February 19, 2013

The Film Pasture Podcast: Do the Oscars Still Matter?


The 2013 Academy Awards are nearly here, and the anticipation for the big night is growing among movie fans. Will Argo continue its romp through the awards circuit and win Best Picture? Have we reached an era where the winners aren’t surprises? Is there any way for Seth MacFarlane to actually be funny? These questions and more will be answered on Sunday night and should raise plenty of engaging discussions. Speaking of an interesting conversation, I recently appeared on The Film Pasture podcast to talk about the Oscars with host Pat McDonnell from 100 Years of Movies. This new show about movies and blogging includes several guests on each episode to discuss the main topic. Pat and I tried to answer the question of whether the Oscars still matter. It’s a tricky subject with no clear answer, but we took our best shot at this challenging topic.

I have mixed feelings about the Oscars. On one hand, they are put on a pedestal on determining the “best” movie. Ranking this type of artistic venture is impossible, and taking the winners as truly representative of the year’s greatest work is silly. However, this fact shouldn’t diminish their importance to the success of many films. Smaller releases like Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild should receive a huge financial boost from their nominations. The awareness brought about by this show remains high even while the ratings have dwindled. Even with the frustrations that come with every year’s ceremony, I still enjoy the experience. Even when a classic movie doesn’t get Best Picture, its legacy will often trump the actual winner. Raging Bull and Pulp Fiction are two examples of “losers” that have a much greater reputation than the champions. Their continued success provides a poignant reminder about the limitations of placing too much stock in the Oscars.

4 comments:

  1. One of the things that always bothers me about the Oscars and the Grammys is this idea (reflected among all of the procrastinators, as well as history of the awards) of rewarding a career rather than awarding a performance, film, etc. So we have Tommy Lee Jones as a favorite for Best Supporting Actor, talk about a Richard Deakins upsetting 'Life of Pi' since he has been nominated 10 times and never won, etc.

    This year, I am a little confused by all the nominations and momentum-buzz for 'Argo' - I liked the film, but it's not even close to top 10 material for me. And personally, I don't know anybody who REALLY like it that much (compared to, say, 'Lincoln', 'Life of Pi', and 'Zero Dark Thirty'). I guess it's all of the meta-Hollywood stuff.

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    1. Steven, you're correct that the focus is definitely on "career awards", particularly in the Best Supporting Actor category for some reason. I do think that Roger Deakins did remarkable work on Skyfall, so I'd be excited about the win either way.

      Argo is interesting because I liked it a lot (it was in my Top 10), but it didn't feel like a film that was going to sweep the awards. It has the Hollywood elements like you mention and feels a little like a throwback, but its run has been pretty amazing. Also, I didn't see some of the most heralded movies of 2012, so I expect Argo would not stay in its spot if I'd seen all of the top films.

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  2. I was musing over a similar idea today. The Academy Awards is essentially the world's most powerful film industry celebrating and promoting itself. So straight away you can argue against its validity for umpteen reasons.

    For example, if the best film of the year (and in many people's eyes it was Amour) is foreign it has to have a category to itself to protect the American films. Okay, so this argument holds less water given The Artist winning last year but remind me what film industry that movie celebrated again! ;)

    Conversely, you can throw it to the audiences to make the decisions. But then we get the MTV Movie Awards and populist choices that highlight the films that made the most money, not the best films per say.

    So it is tricky. It is no-win in many ways.

    But I still think the Oscars mean something to those that win them. You can see it in acceptance speeches...particularly in the categories of Best Director, Screenplay, Actor and Actress (but also in the technical categories as well) where those that win acknowledge their achievement with a genuine pride in their work. And for those people whose work I admire, I'm pleased to see them achieve the coveted prize.

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    1. Dan, thanks so much for the lengthy comment. You make some really good points, especially with the idea of what the Oscars mean to those who win. You could really see that last night in the face of Jennifer Lawrence when they announced her name. That was pure shock, and she even slipped walking to the podium because she was so nervous. Even Daniel Day Lewis clearly is touched by the award, and that says a lot for a guy who's won so much. That part of it makes the Oscars matter.

      Still, I did feel detached from a lot of it last night. Argo winning was so obvious that it felt like a foregone conclusion and had little impact. I also do feel that there were so many great movies that didn't get a mention or were relegated to a few categories. That said, I'm not someone who thinks that the most popular movies usually deserve it either. When such a large group of people are giving out awards, it's so hard for it to truly award the greatest achievements of the past year.

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