flown under the radar (and over voters’ heads) in the past. And I’m not arguing with 2016’s “Moonlight,” another thought-provoking little film of the type the Oscars should rightfully hoist on the year’s overstuffed and over-the-top Oscar bait.
This year’s nominees are the usual mixed bag, though there are enough long-term indies to give me hope. (Expanding the Best Picture category to 10 nominees is silly, but at least it lets some smaller movies, like “CODA,” “Drive My Car,” and “Licorice Pizza” dress up for the occasion. .) I mean, the Academy is dying to give 75-year-old golden boy Steven Spielberg another Oscar, so “West Side Story” is pretty much my lock for Best Picture, even if the whole meaning Spielberg’s undeniable cinematic went into a remake of another best picture winner, which looks like shooting fish in a barrel.
As you browse through the different areas, you have other voter favorites in the running. Denzel Washington hasn’t won Best Actor in a while, and starring in an adaptation of Shakespeare’s (“The Tragedy of Macbeth”) directed by a Coen brother is about as Oscar-winning as it gets. But Will Smith playing an inspiring real-life figure in a feel-good biopic (“King Richard”) is also nothing to sneeze at, as far as Oscar voters are concerned. Then again, Oscar winners Javier Bardem and Nicole Kidman playing the role of beloved Hollywood royalty in “Being The Ricardos” is just the kind of sentimental, self-congratulatory choice that Oscar voters fall for time after time.
You may notice that these predictions aren’t really about the quality of work. And that’s sort of the point – the Oscars rarely talk about this, and more so about handicapping Hollywood trends and trends. Some notable professionals over the years have scoffed at the idea of pitting disparate examples of artistic expression against each other in a glitzy and expensive competition each year. (Even though they’d probably like to be recognized — they’re in photos, after all.)
The top lists of top film critics rarely match Oscar nominees (even if the larger field for best picture accidentally attracts a few deserving independents). And that’s fine – there’s a reason audience scores are traditionally much higher on Rotten Tomatoes than critic scores. We critics look at different things, or at least weigh the same things differently. And while the Oscars’ pretense of industry-ordained empirical integrity almost invariably turns out to be the flawed, indiscriminate, blind middle course between good intentions and the creation of self-perpetuating Hollywood mythos, well, that’s always great fun to sit back and watch. Although, more often than not, it turns into a hate watch. “Green Book”? Seriously? I’m not going to recover from this anytime soon.
To weigh in with your Oscar picks, head to the Press Herald’s Oscars 2022 Poll. It may not count towards the selection of the actual winners, but everyone who participates has a chance to win some great prizes.
(Oh, and the unnominated “The French Dispatch” was the best movie of last year. What the Academy has against Wes Anderson, I’ll never understand.)
Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.