Sad Hill Media

Film & Lesser Arts with Will Ross, Devan Scott, & Daniel Jeffery.

by Will Ross

It’s tough to rouse myself to comment on yesterday’s Academy Awards beyond a begrudging “So what.” Every year the forces of awards marketing handily push out any real breadth or daring in the nominations, so that it’s easy to predict at least half of the “major” nominees months before any of them have even been released in theatres.

Most complaints about nominations choices simply swap out a bad obvious choice for a better obvious choice, but it really rankles me to suggest “easy” alternatives for the Academy. For instance, when asked to provide alternatives to this year’s confounding directing slate, I have suggested Christian Petzold (
Barbara) or Don Hertzfeldt (It’s Such a Beautiful Day), only to hear in response that Quentin Tarantino is a far better choice, because the Academy would never go for films like Barbara or Beautiful Day anyway. To which I say, well, duh — what’s the fun in creating a hypothetical best-case scenario of pandering to mainstream audiences and marketing departments? Not that Tarantino’s work is bad. But if I think that other films had better direction, why pretend I haven’t seem them? Just because Academy voters couldn’t, didn’t know, or didn’t care?

Not that I think it’s best to altogether ignore the 85th Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Oscar-palooza TV-stravaganza. Because it’s simply not possible. But whereas cinephiles are willing to throw up their arms and say, “Well, that’s the Golden Globes for you, completely worthless,” the Oscars command more suspense and respect. To an extent, that’s justified, because they elevate films up into public consciousness, and it’s surely better for that to happen to the better of the nominees, no matter how dubious the process of selection.

But it’s frustrating to see even those with an avowed dislike of the Academy Awards treat them as a sacred cow. Even critics, bloggers, and other cinĂ©astes who state their annual disapproval of the nominees give the selections a ludicrous amount of speculation, prediction, and hand-wringing, and swap out this inoffensive choice for that inoffensive choice. 
They play by Oscar rules, saying nothing in effect except, “Please pander better.”

This “critical” response to the Oscars is more or less the exact same every year, over and over and over and over. So why do I regularly see otherwise respectable critics giving detailed coverage to each step in the process, without any insight beyond nominee quibbles?
Is this not a flagrant, unvarnished legitimization? Is this not, in itself, pandering?

I don’t mean to suggest we put our heads in the sand and stop talking about these awards so much. Speculation can be fun, but it doesn’t deserve endless coverage and discussion, particularly not from critical parties. Awards ceremonies with such effect and relevance deserve for us to give it real, personal scrutiny, not jibber-jabber that conforms to precisely the formula that keeps the Oscars so popular — and so boring. If we’re going to give so much lip service to the damn things, we should at least do it on our own terms.


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