Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Oscars

Owen Gleiberman has a few words about the new new Best Picture nomination process, in which the number of films nominated will vary depending on how many get chosen as first pick by a certain percentage of the voters...or something like that. He appreciates the effort to recognize indie films and blockbusters, but he feels that the tinkering is absurd and not very effective.

I won't say much about my attitude toward the Oscars because I've never really stopped to examine it. I suppose I don't agree with the Academy's taste much of the time, but there's no use pretending I'm not interested in it since I do watch the show or at least look up the nominees and winners every year. In any case, there's obviously a bit of a conundrum here. How do we recognize a better range of films without watering down the award?

I think the ten-nomination system is a response to a real problem, which is that genre films typically don't get considered for Best Picture (blockbusters being essentially a subcategory of the genre film). The Best Picture Award could more accurately be called the Best Historical or Inspirational Drama Award. There have been some exceptions, like Return of the King, so credit where credit is due. Unfortunately these exceptions prove the rule--they're somewhat bloated and tedious, as if the Academy was treating genre candidates with its usual "bigger is better" approach while simply giving the screenwriting a pass. That's not really the same as recognizing and honoring what makes a great genre film a great work of art.

Which brings us to the problem with the new system. In reality, it's an attempt to honor genre films without actually honoring them. We're still going to have our five slots for the real contenders (i.e., the tearjerkers and costume dramas), but we're also going to "recognize" a few other films that everyone knows will never win. Genre pictures are still second-class citizens, and all we've really accomplished is to make the award less meaningful.

I don't think there's any quick solution. I would hope, now that the issue has been spotted, to see a gradual change as the Academy chooses more members with a broader perspective. All types of films have their conventions, so in a sense they all have a genre. And all films are about people, so in a sense they're all the same. The best "genre" films can illuminate some of the most important issues we deal with as human beings (Children of Men), while even the most ostensibly serious films can trivialize those issues and waste the audience's time (The White Ribbon, which one critic aptly described as an M. Night Shyamalan movie with a Ph.D.). Let them all contend on the same field, and may the best picture win.

1 comment:

  1. Aw snap. "[M]ay the best picture win." Well played.

    I enjoy the Best Picture Award precisely because it so frequently fails to recognize what time tells. For example, consider the Oscars for films of 2008. Slumdog Millionaire won best picture, but The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has stuck with me more. I think, in time, people will consider Slumdog not the best film of 2008, just like they don't consider How Green Was My Valley the best film of 1941.

    I, for one, enjoy the constant reminder that the Academy doesn't know what it's talking about.