Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

Oscar rage!!!!!!!!!

Anyone who’s been on my blog before, anyone who’s actually had to go through watching it with me before, will know loathe the Oscars. Yet being a fan of movies, I can’t get away from them – and so I’m not going to be a grown up about this thing I hate, and ignore it. I’m going to be childish and bitch, at some length, at why it is the most trivial, smug and meaningless night of the year.

Fans of the concept, with happy naïve ideas that the winner is always the most deserving, should look away now.

Firstly – I don’t believe in it in principle, that you can judge five different films and pick a winner. Between five horror films, you can at least pick the best horror film – but between a romance, historical, drama, comedy and horror, how can you even begin? Out of Africa is a better romance than Saw was. Is it a better film? Not remotely! In this contest, Out of Africa is the best film involving lions, Africa and Meryl Streep, and Saw is the best movie about a leg on the floor. Sure, you can prefer one over the other – but I thought the Oscars were about the “best” movie, not a mere popularity contest?

Which it blatantly is – how can it not be? – yet it keeps up this façade of rewarding merit. Your vote is almost certainly going to go to the genre you prefer. I love buddy movies, and so I’d naturally enjoy a buddy movie more than a horror movie. Sit me down in front of The Sting and the Exorcist, and I’ll always pick the former, regardless of quality. Same goes for performances, same for music, for costumes.

An enterprise which involves this sort of arbritary voting is always going to be a bit crooked, but the Oscars almost turn it into a sport. Isn’t it funny how all five Best Picture nominees are English or American? Now, of course, this might just be because us superior Westerners make better films than anywhere else in the world – but any sane human can tell you that’s balls. A serious line up for this years best movie might involve one or two English language movies, but would also encompass the variety world cinema has to offer.

As soon as you notice there’s rarely a foreign film up for awards, except in a token way, you wonder who the show is for. It’s not like the Korean audience are going to go “ooooh, American films are better than Korean films because they win more Oscars”. No – the institution is designed by Hollywood as an exercise in back-patting and marketing, for the English-speaking audience. To the rest of the world, they’re meaningless. So why should it matter to us?

And the Oscar voters love sentiment. Real people. Real lives. Drama, angst – weighty topics. It’s favouritism, not merit. Is a story intrinsically better because it is deep and meaningful than fantastical and frothy? Not a jot! Yet as a body, their votes always reflect a love for Americana, social commentary and above all, a healthy dose of slush.

An example. Did Al Pacino win an Oscar for the Godfather, for the widely acknowledged best performance of all time? No. Except if you count the Oscar they gave him for the Godfather in 1993. He received it, supposedly, for Scent of a Woman – but it was Michael Corleone who went on stage to pick it up. Same thing happened with Martin Scorcese and his Oscar for Goodfellas, which he won a few years ago for Gangs of New York. Of course, Al was good in Scent, and the direction was good in Gangs. But that's not what it was about. It was about the sentiment. A friend blog, Hilarity Ensues, suggests Meryl Streep and Sean Penn get more nominations for being Streep and Penn than because they actually deserve it.

I admit, there's a personal vendetta here too - Titanic won because of the noise it made. Everyone was mad for it! Screaming, crying, fangirls. Again, it won because it was Titanic, for being groundbreaking, for causing such hysteria. Not because it was the best film of that year. Even among epic-tragic-romances-in-pretty-dresses, it's not well regarded. The punchline is the moment it beats L.A. Confidential, one of the most stunningly impressive films I've ever seen, to the best Oscar gong.

Now bear with me. One of these films had classy direction, four great central performances, a plot so gorgeously complex that even after five viewings I can't appreciate the detail, and a fantastic, subtle script, which only becomes more impressive when you see the laberynthine source material from which it was adapted. The other one...well, the other one's Titanic.

Certainly Titanic is very enjoyable, and if you're a fan of period slush you'll obviously love it more than my precious crime epic. You can't deny it does what it does - ludicrously romantic melodrama - very well, and I'm pretty fond of it in my own way. But on any just system you've got to admit that L.A. Confidential is a better crime epic than Titanic is a romance.

And that was the moment I lost faith in the Oscars. 7/10 movie critics will tell you I'm right. Empire and Total Film both think I'm right. The Imdb list things I'm right.

And Oscar history is packed with this - A Beautiful Mind beat Fellowship of the Ring, Chicago beat Two Towers. Look at the above lists. It's not just the Oscars, either - Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead beat Goodfellas at Cannes, and see how many film buffs you can find who think that's fair! Here's a whole list:

The point of all this is, people rarely if ever win Oscars because they deserve it. If they do, well, that's nice as well. And if Greatest Director Of All Time Alfred Hitchcock lost all 5 of his nominations, then how can the list mean anything at all?

Which brings us around to Mr Ledger, the cause of the rant. You might recall me saying words to the effect of "the Joker was a fantastic role, certainly deserving an Oscar - but if he wins, he'll have won for being dead." And I stand by that.

You can say there's never been a superhero film like Dark Knight before (there hasn't, but wait until next week...); you can even say there's never been a peformance like that in a fantasy movie before. But the rule still stands - you don't get actors in fantasy! Actors make films, not movies! It's why Johnny Depp didn't win an Oscar for Pirates of the Carribean: World's End, Ian McKellen didn't get one for Fellowship of the Ring, though both were nominated. "But Johnny Depp and Ian McKellen weren't very good...", to which I say come off it. They never had a chance. Neither were playing schitzophrenic black lesbian single mothers in wheelchairs.

Fantasy movies - by which I mean dungeons, dragons, sci fi, superheroes et al - get Oscars for sound design and special effects. Period. Sometimes costume, music if they're lucky, maybe editing.

Return of the King, of course, won everything (see: sentimental voting, Al Pacino winning an Oscar on behalf of earlier achievements - the King Oscars were actually for the whole trilogy). It's the only Fantasy film to ever win a best film Oscar, unless you extend the definition to include Around the World in 80 Days or Wings. Same goes for directors - Return of the King is the only one. What about Blade Runner, I ask? What about 2001: A Space Odyssey?

A 1931 Best Actor Oscar was won for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, although that technically comes under mental illness. Someone managed to get Best Supporting Actor and Actress for Cocoon and Fisher King respectively, though both do have strong elements of real life in them. And without meticulously researching the content of every film I've never heard of, that's it for Oscars. Heath Ledger's achievement is even more impressive than previously thought.

I was surprised to find myself giving a spontaneous cry of joy at hearing he’d got it after all, instead of rolling my eyes as you might have expected from the rant above. Which just proves that we all get pretty sentimental at times, and I find myself wishing, if only for a moment, that the whole system was fair....


Will said...

Hey, thanks for the plug.

And I do think Streep and Penn benefitted from name recognition. Streep's performance was basically her scowling at people and making snide remarks.

Penn on the other hand deserved the nomination and I would have (and did) put him in second on my imaginary ballot. Mickey Rourke deserved the Oscar. His performance held that movie together. I really think Penn got some "Oh Yeah? Take That California" votes for the passing of Proposition 8 which restricted the definition of marriage to exclude same sex marriages.

The Oscars are too political and they take themselves too seriously. That is why The Dark Knight and movies like it will never win the big catagories, "We could never seriously nominate a movie like that! It's a summer blockbuster, not a serious film. It's fluff, it's there so that the studios can make the money they need to make movies like Milk and Frost/Nixon." It's a shame really, The Dark Night was better then all the Best Picture Nominees, even Slumdog Millionaire which I really loved.

As for Heath Ledger. Did he deserve the Oscar? Yes, his was the best performance out of the five. Did he get votes because he died? Yes, definitely.

Unmutual said...

Well I'd been out of the Oscar loop entirely this year, and I just thought "where on the web will there be a sane rundown of the contenders..." and instantly thought of you. I'm interested you think HL. really was the best, as was Dark Knight - I'm not sure I've seen any of the other nominees, so I couldn't judge.

MeatTycoon said...

I'm firmly convinced that Lord of the Rings (I think of all three parts as one) is THE worst film of all time. It takes the very British vision of the original novel and forces it into that annoying Spielberg/Lucas/Michael Bay summer blockbuster tradition. And the fact that Return of the King got the Oscar is easily as good an example of the Academy rewarding a movie purely for its commercial merits as Titanic.

Still, great essay. I agree with your reasons why Oscars suck, especially the whole "We don't reward foreign movies unless foreigners make an Oscar bait film" thing. But what really bugs me is the presentation. I mean, why do they always have to hire those stupid unfunny comedians to host the show? Imagine how cool it would be if someone really knowledgeable about cinema, like Jonathan Rosenbaum, was the host.

Also, the speeches that winners make always sound like they were prewritten and rehearsed. If you're willing to award somebody, why not let them speak their own minds? And the music that starts playing whenever anybody makes a speech for "too long"... Jeez, seems like they only hold these ceremonies to make fun of their winners, in the most unfunny way possible. I guess it must be really stressful to attend that piece of crap show. But if you're nominated and don't attend, everybody's gonna talk about what an ungrateful immature bastard you are.

You have a really damn good blog here, by the way. Thanks for taking your time to write it.

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