Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why the Oscars Don't Matter

My childhood was filled with my thirst for knowledge, more specifically, useless knowledge that nobody cared to know except myself.  This has lead me to be a popular member for trivia teams as well as the person who gets random text messages with questions people can’t look up.  This was all fueled by my father.  I like to call myself the ‘King of Useless Knowledge,’ and if that’s held true, then my father is the ‘Emperor of All Things Useless Knowledge.’^

^ I understand that King and Emperor are predominantly the same thing, but I think you all are smart enough to figure out where I’m going with that comparison.

I spent lots of my days in my childhood asking my father questions.  Who has the most homeruns of all time? 2nd most? 3rd most?  Who has thrown the most touchdowns?  Who has rushed for the most yards?  What was the record of the Kansas City Royals in 1977?  No more than a few seconds after those questions were uttered, my father was able to provide an answer.  As I grew older and he imparted his love for movies on to me, I began to ask similar questions: what Oscars did this one win?  How many did that one win?  While he was able to answer most, some he wasn’t.  I asked my dad where I could find the answers and where I could get the information that he had.  This is where he turned me to ‘The Universal Almanac.’

This was probably the mid 90’s and the almanac that my parents had lying around was from 1994.  Wasn’t exactly up-to-date at the time, but that was what I was given.^^  From there I turned to the Oscar index which is something that I was incredibly fascinated with.  This section propelled my enjoyment of movies to a full on obsession. 

^^ Looking back, this was probably just given to me so my parents could shut me up.  I asked quite a few questions as a kid, and now being an adult, I’m thankful my parents put up with me and fed my thirst for useless knowledge, as opposed to ignoring me or telling me to stop asking questions.

I used to look for interesting tidbits I could tell from just the stats alone.  Sometimes I judged a movie by this and decided I should see it, other times I simply liked having the interesting information at my disposal that I could tell my friends about.^^^

^^^ For Instance, did you know there are only two movies ever to win 3 of 4 acting categories: ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ and ‘Network.’  Pretty cool, huh?

This further mystified the artistry of film for me.  Objective and subjective had melded to create an iron clad way for me to get others to believe I’m right about my movie choices.  “I love ‘The Godfather’ and it won 3 Oscars!  Including Best Picture!”  And so it went.

My obsession combined with my slightly fastidious nature spiraled this hobby beyond the normal.  I would watch movies constantly, I read every review I could, I bought books, tried writing my own movies, and I even would keep a log of each movie and the ‘star’ rating they got from my local paper ‘The Kansas City Star.’

Years later, this will be why I start a blog and will eventually lead to becoming what you are currently reading.  Along the way, certain things will be gained and certain others will be lost.

The more and more I tried to objectify the greatness of film, the less and less magical they began to feel.  The more I read and learned about cinematography, editing, lens tricks, camera angles, special effects, etc. the less movies gave me that sense of awe.


I can no longer remember what it was like to have not seen ‘Star Wars.’  The unfortunate reality today is that I can barely remember what it was like for ‘Star Wars’ to just be the original three movies.  When I was really young, there were no Star Wars figures.  All we had were what was left from our parents.  The rest came from imagination.

When I entered the 6th grade, Star Wars figures began to flood the marketplace again.  New books came out, comic books came out, and eventually the second trilogy rose to prominence in the Star Wars world.  This universe that was seemingly boundless had just the slightest bit more limitations put on it. 

This is more of a problem with oversaturation in our society than the film industry itself, but does show a disturbing trend to milk everything to its max and move on.  Every new series that comes out and new marketing ploy they have takes a little bit more of that original ‘Star Wars’ magic away.^^^^

^^^^Keep in mind, I do not fault George Lucas for this.  I think Lucas is a visionary, a talented filmmaker, and an incredible businessman.  He can milk it all he wants and get whatever profits he can, I would do the same and it’s made him a billionaire.  I take no issue with the business side of things, simply state my reality that as the profits for Star Wars are inversely proportional to the magic that made it great in the first place.

Star Wars is just an example of a movie that had me completely captivated and in awe as a child, but has lost a little bit of that since (even if I still love Star Wars).

It seems odd when you really sit back and think about it.  I have started this blog site due to my love of movies and yet the one aspect of films that brought me to this love is slowly dying.  What I’ve discovered in this whole process though, is that that magic isn’t dying.  What I thought was dying was actually my inability to express what I felt about movies. Each new review or post that I write I find myself learning more and more about this art form than I ever knew was there.

In the context of my love for film, this more than 2 years of blogging has been somewhat of a self-discovery.  What I’ve discovered is…I don’t really care about the Oscars anymore.  Whew.  There, I said it.  That has been a long time coming. 

While Hollywood and age has somewhat detracted from the magic of movies, the art form remains and grows ever stronger.  Growing at an even faster rate is my understanding and appreciation for this art form.  I no longer need the Oscars to justify my tastes, I have the ability and means to determine and validate that all on my own.

What I once found solace and vindication in, I no longer enjoy.  While the Oscars effectively puts an objective way to “measure” a films greatness, the arbitrary manner in which it is handled only leads to lessen the impact the awards have.  While winning an Academy Award is an objective statistic for a film, it’s obtained through subjective means.  All too often those subjective means are easily manipulated by those that know the system.


As the years grew on from the late 1920’s, the Oscars attained a high level of cultural significance.  It really meant something to win one, and the awards were not handed out lightly.  Eventually, once it was realized how much power Oscars had over the financial gross and popularity of a film, things began to change.  Studios could “campaign” for their films and actors and as each award was tallied their dollars went up.

Movies that generally have no business winning, find their way into the history books.  As a technical achievement ‘Titanic’ was a monumental success.  As a film, it was simplistic, one note, and overvalued.  Yet that one note it hit was good enough for record nominations and wins.  This, of course, was made even worse when there was brilliance up against it that year with films such as L.A. Confidential.  Titanic was a product of good campaigning coupled with being a pop-culture phenomenon.  Neither should carry weight in these votes.

As I see it, two problems result from this embarrassing trend.  The obvious is that great movies go unrecognized because they don’t have the money behind them.  An example for 2011 would include ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ getting no nominations when it was one of the better films of the year.  The second problem is that great movies are downgraded with backlash.


Movies hit a chord with people that few other art forms are able to hit.  Certain movies strike hotter with certain people.  When those people’s movies aren’t given due respect, they can at times project their anger at other movies.  Last year provided the perfect example of this.

2010 had a season long battle going back and forth between ‘The Social Network’ and ‘The King’s Speech.’  This battle was so thick sides were taken by lots of people.  You were either team ‘Social Network’ or team ‘King’s Speech.’  With ‘The King’s Speech’ taking home most major awards, there was only one place for fans of ‘The Social Network’ to throw their vitriol.

‘The King’s Speech’ became a hated film, simply because the Academy’s misguided sensibilities chose that film over what many thought was more deserving.  This is ignoring the fact that ‘The King’s Speech’ was, in its own right, a very good movie.  Yet, the stigma tha will stick with that movie for the rest of their lives will be as the one that took awards away from ‘The Social Network.’

There was nothing wrong with ‘The King’s Speech’ as a film.  It simply adhered to the unspoken guidelines that many Oscar winning movies adhere to.  This made it a bastion for hate in the film world.  I joined in this group as I was a big supporter of ‘The Social Network.’  After a while, I began to question why I hated this film that I had reviewed as four stars and included on my top 10 movies of 2010 list.

My enjoyment of that film had its knees cut out from under it because I like a different film more.  What was I doing to myself?  Didn’t I start this very blog because my love for movies was so great that I had to write about it and share it with everyone who chose to read it?  It was.  Now I was letting this semi-objective measure of greatness get in the way of my true enjoyment.


There are too many flaws with the Oscars and the way their done to put as much stock in them as I once did.  Voters are not static, completely objective beings who only see movies and then sequester themselves to vote on them.  They are fluid, ever-changing people whose opinions can be swayed, manipulated, or they can just plain change their minds and make mistakes. 

There are examples of this abound in 2011.  Take George Clooney, it shouldn’t matter that he won years ago for ‘Syriana,’ if he was the best performance this year, he should win.  Unfortunately, voters don’t act like that.  If somebody already has an Oscar, that means there is room for somebody else to have one.  While this thinking may be “fair” in an arbitrary sense, it is not logical.  Why reward less than the greatness at the expense of repetition? 

If votes can so easily be swayed then they mean nothing.  You wouldn’t go into a political election and say “this guy’s won before, let’s give somebody else a chance,” or “enough others will vote for this guy I’ll vote for somebody else so they make sure and make the ballot.”  Most people would eschew that mentality to vote for who they truly feel is worthy.  Why should this be any different?  After all, both circumstances are based on merit, just wildly different measures of it.

Fact is, the Oscars have been killing movies for me for years.  I have hated some unjustly that have won, and not feeling as good about ones I love because they didn’t.  The result has led me to not caring about the Oscars as I once did.  I feel as though I am not alone in this either.  The ratings for the Oscar telecast have been dropping consistently over the years and people are continually beginning to say that Oscars mean nothing anymore.  Many people contend they are not indicative of who was actually the best and when people feel they have no control over who wins and can’t even justify it, they lose interest.

To be honest, I’m sure there is a way to fix this problem.  It may be so far out of hand that it can’t go back.  Ultimately, it would have to start with the voters themselves.  It takes a conscious decision for them to stand up and say they don’t care how much money it made, how many fruit baskets they get, or who has won before, any given year is any given year and the best should be rewarded. 

It just might be too much to hope that the Universal Almanac 2032 read on somebody’s iPad 23 would actually be indicative of what the film climate in 2011 was.

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