So here we are.
Yes, yes, the Academy Awards are tomorrow night. I think I was supposed to put some sort of copyright symbol after “Academy Awards.” Or is that only required after the word “Oscar?” Or, is it not a ©, but rather a ™? I don’t know.
There are several huge conversations going on right now. One is the typical, timeless who-will-win/who-should-win/who-got-snubbed dialog. Another is the what-will-the-show-be-like/what-ratings-will-it-get/will-the-host-be-funny discussion. And of course, it wouldn’t be an awards show without a few frothy what-and-who-will-they-be-wearing confabs.
But the discourse that everyone tries to claim as newfangled is the whole are-the-Oscars-even-relevant-anymore sort of thing. It’s the go-to debate whenever there’s a popular movie that doesn’t get nominated (or an unpopular movie that does), or when there are surprise nominees and/or snubs. This seems to surface every year, and no doubt dates back to the end of the studio system and the rise of the independent producers... and maybe even earlier.
Above all, what seems to have happened to all awards shows (especially the Tonys and Grammys) is that they are no longer true ceremonies where trophies are presented, but rather very large televised commercials for each particular industry as a whole. So it’s less about the awards and more about the telecast. As a generally realistic (some say cynical) person, it doesn’t shock me that the Academy’s highest priority is putting on a shiny Show... but it does shock me when I keep hearing diatribes from critics -- who should consider film quality above television ratings -- who imply that the Oscar’s ratings slump stems from highbrow films with low box office dominating the Best Picture field.
There’s a big to-do on the New York Times website right now about how comedies never get Oscars and rarely get nominated. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly just wrote a piece about how, in a parallel world, Bridesmaids could win Best Picture and make the telecast better in the process.
I have no problem with comedies, Bridesmaids, or parallel universes. I do have a problem with everyone crapping on The Artist, implying that its frontrunner status has less to do with its being surprisingly groundbreaking, charming, and lovely and more to do with Mr. Weinstein and his Oscar-nabbing machine. Mr. Gleiberman sees The Artist as a prestige film seen by a handful of film snobs who don’t even eat popcorn. That’s why the Oscar ratings are low, he argues. Give the prize to a film like Bridesmaids, and the viewers will care.
Here’s the dirty little secret that no one likes to think about: none of it matters.
There have always been, and always will be, egregious awards snubs. Some of them will be immediately obvious, others won’t be given their proper amounts of righteous indignation until years, even decades later. An award, especially one of the Big Four (Oscar, Emmy, Tony, Grammy), simultaneously means everything and means nothing. A piece of work, however, is the only thing that truly lasts.
Bridesmaids may not have a chance to win Best Picture, but it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t earned its place in film and pop culture history, not to mention a huge pile of money. The only thing an Oscar would truly add to its legacy is a little logo on the DVD box.
I often think about one of my favorite films: Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd, from 1957, starring Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal in staggeringly brilliant performances. One of the most prescient films in history (neck and neck with Network), it was too dark and truth-filled for its time. It was a flop, and totally ignored by the Academy in every category. Even Budd Schulberg’s biting, blistering screenplay found no love. But 55 years later, it is no less incredible. It is still a great film, even without any trophies to its name.
I also find myself thinking about John Candy. (I know. You don’t expect any blog to go from Elia Kazan to John Candy in a single paragraph, but ah, my devoted dozens, you know that this is not a blog.) I’ve been seeing Splash come up a lot lately on the premium channels and have had far too much free time to stop and watch it... and while I’ve never stopped being fond of John Candy, I’ve come to appreciate more and more the fact that the man took every little role he had and made them each a comic and heartfelt gem. And the lack of acting awards on his mantel does not diminish his work at all. Likewise, an Oscar would not have made him any more beloved or brilliant.
Truly, historically, it’s a far, far better thing to be a great, loved, and successful film or actor that never won an Oscar than to be a good film or actor that did.
So let’s tell it like it is. The Oscars are really just about a telecast: several overstuffed hours of stars, dresses, moments, tears, and poor teleprompter reading. Some trophies are also given out. But history, not Oscar night, ultimately decides what the best pictures really are.
Because, if television has truly taught us anything, it’s that Bobby Brady might have lost that Golden Scoop Trophy in the ice cream eating contest on that old episode of The Brady Bunch, but it didn’t mean he couldn’t eat the hell out of some ice cream with his hands tied behind his back.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me.