The Oscars are stupid, and we should hate them. Everyone knows that. And yet, everyone keeps paying attention to the damn things, talking about them, and sticking their eyeballs to the television when the whole bloated thing comes on. As much as I like to say “the Oscars don’t matter,” I do have some bit of emotional investment in them in that I enjoy seeing my opinions validated by an external entity, and get sort of miffed when I see awards (or even nominations) going to things I think are crap. This is in stark contrast to, say, the Grammys. I don’t even think about the Grammys. They are utterly external to my experience of music. The Oscars, though- they get in there. As much as we like to pretend otherwise, the Oscars elicit an emotional reaction from a good many movie viewers.
This happens the extent that certain choices by the Academy have filled me with a certain weird rage, making me hate the Oscars all the more and, paradoxically, making me think about and care about them more. This is, of course, highly stupid. Annie Hall, for example beat Star Wars. One of those movies changed movies, culture, and media forever*, and the other one has plummeted into utter irrelevance. Forrest Gump beat out Pulp Fiction. No one watches, talks about, or even acknowledges the existence of the insipidly shallow Gump anymore, but Pulp Fiction is held up as a classic.
So, the Oscars don’t really matter. What gets remembered, what gets talked about, what gets watched- that’s all independent of which movies get little golden men. And yet, I still get worked up into a frothy rage whenever Oscar rewards the “wrong” movie. I rolled my eyes last year when they gave it to The King’s Speech and was very disappointed to see an award go to A Beautiful Mind, which totally sanitized John Nash’s life story. Having Titanic beat out L.A. Confidential was disappointing, but inevitable, and I will concede that Titanic is a Very Important Movie in the History of Cinema.
Absolutely none of those, though, angered me as much as what happened in 2005, when they gave the Best Picture statuette to Crash, and passed up Brokeback Mountain. I hated Crash. Hated it. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated it. Crash was a contrived, simplistic, emotionally manipulative piece of offal. The film, such as it is, is basically Racism is Bad: The Movie and attempts to tell the audience, through a series of interconnected stories in modern L.A., about how racism is bad.
I did not resent Crash for its politics. I utterly agree with its politics. However, the movie expects the politics and the message to do all of the heavy lifting. Crash seems to think, because it’s about an important issue, that it deserves to be a good movie. The characters, though, are contrived, the plot relies on a series of improbable coincidences, and it never really ears the reaction that it expects from the audience. Movies about Big Issues do well when they put a human face on the issues and show us the personal side of why a given controversy is important. Crash, though, seems to think that because it’s about an emotionally charged issue, we’ll automatically empathize with the characters.
When the award went to what is essentially an after school special, I was perplexed and annoyed. Crash, more than anything else, drove me to realize that movies get Oscars less because they are good, and more because they meet certain criteria. I of course knew that before Crash, but seeing that movie win allowed me to grok that truth on a level heretofore unrealized.
All that said, I might watch the Oscars on Sunday, if I’m not doing anything. More likely, I’ll just check Twitter while they’re going on. I don’t really care who wins this year but I do know that if they give it to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I’ll want to break something.
*One of my earliest memories is watching The Return of the Jedi in the back of my parents’ car at a drive in while wearing Superman pajamas. I would also posit that Star Wars mind-warped an entire generation of people like me. Woody Allen, on the other hand, fucked his stepdaughter.