Year after year, the most powerful people in Hollywood cram into the Hollywood and Highland Centre (yes, with the digital-age bankruptcy of film purveyor Kodak, the theater's name has changed) and take part in this incessant pageant of predictability, a globally televised popularity contest masquerading as a ceremony where the truly deserving gets honored for their work. But the truth of the matter is, the awards are usually handed out for a number of reasons (the winner had a kick-ass publicity campaign that caught Oscar voters’ attention, for one), the least of which being that the recipients actually deserve it.
But even before the awards are given, it seemed that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences reminded people just how bland, safe and, of course, predictable this year’s ceremonies would be just from the nominations alone. The nine nominees for Best Picture are mostly, in a word, unspectacular, true remnants of a mediocre year in movies. Oh sure, you have your arty crowd-pleasers (The Artist, Hugo, Midnight in Paris) and flawed-but-ambitious serious films (Moneyball, The Descendants, The Tree of Life, War Horse), but you also have those prestige pics that are straight-up awful but the Academy nominated them anyway (The Help, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close).
Looking at the Best Picture nominees is like having to deal with all those Republican presidential candidates again. I mean, honestly, would you say any of these films are truly Best Picture material? Judging from how most of these films are under-performing at the box office, apparently not. Usually, films that are nominated for Oscars get boosts in ticket sales. But it appears this has been a season where audiences would rather see Channing Tatum woo his amnesiac love interest than most of the Best Picture nominees. Let’s take The Artist, for example. The dazzling, silent thoroughbred in Harvey Weinstein’s stable, it’s been poised to take home the Best Picture prize. And yet, the film has yet to gross over $30 million since it went nationwide. Now, compare that to last year’s Best Picture winner The King’s Speech (another Harvey Weinstein production), which already grossed $100 million even before it got the Oscar.
Even though The Artist is expected to be a big winner on Sunday, I wouldn’t be surprised if The Help (which has grossed $100 million and then some) just came along and swept up everything. Its story of so-called racial unity in the Deep South is the sort of heavy-handed, infuriating and ultimately well-received nonsense Oscar voters can’t wait to award. (Do I even need to bring up Driving Miss Daisy?) Stars Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer have the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress awards locked down for their portrayals of strong, black maids, yet another indication of voters giving awards to certain people mainly because it makes both the voters and the show look good.
As for the male acting categories, it looks like Best Actor will go to The Descendants’ George Clooney (because everyone loves him) and Best Supporting Actor will go to Beginners’ Christopher Plummer (because he’s getting old and may die soon, so you better give him one now).
It’s no secret that the Oscars (or any awards show this time of year) is nothing more than a chance for Hollywood to pat itself on the back for making a few respectable movies they can be proud of, instead of the mainstream, generally lousy popcorn flicks that clog up multiplexes most of the year—you know, the movies that pay for their bills, mansions and drug habits.
However, the fact that the Oscars continues to be a ritual that refuses to shake things up, make any drastic changes or even get with the times is what always drives me up the wall about it. The whole reason the decision was made to expand the Best Picture category was to throw in more popular, well-made blockbusters or even some acclaimed yet little-seen indie films. Unfortunately, Academy members nominate the same sort of movies and performances every year, eventually giving awards to the same sort of movies and performances every year.
For a minute there last November, I thought the Oscars was making some sort of attempt at relevance by announcing that Eddie Murphy would be hosting. But show producer Brett Ratner (who directed Murphy in Tower Heist) stupidly went on a bile-spewing spree (using gay slurs, bad-mouthing alleged slam piece Olivia Munn, etc.) while doing press for Tower Heist, forcing him to resign as producer and giving Murphy an all-too easy out to leave the show. Now, the ceremonies will once again be hosted by old favorite Billy Crystal, who will make sure the telecast will be the best night of entertainment your grandparents will ever see.
I could go on and on about the films and performances Oscar snubbed this year. I could mention how The Adventures of Tintin is the first visually exciting film Steven Spielberg has done in ages and, yet, the Oscars opted to nominate his more routine period piece War Horse. (Tintin wasn’t even nominated in the Best Animated Feature category, for God’s sake.) I could mention how the Oscars preferred nominating Michelle Williams for her rudimentary performance as Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn, and not for her complex, more impressive turn as a settler’s wife in the forgotten frontier Western Meek’s Cutoff. I could mention how the Oscars gave no love to great popcorn flicks like Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, the best studio blockbuster of last year, and Attack the Block. And, of course, I could mention, on behalf of every cinephile I know, how they straight-up did Albert Brooks wrong for snubbing his mesmerizing performance as a gangster in Drive.
But, really, what’s the point? Every year, the Academy Awards chooses to give people an awards show that refuses to rock the boat, desperately tries to please everyone (from the attention-craving celebs in the audience to the entertainment-starved people at home), generally makes the most ridiculous decisions and, ultimately, just disappoints the hell out of everyone.
As the Oscars have taught us time and time again, it’s better to be safe and sorry.