The Oscars: Why Do They Matter So Much?

 

The 2012 Oscars ceremony takes place on Sunday 26th February 2012, and in light of this year’s nominations being announced the annually reoccurring question has once again reared its unglamorous, botox-free head: why do The Oscars matter so much?

It is undeniable, there is something special about the event, however much that might be linked to the glamour and glory of the past; Hollywood’s A-list elite come out in force, groomed, scrubbed, melted and injected into place for a good old knees up and lots of self-congratulation and back patting.  Hell, even those talented, distinctly average looking people who work behind the scenes get to enjoy the hypnotising golden glow of the most magical night in the social calendar of the cinematic world.  It’s a grand occasion in which all involved can look back on another year past and maybe, if their luck is in, end the night with one of the iconic golden statues clutched firmly in their hands.

This year nine films were nominated for the Best Film award.  Of these nine films, you could argue that at the most generous push, three of those listed could genuinely be considered as the best film of the last ‘Oscar Year’; namely, The ArtistMidnight In Paris and Moneyball.  Yes, these films are all great, with fantastic performances and lovingly crafted tales, but if this list is genuinely the cream of the crop that the world of cinema has produced since last year’s Oscars ceremony, then it must have been a very poor year indeed.  And yet, we know that it wasn’t.  This year brought us Kill ListRise Of The Planet Of The Apes, Melancholia, We Need To Talk About Kevin and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to name but a few.  Admittedly, it would be incredibly naïve to even consider most of these titles getting anywhere near the nominations list, but they certainly display more bite and depth than some of the more questionable Best Film nominations.   But then, these are the same awards that crowned Ordinary People Best Film in 1980, ahead of both Raging Bull andThe Elephant Man, that, in 1941 rewarded How Green Was My Valley ahead of Citizen Kane, in 1990 allowed Goodfellas to lose out to Dances With Wolves, and awarded the 1998 Best Film statue to Shakespeare In Loveahead of Saving Private Ryan.

In reality, there is still a Grand Canyon sized gap between what the Academy deems as the best films of the year, and what the general consensus of regular cinema goers is on the same subject.   For example, Drivewas a perfect opportunity for the academy to reward something different, to freshen its image and extend its appeal, which in the face of decreasing television ratings and waning interest across the world, you could hardly blame them for doing.  Drive was only a cult hit, but still immensely popular with the majority of its audience and critics alike.  But no; if anything, you feel that the Academy granted their seemingly one annual risqué nomination to Melissa McCarthy’s admittedly hilarious turn in Bridesmaids; a large woman in a female comedy, and she even defecates in a sink!  That will do for this year, even if Tilda Swinton’s remarkable performance in We Need To Talk About Kevin is shamefully excluded.

Seemingly every year, though, the same arguments are put forward; the Academy doesn’t reward progressive, experimental film making but rather sticks to the safety of their comfort zone of morality and tales that challenge a social conscience.  In regards to the four awards for male and female acting  the Academy is accused of having an astonishing track record of favouring older, established names, especially in the United States, very rarely rewarding younger, up and coming talent for equally seminal roles.  According to the legions of detractors at least, The Oscars are the safe awards, offering a guide to the ultra-sporadic cinema goer as to which film to see at the cinema this year.

The Best Actor category is particularly notable in this regard for two of its glaring omissions; namely Michael Shannon in Take Shelter, who should be a front runner for winning the award itself, let alone just getting nominated, and Michael Fassbender in Shame, whose exploration of a man’s fractured sexual psyche in the modern world of corrupted morals and worryingly accessible hardcore pornography was both fascinating and damning in equal measure.  In many respects, these subjects and performances would usually be gobbled up by the Academy, displaying as they did the favoured ‘issues’ and heavy subject matter.   But, then again, they are both still young men, and have yet to break mainstream American cinema.

In regards to the Best Actress award, there seems to be less indignation, with exception to the aforementioned overlooking of Tilda Swinton, as the planets align once more Meryl Streep to win her 43rd Oscar for her controversial, albeit astounding portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.  Arguably the biggest shock on the nominations list, or rather not on it, is that the incredible documentary Senna was not nominated for Best Documentary, despite being heralded by audiences and critics alike as one of the greatest pieces of cinema over the last year.  Furthermore, The Adventures Of Tintin was not nominated for Best Animated Film as the controversy about what exactly motion capture films should be classed as continues.  But then, consistency and transparency have never been virtues of The Oscars.

The Oscars are not the final word.  They are rarely acknowledged with any great enthusiasm by discerning, serious fans of cinema.  They’re akin to a less political, slightly more glamorous Eurovision Song Contest, but only in that they don’t pit countries against each other, but rather film studios, all of whom are willing to throw money at notorious Oscar campaigns for their films and their stars in the hope that they can release their DVDs and Blu Rays with a list of their achievements scrawled all over the cover, and only after a revived, prolonged spell on cinema screens due to the interest in the award itself.  Like the Hollywood it represents, the Oscars are filled with a sense of their own grandeur.  It’s a film award ceremony of incredibly narrow minded proportions; just look at the fact that there is a Best Foreign Film category.  But, like any award ceremony, there are winners and losers, and the didn’t-even-make-it-onto-the-shortlists; The Oscars just happen to celebrate and glorify what is deemed the best of Hollywood, and there’s nothing wrong with that – but what is all the fuss about?

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