Oscar night: a time when all the best and brightest of Hollywood look up at the stars and wish for the chance to get their hands on that precious statue.
It is a time when they can receive an education on what makes a film stand out, but fear that they may be blind-sided by some inglorious bastards who don’t really deserve it. A serious man knows that his chances may be up in the air, but he keeps his reserve and doesn’t catch himself in a hurt locker yearning for that little golden avatar of the Academy”¦ District 9.
As everyone knows, The Hurt Locker claimed the stage at last Sunday’s Academy Awards, taking six awards, including best picture, best director and best original screenplay. I haven’t seen this movie, unfortunately. I wanted to, but I never got the chance.
In fact, I didn’t see many of the films nominated, which is both disappointing and embarrassing, being the cinephile that I attempt to be. So this year was a different experience, where I wasn’t so much bound by my personal feelings and just willing to watch the wheels turn.
Before the award show the Internet was, as it often is, abuzz. There were two distinct camps: pro-Avatar and anti-Avatar. This show was destined to be a showdown between James Cameron and his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow while audiences waited to see whether Avatar or The Hurt Locker would win the big prize. The pre-emptive rage about the possibility of Avatar winning was soon followed by rage that it didn’t win. Responding to that, a number of people are chiming in that neither film deserved to win. And so on.
So what do the Oscars mean? Every year, all they do is enrage people. Some say that the Academy is out of touch with cinema, some say it is flooded with arthouse sensibilities, and some say it doesn’t have enough arthouse sensibilities.
The fact is, the Academy is a 6,000 member body drawn from people all across the industry, each with their own personal views. They are then expected to shove those views aside and take an objective stance on the best achievement in film. By nature, this is an imperfect design.
Movie-watching is not an objective experience. One can make obvious objective claims like, “Meet the Spartans was inferior to The Godfather,” but when it comes down to details, it becomes much more difficult. There are many different levels on which one can enjoy a film, so when you must come up with one title that defines all that cinema is in a given year, you are bound to piss people off. Everyone comes to understand this. I remember in 2005 when Garden State was snubbed in every single category, I understood that the Oscars will never be a definitive gauge of the greatest films. They’re bound to make mistakes. They have to.
People still complain about Shakespeare in Love beating Saving Private Ryan and Forrest Gump beating The Shawshank Redemption. The Academy has made some mistakes, obviously, but it’s not their job to choose what films will be remembered in decades to come; they have to make a knee-jerk decision about what movie is important to movies right now. Maybe they’re right; maybe they’re wrong.
The Hurt Locker was probably the most typical “Oscar movie” this year. Even though I haven’t seen it, I know that it is a hard-hitting drama with politically relevant themes, unflinching in its content but delicate in its storytelling. I understand why it won.
Avatar is a different type of movie, though no one can decide what type it is. Revolutionary filmmaking or expensive eye-candy? The debate rages on. A win for the movie would have been a big move for the Academy, still reproachful of action-based genre films (Return of the King notwithstanding). It also would have provoked cries of the Academy selling out. The Hurt Locker was the safer choice. Was it better? Time will tell.
So why watch the Oscars? Essentially, to get pissed off. They will never stop doing things that make you angry, but it is not done out of spite or ignorance. It is done out of faith. There are a lot of good movies out there. A lot of great ones. But if only one movie gets chosen, it has to stand out for reasons beyond being good, and not everyone will agree on what those reasons are.
So the Academy has to have faith that the movies it picks have something that makes them stand out, if not for all time, then for right then. You can agree or disagree, but no matter how angry you get, you’re still watching.