I don’t much care who wins. That’s not why I watch. Most of my favorites aren’t nominated, and I’m not going to get all tied up in knots sweating over it; Academy Awards rarely award the truly excellent for reasons I’ve come to accept over the years. Just scan a list of Best Pictures sometime and put it up against a list of your personal favorites; there’s precious little overlap. When you list all the amazing actors who never won recognition, you come to realize it’s a pageant-style contest aimed squarely at the middle and a show designed to promote studio product and rarely much more than that.
That said, I’ve watched the Oscar telecast every year of my life since I was a little girl; the movies are my religion, actors and directors my patron saints. I acted quite a bit early on in my life but gave it up to toil more anonymously behind the scenes. Perhaps my parents paid sufficient attention to me and healed that hole, and I look too ethnic to feel pretty enough to enjoy strangers’ scrutiny so I felt no urgent need to pursue my performing gifts for realsies. I was never driven to wholeheartedly court those evil twins: rejection and fame. Still, I’ve been practicing my Oscar acceptance speech since elementary school. This is why it always strikes me as more than a tad disingenuous when any winner claims not to have a speech prepared. Puh-lease. Nominations are made more than public, luncheons and junkets and promotional press tours arranged and attended. Every potential winner has known about the possibility of a win for months; it’s not as if a camera crew showed up at the house in the middle of the night unannounced, engraved trophy in hand, open mic at the ready.
Academy Award speeches present a performer/professional with a spotlight and an unprecedented (albeit brief) opportunity to speak to billions of people live all around the globe. It would seem entirely appropriate to write something pithy and rehearse it so hard that even the most extreme bout of hysteria, nerves, and stage fright couldn’t knock the words out of one’s head. Instead, we get blithering thank-you laundry lists and Freudian slipped spouses. Where’s the poetry? Where’s the humanity? Where’s the message? Where’s the art? Where’s the talent? Where’s the sense of occasion? Every blue moon or so, some screenwriter or old codger will take full advantage and deliver the pith, the weight, the humor I crave so very deeply, and I genuflect before their pixilated image flickering on my screen. That’s why I watch. I root for eloquence, and what with President Obama’s bringing back compound sentences and profound thought to the national discourse at long last, I have very high hopes that this weekend’s winners will use their face time wisely and well to send a considered message of shared humanity and renewed optimism in the face of potential global decline and despair. American film is our finest export; nobody does it better, and it would be a tragedy to waste an opportunity to entertain and inspire.
I appreciate the blatantly self-promotional efforts of all the stylists and designers who’ve all but insured a disaster-proofed Red Carpet. (Frankly, I miss the days when an over-ebullient Cher or dependably DIY Diva Geena Davis or Hatwearing Maverick Helen Mirren or Bjork or Allan Carr could so totally explode the taste level that the images of their fashion mishaps burned our retinas, searing swans and caftans and feathered headdresses into the universal brain. We’ve perfected the outside appearance of our gods and goddesses; it took teams of highly paid professionals to tame all that hair and high spirits and sometimes misguided creativity. Perhaps it’s time potential winners invest a little dosh in speechwriters; it couldn’t hurt.
Now. As to the show itself. The Oscars telecast is a trainwreck by its very nature. You know and I know that no one cares about those ubiquitous Czech animators and documentary filmmakers dressed like reluctant middle school dance chaperones who take up valuable minutes of show time thanking people we’ll never hear of again for contributions to projects we’ll never see. No one’s seen their work but the voting committees. No one cares about the crafts and the technical side of things. These poor guys and gals are like the A/V kids in high school; they only get invited to the dance to run the equipment, and they dress like they’re heading to a wake. They read lists of names scrawled on crumpled wads of sweat-soaked paper stored in their pockets, and they thank their wives and children. Hey, I’m married to an editor, and I know exactly what it means to these guys. And though I fully understand the momentousness of the honor and the importance of their contributions, even I don’t want to watch them sweat and gush and spew their lists. Heck, I only like to hear writers talk because their speeches tend to be better, and with the glaring exception of Diablo Cody, none of them try to compete in the glamour department. They know their place.
No. That’s not why I tune in. We want to see stars in their natural habitat, unscripted and shiny. The clip packages suck every year; they’re marginally better than the shamelessly excruciating live musical presentations, but it’s still remarkable that given so much time, the Academy can’t produce a better show; its very craptastic-ness is part of its eternal charm and fading allure, but I wouldn’t mind some truly funny banter and some well-chosen clips that might indicate why nominees were selected. It’s a unique chance to promote a year’s worth of films, nominated and not nominated. Hugh Jackman is a perfectly charming presenter, but I would have preferred someone clever and funny, someone like Jon Stewart or Ricky Gervais. I’ll be watching IFC Saturday night; the brilliant Steve Coogan will be hosting the Independent Spirit awards. If he shines as brightly as I expect, perhaps he’ll be invited to the big leagues someday soon.
I read a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal explaining why so many award-worthy films are overlooked in the voting and nominating process. It made my head explode just a little; math is hardly my strong suit, but I recommend you wade in up to your knees for some enlightenment.