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Alaina Rants On… The 2013 Oscar Nominations (and the Oscars in general)

13 Jan

Before I get into this, I’ve got a metaphor I want to use, but I want to make sure it lands.  Has anyone out there watched How I Met Your Mother as much as I have?  If not, let me attempt to make my metaphor make sense.

[I’m going to warn you, this is much like my Stories That Go Nowhere [TM]: long and involved backstory with little or the wrong kind of payoff.  You have been warned, but I’m not backing away from this.]

See, in the episode entitled “Old King Clancy” (a personal favorite), Robin admits that she’s performed a dirty sex act with a celebrity back in Canada.  She won’t tell The Gang Minus Ted any of the story unless they are able to guess.  Cue the inevitable long list of Canadian Non-Sequitors [“Rick Moranis; The Reverse Rick Moranis; Antique Judaica.”  “No.”  “GAH.”]  Robin finally tells them that The Frozen Snowshoe asked her home to have her look at Harvey’s Trays, and then she was to perform the Old King Clancy on him (which is apparently like the Sacramento Turtleneck, but with maple syrup).  I echo Lily’s thoughts by saying that I don’t know what any of those words mean.

And then Barney says (and this is my punchline):

“Canada.  You did it again.  You even found a way to ruin *this.*  Why!  Why do we let you be a country?!”

And that, my friends, is how I felt about the 2013 Oscar Nominations.  Why.  Why do we even let you people do this to us!?

Because clearly, I love movies.  I wouldn’t devote a blog to my attempts to watch them if I didn’t.  I love the genre, I love the art and technique and style and dedication that go into making them.  And yes, I must give the disclaimer first-off that I realize there are some movies that strategically strive to be considered “art” and are therefore, less accessible than others, and there are others that are made simply for the attempt at a paycheck.  This rant is … well, not completely about the different levels of film-making that is occurring out there today, but it’ll probably intersect at some point, so … caveat everyone.

I think my largest problem with the Academy Awards at this juncture in time is that the entire Oscar production – the nominations, the rotating host, the gravitas that is attached with being nominated and, of course, winning – is made out to be the most accessible awards show — it’s never been called it to my knowledge, but a good shorthand would be America’s Award Show — but really, they’re not.  We the audience are made to believe that the nominated movies are the best of all the movies that have been released this year and everything else that we saw in the theatres that we may think are better are in fact, only slightly okay.  “No, I don’t care how much you loved Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock; clearly, Will Tippin in a football movie was better than that.”

Let me back up.  I have been watching the Oscars since Titanic came out.  The 1997 Oscars was the first one I watched, and the first time I attempted to guess the winners.  Thanks to James Cameron and the killing that that movie did on the box office, I got a lot right.  The five Best Picture nominees were: Titanic, L.A. Confidential, As Good As It Gets, The Full Monty, and Good Will Hunting.  That year I was … y’know, I turn thirty this year?  I’m not doing the math.  But anyway, I was clearly in the PG-13 arena and had only seen Titanic and As Good As It Gets, but I had heard about the other three.  In fact, since that time, I have seen … okay, only L.A. Confidential and that was years ago, but my point is that I, a 14-year old girl (damn. I did the math) with limited spending income, had seen two of the Best-Picture-Nominated movies and had heard of the other three.  The Best Picture nominees were accessible to everyone.

The following year — just to further illustrate my point — the five nominees for Best Picture were Saving Private Ryan, Elizabeth, Shakespeare in Love, Life is Beautiful and The Thin Red Line.  Now being 15, I hadn’t seen those due to sex and/or violence, but again, I had heard of those movies.  I think I ended up seeing parts of at least four of those movies during various classes throughout the rest of high school and/or college.

The following year, the fucking Sixth Sense was nominated.  For Best Picture.  Do y’all remember that?!  The only reason I’m mentioning that now is that it completely illustrates my point: a movie that practically EVERYONE saw, so much so that the twist ending was even at that time, a punchline.  (And still continues to this day — just last night I tweeted to my friend Sarah, who was punishing herself for some reason watching The Last Airbender, which she didn’t realize was directed by M.Night himself: “It’s an M.Night Shyamalan joint.  If Bruce Willis ain’t dead and it’s not Earth all along, it’s not over yet.”

Sometime around 2003, 2004-ish, we started to see a trend of less accessible, more art-housey films get nominated alongside tentpole films.  The Best Picture nominees one year were Return of the King, Lost in Translation, Master and Commander, Far Side of the World, Mystic River, and SeabiscuitLost in Translation I still find to be completely overrated, but amongst the other titles in that category, it’s clearly the art-house sneak-in.  All the acting nominations came from little-seen films, like Thirteen, The House of Sand and Fog, 21 Grams, and of course the stupid exception is Johnny Depp for Pirates of the Caribbean.  I mean, I don’t even know why he was nominated for that.  I still don’t.

And then, we come to 2004.  The 2005 Academy Awards bestowed gold upon Million Dollar Baby, The Aviator, Ray, Finding Neverland, Sideways, Vera Drake, Hotel Rwanda … a lot of films that didn’t necessarily get wide releases.  Now, I cannot in good faith sit here and proclaim that Million Dollar Baby didn’t deserve the award, because it’s number 40 on my list.  But when I look back through the movies that were released that year, and I see Mean Girls (which honest-to-God, should have at least earned a screenplay nomination), Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, and movie of my heart, Anchorman?!  Okay, yes, I still don’t think Anchorman would get nominated in any sense of the word, but let’s say I had watched Million Dollar Baby.  Given the choice to rewatch either that or Anchorman, I’m going to go with the Ron Burgandy story, duh!

So for a few years, art-house movies dominated the Oscars.  Occasionally, we’d see a bigger-named movie (Meryl Streep for The Devil Wears Prada, Little Miss Sunshine, etc.), but for the most part, the Academy Awards started veering towards the lower-budget, emotion-heavy Sundance purchases.  And you know, I was kind of okay with that – if that was the direction the Academy Awards was going, then fine.  Be all art-housey and hipster and whatever, leave me my Anchorman and joy.

And THEN, in 2010, the Academy decided to increase the Best Picture nominees to up to 10 from the 5 that had been allowed for almost all of eternity.  The producers or executives or whoever was in charge (heretofore known as ‘they’) claimed it was because they wanted to make the category more accessible, and inclusive, and give more films the opportunity to be named a Best Picture nominee.

In reality, it was because the ratings for the Academy Award telecast had been slipping sequentially for the past … actually, I would like to give a quick shout-out to Wikipedia for helping me with all of this information.  Thanks guys!  But anyway, the 2009 Oscars achieved a record-low of 31.7 million viewers, or an 18.6% Nielsen Ratings Share.  Even so, the ratings had steadily declined by at least one million each year since … oh, would you look at that.

Year Ceremony Viewers
(in mil.)

Ratings
Percentage

Host

Best Picture Winner

2012

85

Seth MacFarlane  
2011

84

39.5

23.91%

Billy Crystal The Artist
2010

83

37.9

22.97%

James Franco & Anne Hathaway The King’s Speech
2009

82

41.6

24.75%

Steve Martin & Alec Baldwin The Hurt Locker
2008

81

36.9

21.68%

Hugh Jackman Slumdog Millionaire
2007

80

31.7

18.66%

Jon Stewart No Country For Old Men
2006

79

39.9

23.65%

Ellen DeGeneres The Departed
2005

78

38.6

22.91%

Jon Stewart Crash
2004

77

42.1

25.29%

Chris Rock Million Dollar Baby
2003

76

43.5

26.68%

Billy Crystal LOTR: Return of the King
2002

75

33

20.5%

Steve Martin Chicago
2001

74

40.5

24.1%

Whoopi Goldberg A Beautiful Mind
2000

73

42.9

25.9%

Steve Martin Gladiator
1999

72

46.5

29.6%

Billy Crystal American Beauty
1998

71

45.6

28.5%

Whoopi Goldberg Shakespeare in Love
1997

70

57.3

35.32%

Billy Crystal Titanic

[Yeah, bitches, I made a chart!!]

But as you can CLEARLY see above, there is a direct correlation between Academy Awards Ratings and the Movies Nominated for Best Picture.  The year the Academy decided to recognize Titanic as being worthy of Best Picture was the same year that EVERYONE saw Titanic.  A fair amount of people also saw either Shakespeare in Love or Saving Private Ryan, so the audience wanted to see who won.  Fast-forward to poor Jon Stewart’s second year hosting, which suffered from having both very obscure nominees (from a general audience member’s perspective) and also, political fatigue.  Steve Martin’s first year also suffered from coming approximately six months after 9/11, so clearly, real-world stuff affects fake-world stuff.

So anyway.  In 2009, Academy Awards President Sid Ganis announced that ‘they’ would be increasing the Best Picture nominees to up to ten, “in an attempt to revitalize interest surrounding the awards” source.  No, Sid, that’s not why you did it.  This was blatantly in an effort to increase ratings.  Which, fine, whatever you think works.

Now, I was sitting there in 2009, and my first thought was, “Shit!  I’m going to have to see even more movies now!”  Because I am, first and foremost, a masochist.  But since that was announced in June of 2009, and I had six months to think about stuff before the actual nominations were announced, I also got secretly excited.  I hoped — hoped — that that would mean that there would be more accessible pictures nominated.

That was the year that The Hangover was released.  And it was being lauded as being an extraordinary, new comedy.  Different, unabashedly raunchy, and loved by millions.  It was an R-rated crowd-pleaser, the likes of which film hadn’t seen, practically ever.  And I was excited, because for once, there was a chance that an actual, honest-to-goodness comedy might — might — be nominated for Best Picture.

And that had been my point for years prior.  While the Golden Globes are a horrible excuse for an awards show, with only slightly more gravitas than winning an Emmy, at least they know enough to award both a drama and a comedy as Best Picture.  Comedy and drama make up our daily lives, and I felt that only one side of that coin had been represented in the past ten years’ worth of Oscar ceremonies.  Because not counting Little Miss Sunshine, a black comedy at best, the last outright comedy to be nominated for Best Picture was The Full Monty, in 1997, the same year – you guessed it – Titanic won.

So when the Best Picture nominations came out, and not one of them was for any type of comedy?  I was sorely disappointed.

And look, I recognize that I am not an Academy member, and that there are rules and processes in place.  I just learned this this past week: a film cannot be named a Best Picture nominee unless the total nominations for that category it receives equal 5% or more of the total nominations submitted.  So, fine.  4% of the people liked The Hangover, and it lost its place to District 9.  And last year, at least Bridesmaids got recognized for Melissa McCarthy and Best Original Screenplay, but the more I think about it, the more I believe that it was just a push towards Equal Opportunity.  (In many different ways.  Not to say I didn’t like the movie and was ecstatic that it earned two nominations.  Just … it still feels a tad slap-dash and not very authentic.)

I think, finally, we come to this year.  There were a lot — a lot — of good movies released this year.  Sadly, one of them got upstaged by the events surrounding its midnight release, but there were others that I felt deserved recognition.

Joss Whedon made a supremely amazing superhero movie, that managed to make the comic book fans happy and not too nitpicky, while introducing others to the genre.  The Hunger Games had amazing cinematography and art direction, but didn’t get nominated for anything?  And while I’m flipping ecstatic that Skyfall got nominated for cinematography (eat THAT, Pierce Brosnan!!), where was Javier Bardem’s nomination?  For ONCE, there was nuance to a Bond villain!  Okay, fine.  The Best Supporting actor nominees are all unique, special snowflakes, and — hey, all of you guys have won Oscars before!  That’s not helping my argument, but …

And WHERE.  WHERE?  IS BEN AFFLECK’S FUCKING NOMINATION FOR BEST DIRECTOR?!

And look, I am not Mr. Affleck’s biggest fan by any means.  I like him, but I’m not exactly going to run out and watch every movie he’s ever made.  Loved him in Mallrats, Dogma and Chasing Amy.  I saw The Town; it was okay.  Still haven’t seen Shakespeare in Love or Good Will Hunting, but they’re on my list!  I think his high-profile romances soured me, but not because of him, because of the media swooping on every shit he took with J.Lo and everything else.  I never really had anything bad to say about him.

But Argo — holy shitsnacks.  That was the best movie I have seen in a very long time.  As director, he was able to create tension in a story where you knew how it ended.  I went to see it about three weeks after it opened, and my theatre still applauded when the plane took off.  I remember looking at Amelia and saying, “I take back almost every bad thing I’ve ever said about Ben Affleck.”  It was phenomenal, and I can’t stress this enough – a huge surprise that it was that good.

So for him to be snubbed, to me, seems really, really shitty.

And sure, maybe, the guy who made Beasts of the Southern Wild did a really good job.  And maybe, Silver Linings Playbook redeems David O. Russell more than I Heart Huckabees ever could.  But … the Affleck, man!  I can’t — I can’t get beyond that.

So, thanks, Academy Awards.  You finally did what not many people could do.  You turned Ben Affleck into a platform for me.  I am now pissed off at you, the Academy Awards — you that has ran my Februarys for the past five years, and my winter seasons for even longer than that — over Ben Affleck.

And I’m looking at the rest of the nominees, and I’ve never heard of the majority of them.  Beasts of the Southern Wild?  Was that a direct-to-Redbox release?  AmourLife of Pi?  You nominated The Life of Pi?!

Brad: We should go see Life of Pi.
Me: Why?!
Brad: Well, we should bring flasks.  It’s this year’s The Tree of Life.
Me: You don’t want to go see The Life of Pi with me.
Brad: Why not?
Me: Because you’re going to be subjected to me shouting, every damn time Pi turns around and sees the tiger, “Fuck!  I keep forgetting about the goddamned tiger!”
Brad: [laughing]
Me: And then, just to mix it up, when he’s feeding the tiger: “Tigers love pepper.  They hate cinnamon.”

Seriously, guys – never go to the movies with me.  I’m an asshole.

I keep thinking that there has to be some sort of middle ground.  A place where movies that deserve recognition can go to be rewarded.  The Oscars has clearly not learned anything from the past few years, and are sliding more and more into art-house territory.  Which is fine.  You can totally do that, Oscars.  Just stop marketing yourself as the People’s Award Show.  Which in reality, I don’t think you’ve actually said, but let’s put it this way: you’re making it a lot easier for the Extreme Conservative Right to point to you guys and say stuff like “Hollywood Elite.”  And this is a point I haven’t made yet: I live in Maine.  Some of those movies were never released here!

So this year, I’m hanging up my “I’m Going To Watch Ever Movie And Take Notes” hat, and instead, continue to watch Archer and see if Captain Hook ever leaves Storybrooke, Maine and travels to Yarmouth on Once Upon a Time (IT CAN’T BE THAT FAR, RIGHT?  HE’S GOT A SHIP, THERE ARE RIVERS).  If I get up to it, I might — might — hold my own Award Ceremony, one that reflects the true artistry in the movies that EVERYONE — or, at least, a SOLID MAJORITY OF PEOPLE — has seen.

(PS, I will be seeing Silver Linings Playbook, because I have to see what the fuck Will Tippin did to fucking get nominated for Best Actor.  I mean, what the shit?!)

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Posted by on January 13, 2013 in Alaina Rants On, Oscar!Watch!

 

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