Each year, comedians snark at the outmoded nature of the Academy Awards – the longest running film awards in America, if not the world. Out of date, antiquated, irrelevant: what exactly do the Academy Awards stand for? At one point, they represented the best of the best, the ultimate achievement in film, at least by Hollywood’s standards. However, as the film industry has become more globalized, and Hollywood films vie for the dollars of those produced in other countries, are the Academy Awards now just another in the endless stream of meaningless awards given out during a few months of each year? It seems every man and his dog gives out awards – newspapers, media commentators, the various guilds and associations to which multiple film industries depend, and on whom the most money is spent. Why, then, when the pool of award tributes is so diluted with “neverheardof’em’s” and “wannabes”, do we still consider the Oscars to be the top of the heap?
The short answer is: longevity. The Oscars have been around longer than almost anyone else. The prestige is with them. Irrespective of the quality of their selections, or the historical nature of their eventual winners, the Oscars have sheer weight of time on their side. Everyone else seems like an also-ran.
Yet, perhaps the Oscars have become somewhat irrelevant. Given the sheer volume of awards shows on offer, and the number of small, medium and large prestige organizations looking to bestow their nod of approval on somebody’s artistic merit, perhaps the Oscars have begun to fall the way of the dodo – they’re no longer the be-all and end-all of cinematic quality. With internet bloggers and the gaggle of news corporations vying for something to break a 24 hour news cycle, any no-name reviewer can bestow some manner of statuette upon a select few “worthy” winners. Oscars remain stagnant with their stodgy rules and…. “voting” process.
It’s struck me as rather ironic that one of the industry’s most prestigious awards can be skewed simply by race, religion or sexuality. The plethora of Academy “members” – or voters, if you will – have favorites, people they like and don’t like, just like you or I. I, for example, don’t like Adam Sandler, and would never in good conscience vote for a film of his for any award save a Golden Raspberry. You, on the other hand, might love Adam Sandler, and thing his shit doesn’t stink, therefore voting a film of his to win an award. Enough of either you or I could sway an award in such cases; and you and I don’t have the voting clout of Academy members. Studio’s usually spend money on a number of their films for consideration by the Members of the Academy, usually in all manner of categories. The Member’s vote for films, the film’s with the largest number of nominations are presented, and the winner announced at Oscar night. But what if a director, say Ben Affleck, for example, is still considered something of a laughing stock by the majority of voters, and his film, while perhaps the best of the year, doesn’t gain him the recognition to be considered for Best Director? Whether he’s the best director or not, a preconceived idea about Ben Affleck could see his chances of snagging an Oscar diminish, if it even existed at all.
Voting blocs and power plays are all at work behind the scenes of the Academy Awards. It’s entirely political. Whoever hates or likes whomever, that’s who decides who gets an Oscar. It’s pretty scary how easily it could happen. Brokeback Mountain couldn’t possibly have snagged the Best Picture gong because the Academy would never vote a “gay picture” into the top spot. Conservatism still rules the Old Boys Clubs of Hollywood.
With that in mind, do the Oscars truly reflect the zenith of film, considering votes can be bought and sold for the profit of somebody’s next project? Personally, I don’t think so. I think a film’s worth cannot be measured by the number of awards it receives, or even by box office tally. A film’s quality is measured in how audiences perceive it years later. After the glow of release, the manic scrap for weekend box-office glory, hell, even the DVD release isn’t an indicator of a film’s quality. If you watch a film, you should be able to remember it years later, and remember more specifically the emotional connection you felt (or didn’t) when you do.
Perhaps the best indicator of a film’s quality is an aggregator site, such as Rotten Tomatoes? It weighs up the average review rating for those members it has, and offers a suggested valuation of the film based on that. IMDB’s ratings are also vote driven, although they’re unrestricted and allow anyone to put in a click of the mouse for a film. I think I’d believe IMDb before I’d go with Rotten Tomatoes, especially over films that seem to get mixed reviews, because “the people” usually know a good thing or not when they see it. “People’s Choice” awards are usually popular because they’re not driven by industry insiders or sycophants: they’re for the people, and voted on by the people. Unless they too, are rigged.
If we’re judging films solely on technical merit, the Oscars might very well be the best way to judge a movie. But film isn’t purely driven by the best costuming, or the best editing; it’s a medium derived from the coagulation of artistic talent, driven by a director and sifted through a variety of hands before it ends up on the screen. It’s an intangible unknown, for while some may love a film dearly, others may hate that same film for an entirely different set of reasons. Thankfully, we’re all different, because I’d rather live in a world where you can disagree with me, than not.
Are the Academy Awards relevant to film-lovers these days? Honestly, probably not. They’re fast becoming a parody of themselves, where the event itself is almost more entertaining than the outcomes it provides. The minutiae of the Oscars, from who’s hosting, to who’s a presenter, and will a presenter bungle over a foreign sounding name and make a total ass of themselves, are all delivered in live HD streaming to your television or internet point, ready to salaciously wait for an awkward moment to tweet about. Perhaps the focus should go back to the films? After all, that’s what we’re here to celebrate. But every time you see somebody win an Oscar (and the same probably goes for a whole slew of these awards shows), know that somewhere, somebody had to vote for it, and how can you be sure that person voted with their heart and head, and not their wallet?
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