Published in the North Central Chronicle on January 30, 2009.
Let me count the ways…
1. You want normal people to like you, but you fail to acknowledge what people like.
In the past, you’ve been excused from this because most of the time the highest grossing film of year wasn’t worthy of awards. But this year is different. The Dark Knight and Wall-E dominated the box office and landed on many top 10 lists. What better combination can there be for awards season? The ratings for the awards ceremony have steadily decline to half the viewers since 1998; giving due props to the high quality popular films would have boosted viewership and proved that Hollywood isn’t always out of touch.
Instead, you’ve acknowledged films that barely anyone except film critics has seen. I know that most of the time, the smaller films are better than the box office winners so they deserve to win awards, but this was the year that broke that pattern. Instead of taking the chance to try something new, you stick with what works but isn’t very exciting.
2. Year after year the studios throw out mediocre Oscar bait like “The Reader” yet you still bite, hook, line, and sinker.
Ricky Gervais was right when told perennial nominee Kate Winslet at the Golden Globes, “I told you; do a Holocaust
movie and the awards start coming.” Everybody knows which movies are being made simply because they have at least one ingredient in the magical formula guaranteed to clean up at the Oscars: angst, lots of yelling, Meryl Streep, or the Holocaust.
But I get it: it’s all about politics. The Reader got in because of the legendary influence of Hollywood heavyweight producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein (the same men who helped Shakespeare in Love upset Saving Private Ryan for best picture back in 1998). It’s not the quality of the film but the quality of the film’s PR that matters in the end. That is ultimately what is exacerbating the problem with how the Academy Awards are run, but I don’t foresee this changing any time soon.
3. You hate animated movies.
I don’t really know why. Maybe you’re afraid that nominating a film like Wall-E because you feel threatened by anything that doesn’t require overpaid humans to do the work. Or maybe you just don’t understand yet that animation is not a genre but simply another way to tell a story. Whatever the reason, you didn’t do animated films a favor by creating a separate category for them; you’re ghettoizing them. You’re saying animated movies do not equal real movies, even when the best reviewed film of the year is a great romantic science fiction adventure film that happens to be animated.
4. You never award people at the right time.
We’ve seen this countless times: an actor or actress or director winning for a film because it was viewed as more of a reward for their body of work rather than an award for that specific performance. Martin Scorsese winning in 2006 for The Departed is an example. Kate Winslet, the youngest actress to get six nominations, will probably win this year for The Reader because voters feel she is owed for having been snubbed before. This practice causes others who actually deserve to win, like Sally Hawkins for Happy-Go-Lucky, to get robbed.
5. For being such a politically liberal town, you get really conservative during award season.
This, too, has a storied history. The so-so Crash won over the heavily favored, gay themed and superior picture Brokeback Mountain in 2005 because it was the safer pick. This year, The Reader, Frost/Nixon, and Slumdog Millionaire — historical or quasi-historical film with obvious messages — are up for the big awards instead of The Dark Knight and Wall-E, two films with powerful political and social commentary that liberals would ordinarily embrace in real life. For being the year for change, Hollywood has failed to change any of their award season habits.
In spite of my complaining, I still appreciate it when the Oscars showcase the art house pictures that don’t make hundreds of millions at the box office. There are a lot of well made films out there that wouldn’t be seen without the buzz that starts at the film festivals and carries them through awards season.
Still, the Academy needs to do a better job of rewarding art when it deserves it. The Reader doesn’t deserve it. In 10 years no one will remember it. Wall-E, however, will live on for a long time. It’s just a matter of whether the Academy wanted to live on with it. Apparently, they didn’t care that much.