My Oscar Method vs. Theirs
March 16, 2010 7 Comments
My Oscar-picking rule is really pretty simple actually. Say it’s ten years from now and you’re forced at gunpoint by your evil nemesis to watch one single movie from 2009. Which one do you pick, The Hurt Locker or Inglourious Basterds? The answer of course is Basterds. So there’s your Best Picture. By similar methods you can deduce that, say, Jack Black deserved the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in School of Rock that year (would you really rather be forced to watch Sean Penn in Mystic River?). You’d give Amelie lots of awards in 2001, Sixth Sense would sweep 1999. Less awards for the Hilary Swanks of the world, more for the Catherine Zeta-Joneses; less period pieces, more comedies. As you can see, the method is surprisingly powerful. But it’s also logical, because it’s rooted in actual enjoyment of the movie.
Unfortunately this is not how Oscars are actually chosen in practice; they seem to be chosen by self-conscious considerations of whose ‘turn’ it is to get an Oscar and who the Academy wants to be seen as having voted for to get an Oscar. Typically the Academy is essentially answering these questions: “When I look in the record books ten years from now, which films/actors/directors do I want to see there as this year’s Oscar winners, and who do I want to be able to claim at cocktail parties I voted for?” Sometimes this logic allows for needed catch-up: it was Scorsese’s ‘turn’ to get an Oscar because the Academy was obviously embarrassed he hadn’t gotten one yet (e.g. for Goodfellas), so they gave it to him for The Departed (which is absurd). It was Jeff Bridges’s turn to finally get an Oscar this year, so he got one (in reality he should have gotten one over ten years ago for Big Lebowski but perhaps also for Fearless, Tucker, even Thunderbolt and Lightfoot). And The Hurt Locker/Kathryn Bigelow got Oscars b/c it was time to give a woman director an Oscar and this was a way to award the single Iraq-war movie that hadn’t been a failure. On that note, quite often the Oscars allow the Academy to preen about how PC they are: giving it to Halle Berry for something-or-other, for instance (seriously, does anyone remember what movie she won it for? would anyone ever watch that movie again if they weren’t forced to?), so that she can make a teary speech about being the first black winner of whatever-it-was she won (by my method, either Renee Zellwegger in Bridget Jones or Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge were obviously superior picks that year).
The overall issue here is are the Oscars about the actual movies, or are they about the ‘Academy’? Every year we see the answer to that from the choices they make.