I never watch the Olympics. I don’t have anything against them, I just don’t find them particularly interesting, and besides I have more important things to do, like have concerts in my head and talk to my sock monkey because my apartment doesn’t allow dogs. On the other hand, I watch the Academy Awards every year with great excitement and trepidation, despite the fact that they are utterly pointless. This is not some recent “revelation” I’ve had. Ever since I was a child I recognized that the awards handed out by the Academy are just as subjective as the top ten lists I make at the conclusion of every year (more on that soon). Having the Winter Olympics take place so close to the Oscars nicely underscores this fact. In the Olympics, for the majority of events at least, awards are handed out based on exact measurements and careful calculations. They are as scientific and deliberate as possible when it comes to calculating scores. It’s impossible to be that objective as an Academy Awards voter.
Sure, you can try to pick the nominees who were most “deserving” rather than the ones you responded to the most, but what’s the point? There are no formulas, no equations and no tools (other than your mind) by which you can calculate the quality of a performance or the skill of a director. One’s response to art is not scientific, it’s visceral and emotional, and it’s not really based on any kind of concrete logic. There are plenty of films that I like or even love despite the fact that I by all logic should not. In general, I don’t like films that are overloaded with special effects, feature flat characters who are completely unrealistic and virtually impossible to relate to, include lots of scenes where Chris Tucker screams at stuff in an incredibly annoying manner or are directed by Luc Besson (who made perhaps my least favorite film of all time, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc), so why do I enjoy The Fifth Element so much? There’s no real logic to it, it’s just the way I feel.
I can tell you my favorite film in a second (it’s Night of the Hunter if you didn’t read that post, and who would blame you), but I wouldn’t presume to be able to tell you what the best film is. I don’t think there is a best for the same reason I don’t think the Academy Awards have much merit: in the end it all comes down to your viewpoint and your unique way of processing a given film. You can try as hard as you want to view a piece of art with complete objectivity. Somewhere along the line subjectivity is going to come creeping in. That’s just the way art works. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s not a problem we have to solve, it’s a reality we have to acknowledge. Your opinion isn’t right or wrong, it’s simply your opinion. That’s why arguing with anyone about anything artistic is completely pointless, and why the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, the Pulitzers and the Grammys aren’t particularly important beneath the surface.
Some might say that these awards gain some validity through simple strength in numbers. After all, the Academy Awards aren’t one person’s opinion, they’re the opinion of a large group of filmmakers, about 6,000 to be exact. Still, in the grand scheme of things 6,000 people isn’t much to hang your hat on. There are a hell of a lot more filmmakers out there than the 6,000 the Academy has selected to join their ranks, and there’s no reason to think that their opinion is any less valid that the opinions of those who are given a voice. The Academy gives out awards based upon the preferences of a chosen few. It doesn’t get any less scientific than that. You wanna know the most valid movie awards out there in my opinion? The MTV Movie Awards. Sure, the nominees are chosen in advance, but when it comes to the winners everybody on Earth gets a say if they want to, and why shouldn’t they? Who died and made these guys king anyway?
The whole idea that certain “experts” can look at two pieces of artistic expression and choose which is objectively better is absurd. There’s no wrong way to make art, and there’s no right way either. And yes, I am a critic, non-professional though I am, but when I criticize or praise a film I’m not speaking the truth, I’m simply saying what I thought, and I’m doing it not to change people’s minds or influence their thoughts, I’m doing it because I enjoy it. If someone else goes to the same film and has a completely different reaction to it that doesn’t mean either one of us is wrong, it just means that we’re humans with minds of our own. If you’re sitting in an arthouse watching a Truffaut retrospective that doesn’t make you any better than your friend who’s sitting at home watching White Chicks for the 50th time. This took me a while to learn, and when I hear someone praise a band or a book or a film I hate my gut reaction is still to mock or even attack them for daring to enjoy something that I have deemed “stupid.” I used to give in to that urge more often, but now I try to fight it, as hard as that often is. If somebody believes that the Earth is flat then by all means argue with them, but to say someone is wrong for liking one piece of art over another is pointless. That doesn’t mean that you can’t discuss a piece of art with another person. I love to do that. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things to do. But these days I try not to push my opinion too hard or to claim that the other person’s opinion is invalid. State your case, let the other person state theirs, and then walk away. I know it’s hard, but it’s worth it. I’ve gotten in so many stupid arguments in my life that they could fill a book the size of fucking War and Peace. I have no interest in having another.
All of this feeds into my dissatisfaction with the Academy Awards. Ideally, these awards are meant to be a night for celebrating film. If that’s their intention, why single out one person to receive each of these awards? Instead of picking one performance as the absolute best, which once again is impossible to accomplish through purely objective reasoning, why not simply say that these performances were great and these films were special. Why not spend the night highlighting the brightest moments of the past year, celebrating the film industry in general rather than a minute group of “winners”. What’s the point of reducing what could be an inclusive and warm-hearted experience to a tense competition where the best case scenario is that around 25 people will leave with their egos gratified? Must we reduce everything down in this potentially destructive manner simply to make such an event more “exciting” or “important?” Plenty of people question the validity of certain choices made by the Academy, but does anyone stop to consider the validity of these awards themselves?
The truth, whether we want to admit it or not, is that every human is born with an intrinsic drive to compete, to be the best at something or, at the very least, to succeed, to triumph against the odds. Competition isn't necessarily a bad thing. Everyone has ambitions and goals, some realistic and some a bit more illusive. Without ambition our lives would be meaningless. Finding love, shelter, work, happiness... it's all one big competition, you versus the rest of the world, time and, worst of all, yourself. We fight day and night to lead the life we want to live, to get as close to that ideal as possible, whether we fight quietly or loudly, internally or externally. Competition has lead to some remarkable things and some horrible things, and that's only natural. But after taking competition for granted for so long I fear we've developed a bit of an addiction to it. A celebration's enjoyable, but it's also fairly boring, pleasant but not exciting. If they want to grab our attention we need a race, a battle. All I'm trying to do is simply ask why.
That being said, pointless though the Academy Awards are, I certainly spend a lot of time thinking about them. So, because I can’t fight this feeling anymore, here are the things I’m angriest about concerning this year’s list of nominees.
- No Robert Redford? Really? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I think Christian Bale is one of the most talented actors out there right now but I’d much rather be bemoaning his snub than Redford’s. This is a man who’s been in some of the most beloved films of all timeand yet he’s never done work this remarkable before, and he might never reach this level again. Apart from Redford’s snub, it’s insane to me that All is Lost was only nominated for sound editing. It’s the same fate which was suffered by Drive a couple of years ago, and it doesn’t sting any less this time around. What about Alex Ebert’s music? What about J.C. Chandor’s direction? What about everything else damn it?
- No Brie Larson? I know Short Term 12 didn’t get a huge opening but her performance in it is so absurdly good that even if you’re going to choose to ignore the film I can’t imagine how you could manage to ignore her. Personally, I would give her the Oscar. Cate Blanchett was remarkable in Blue Jasmine, but Larson’s performance is something truly special.
- Only two nominations for Inside Llewyn Davis, and nothing in the big eight? Wasn’t this film a front runner only a few short months ago? What happened? Everybody said the film was great and it built up tons of buzz, then it was released in theaters, everybody continued to say it was great and its buzz completely disappeared. Baffling…
- I don’t know… this list of nominees is pretty solid actually… Andrew Dice Clay? Uh… Benedict Cumberbatch… Oh who gives a shit anyway?
[Max Castleman is a thing from Ohio which is trying to make movies. It writes far too many lists and not enough poems and keeps attempting to write a novel. It likes the average dog more than the average person. Some people think it’s a bit strange, but it thinks they’re strange too. It thinks that’s a good thing. It is currently writing about itself in the third-person.]