Wednesday, March 5, 2008

And the Oscar goes to hell.

A column about last week's Oscars? Yes, this is way late, but not everything runs on 24 hour news cycles. Fact is I was rather stumped for what I could bring to the party after having watched this year's show. Then I reread a web article I had printed and put aside...
Allow me to lift a quote: A.O. Scott, reporting for the New York Times in a February 24th article wrote this: "...I am nonetheless bothered by the disproportionate importance that the Academy Awards have taken on, and by the distorting influence they exercise over the way we make, market and see movies in this country." He goes on to say, "The Oscars themselves may be harmless fun, but the idea that they matter is as dangerous as it is ridiculous." and Moviedozer Dailies came into being after discussing the (in our opinion) ridiculous choices of the 2007 Academy. After watching this year's Best Actress award presented to Marion Cotillard (for La Vie En Rose) in a show that also honored Ruby Dee and Saoirse Ronan with Supporting Actress nominations, and Lars and The Real Girl with an Original Screenplay nomination, there was just that more fuel for the fire. How does an Award show that recognizes the brilliance of Tilda Swinton's performance in Michael Clayton, find a nomination for pop/gospel drivel like Raise It Up as Best Song from August Rush, a film that doesn't deserve mention in a sentence that includes the word "best"? How does a performance like Javier Bardem's (or for that matter, everyone of the other Best Supporting Actor nominations, co-exist in a competition for the Oscar that included the nomination of Atonement as a Best Picture nominee? Atonement was as generic a romantic period film as any I have ever seen. Well made, well acted, beautifully photograped? Yes. One of the five best films made through the entire year of 2007? Really? 

Hollywood has made an art form of the trailer, that two and a half minute exercise in film editing that is the staple piece of marketing for movie releases. As moviegoers, all of you know how often marketing and quality moviemaking diverge. But those trailers are presented as "the sell". You know that when you watch. It's an ad and no one's pretending anything more, though often those ads are art in themselves. The Academy Awards along with their precious Oscar statuette are no different. It's an ad. A come-on to drive box-office action and DVD unit sales. I can take that. I'll still watch. Knowing it's just a "sell" may even lighten things up and make it all that much more fun. But if that's the reality, knock off all of the high-brow, cinema auteur crap and reward the popular films.

No one's trying to "class-up" the MTV movie awards or for that matter the Golden Globes. If you'd rather flaunt that you're the "Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences", great. I'll peak into the theater and watch an industry reward itself, but I'm sick of you trying to have it both ways. You are a private organization that pretends to speak as the public and the press. You are an organization of select knowledge and special interest that operates behind close doors every day of the year but one, and on that day you are suddenly a marketing machine. The problem is that your narrow point of view dictates what moviegoers across the country and around the world get to see at their local theaters. You have even found the hutzpah to dictate release schedules and rereleases. You're member voting pushes publicly owned and traded studios to select styles, genres, casts and subject matter for filmmakers and producers for months and often years to come. Next to black line profits, it's fair to say that the Academy Awards influence film production more than any other factor outside of the studios themselves. In any balanced analysis, that influence seems wildly unethical.

The truth is that the Academy is 6000 people who collectively have a strangle hold on a multi-billion dollar industry. Yet, where was the Academy in assisting to broker a deal for Hollywood's writers, whose strike cost the California economy and the movie industry hundreds of millions? Where are they now, as actors have begun rumbling about their own strike? The arrogance of the Academy is the real story. How can they think, that in this age of YouTube and media driven by the masses, they can remain all powerful and exclusive? Wake up, there's a People's Academy out there finding their voices faster than you can follow. You, as a movie fan are part of that voice. If you've gone to the movies, bought a DVD or a soundtrack or bought a download, you have the real power to sway Hollywood. You also have the power to shut down the overwhelming influence of Oscar. We've said it here before, we all need to exercise our voice.

So to the members of the Academy, take a look at your ratings. In a few more years, Oscar may be taking on a look a lot more representative of the Academy itself, that of a tarnished and dull antique.

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