Oscar Recap, or Safe House: Everything Is Safe
So it’s all done. The glitz, the glamour, the countless tears of publicists and assistants working themselves into a frenzy for the chance to make an impression on the world’s most famous red carpet, it’s all over. What’s left is the same feeling we seem to experience more and more with the Oscars: irritation, regret, and melancholy that end up making the whole thing feel more like a bad one night stand than the most prestigious nights in Hollywood? What happened? Are the Oscars and The Academy so caught up in themselves and their own outdated ideas about film that they’re beyond saving? More importantly, is there anything that we, the moviegoing public, can do to help?
Much like the microphones in this year’s ceremony, all of the proceedings at The Oscars had a tinny grating quality to them, and rather than addressing the problem, it was just ignored with the assumption that we wouldn’t notice it or that we’d think it was something wrong with our TVs. These issues were evident from the very beginning of the ceremony.
Though there was a whole lot of commotion surrounding Sasha Baron Cohen’s appearance at the ceremony and whether or not he’d be allowed to come as The Dictator, Cohen’s latest iteration of his own hype machine, in spite of the Academy’s ruling that Uggie, the beloved dog from THE ARTIST, wouldn’t be allowed to walk the red carpet, perhaps because Uggie doesn’t have a movie to promote right now. When he spilled “ashes” on Ryan Seacrest, I will admit to brief moment of schadenfrude, but upon further examination, the whole thing felt very staged on Cohen’s part. While Seacrest most likely didn’t know what was going to happen, Cohen did and it showed. His comments were a little too well delivered and he was a little more nervous than he should have been. The succeeding jokes during the ceremony, which included a horribly overwrought opening song, extended Justin Bieber appearances (one is too many), an attempt to make Gwyneth Paltrow seem human, and other more than midly racist things all suffered from the same basic fault in one way or another: they were so overly rehearsed or poorly executed that any potential humor they might have brought was lost almost instantly.
While I have very little memory of Billy Crystal as an Oscar host (I was a child during the 90s and my family cares very little about movies in general), his whole shtick and the night’s themes of age and nostalgia made it seem like the Academy no longer cared about appealing to a younger demographic just because last year’s ceremony, hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway didn’t work out as well as they (or anyone else, frankly) would have liked. It was the “get off my lawn” of telecasts, which was evident not only in the nominated films, but in the seemingly ubiquitous montages of various celebrities being interviewed in an Errol Morris style, waxing nostalgic about the movies that inspired them or spoke to them in their youth. This never rang true though, because either the things the interviewees said made no sense (Adam Sandler talking about telling the truth in his movies – come on) but mostly because the kinds of films they spoke about aren’t the kinds of films that were nominated this year – or for the past few years, to be honest.
The Academy’s choices this year were, as they have been lately, indicative more of the lack of originality and willingness to accept change in Hollywood, than they are of the year’s best films. In one of the montages about “why we go to the movies”, there were films like INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE GODFATHER, RAGING BULL, THE EXORCIST, JAWS, TITANIC, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and STAR WARS, all of which marked significant changes in storytelling, technology, or in the way that changed how we felt about movies. These are the kinds of films that people grow up on, that inspired young filmmakers and are really what I think the movies should be about. I can safely say that movies like CRASH, THE KING’S SPEECH or SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE are not the kinds of movies that inspire people or that say something “important” about the human condition; quite the opposite. These kinds of movies manage to contribute very little to the conversations people have about film or about the ways in which we relate to each other, but since they are executed effectively enough, they are worthy of recognition of the highest order.
It feels like rather than highlighting those movies that do mark those significant changes or achievements in the craft of film, The Academy makes the safe, easy, and predictable choices that seem all the more obvious after we learned the demographics of Academy Voters. Very much in the same way that many studios would rather produce sequels, prequels, or reboots of existing properties because there’s a certain amount of “safety” there rather than take a chance on telling a unique story, the Oscars feel more comfortable honoring stories that follow the paths of familiarity and nostalgia rather than those voices that are trying to push the medium forward in one way or another. In 2011, it’s movies like DRIVE, MELANCHOLIA or SHAME that will have a larger impact on the landscape of film and shape future filmmakers more than THE ARTIST or THE HELP.
What proves to be the most difficult thing here is finding a way to fix the system, if there is anything at all. Like any established and long standing entity, there’s more than half a century of “tradition” that prop up the way that The Academy has done things, and as much as we want it, if changes happen, they will come very slowly and not without a lot of fighting. In a perfect world, I’d love to say that if we all stopped watching the Oscars that the Academy would have no choice but to change how they choose the Best Picture nominees and how people become Academy members, but that’s not going to happen any time soon.
All I can offer for advice is this: see as many movies as you can. Sure, it gets expensive, and some (many) of them won’t be that great. Find your local art house or repertory theatre and support it. When you find that gem, tell everyone you know about it. Take your friends, take your family, and share the experience – that’s what the movies are really about. You’ll be much happier with your own Best Picture, even if the Academy doesn’t even know it exists.