I am relatively uninterested in the Academy Awards tonight.
I suppose that's only partially true. I enjoy watching the Oscars because I always enjoy watching the Oscars. I don't get into the red carpet fashion smackdown bit -- there is such a thing as overprogramming, and awards shows are right up there with the Superbowl in attempting to shanghai the airwaves for an inordinate number of hours -- but some of the spectacle is fun. Or, at least, it gives me an opportunity to mock and rail at the self-congratulatory nature of The Industry, while secretly coveting the better designer couture and Harry Winston diamond loaner jewelry.
This year, however, along with a good portion of the movie-going public, I am not terribly invested in the actual outcome. Part of that is because in the past year, Jim and I were rarely part of the movie-going public; we saw none of the Best Picture-nominated films, and very few others at all. But I realized how deep my lack of caring went when my friend Seth invited me to participate in his annual Oscar pool, which involved going on to a fancy website and selecting the winners of the 24 (I think) major categories.
Not that I ever have a clue who's going to win something like sound editing, but this year I realized that my only notion of who is going to win anything comes from having read reviews and Oscar discussions. I know that the run-off in Best Picture is probably going to come down to Brokeback Mountain and Crash and that anyone who doesn't believe that cliches equal great movie-making would prefer to see the former win over the latter -- it's all over the news. The Oscars were even the topic of discussion on "Meet the Press" and George Stephanopolous this morning.
On a personal level, I didn't miss the Oscar-nominated films merely because they weren't big-budget action-blockbuster flicks and I have the attention span of a groundhog. Rather, I just didn't care enough to get myself there.
Don't misunderstand me; I'm not proud of this. I'm sad that I didn't make more of an effort to see at least a few of the nominated films. I missed Good Night and Good Luck not because I didn't want to see it (on the contrary, I did and do), but because I'm too lazy and cheap to drag myself to the movie theatre without an extraordinary impetus, and I just didn't get there.
(This seems the appropriate moment for a "Huzzah!" to Netflix, no?)
Oodles of articles and commentary about the disconnect between the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the taste of motion picture audiences have surfaced in the lead-up to awards season, so I'm not going to be opening any new cans of worms by getting into that debate. My mind tends to think of it in terms of what we want from cinema. In very broad strokes, do we want it to entertain us, or do we want it to make us think?
I certainly don't mean to imply that the two goals above exist at cross-purposes, or are mutually exclusive. However, it does seem that we tend (or, again, maybe it's the industry folks -- is this becoming an Us vs. Them?) to break our films down into one or the other of the categories, without allowing for cross-pollination.
Do we do this with other forms of art? I don't know. My impression (based solely on personal experience) is that if we do, it's not nearly to the extent that we do with film. Even theatre, the art form most closely related to cinema, does not so actively subdivide its offerings, although I'm willing to bet most of us would probably admit that we expect very different results from an evening at Mamma Mia! or Jersey Boys than at Homebody/Kabul or The Seagull.
Then again, the theatre community has found a way to honor both categories, as has the Hollywood Foreign Press. The Academy Awards give clear precedence, in terms of assigning value via nomination at least, to movies with a "message," while often discounting those that set out purely to entertain us.
The flip side, of course, is that many of us turn to movies for entertainment. We may like to attend the ones that make us think and discuss and debate, but we may also like to go into the darkened theatre for a few hours of not having to deal with the ills of the world. The more the world ails, the more human beings will turn to the movies for escape (think of the massive studio machines churning out feel-good musical comedies during the Depression).
This isn't a judgment of movie-goers of either ilk. One of the perks of art is that the consumer can decide what it means to her, and that can change depending on the influences of the moment. It's also not a cry for the Academy to be more democratic in its nominations. Good box office is merely one type of award, a gold statuette another. Need they devolve onto the same people? Of course not.
Still, when the movies up for awards on Oscar night don't arouse the interest of the viewing public, the television ratings are going to take a hit. I almost thought I wouldn't even really bother to watch this year. But the pool I entered changed all that.
I may have no idea who is going to win any of the relevant awards, but I filled out my ballot in full, by taking wild, blind stabs in the dark. My authority on All Things Entertainment looked it over, and she thinks I may actually have gotten about 60% right on the mark.
Tonight's viewing of the Oscars is, for me, no longer just Hollywood's worldwide broadcast navel-gazing. It's all about an exercise in probablity! Let's see how I do with my close-eyes-point-and-click methodology. It's a flip on tradition, my way of saying, "If you can't join 'em, beat 'em!" I'll have my fun and learn something, too.
And damned if I won't have my eye on that jewelry.