The Academy Awards: Art Appreciation as My Big Guilty Pleasure

Oscars, Academy AwardsEvery year I follow exactly one (1) awards ceremony, ye olde Oscars. I care not one whit for the Golden Globes, the Peoples Choice Awards, or the various awards from industry guilds or critics’ cliques. I have no use for the Emmys, the Grammys, the American Music Awards, the Harveys, the Eisners, any award set beginning with “MTV”, or the Tonys, though I might be amenable to the latter if Manhattan ever moved next door to me. Since I don’t care for sports, I’m also left out of everyone else’s trophy excitement for the Super Bowl, the World Series, or whatever basketball calls their season finale.

My family knows the Academy Awards are always a major appointment on my calendar. Per my usual routine, I’m now counting down to the 85th Academy Awards ceremony, to be held Sunday, February 24th. Also per routine, I’ve already scheduled a vacation day for Monday the 25th so I can stay up late, arrange my annual write-up, and have some margin in case the horrendous happens and the ceremony drags past the six-hour mark because of incomprehensible dance numbers. Attempts to interfere with this itinerary are not recommended and end in unholy acrimony.

It’s hard to justify my slightly over-the-top interest in the Oscar proceedings. I agree with most sane pundits that it’s thoroughly unfair to compare incomparable movies to each other, especially when their creative teams had completely different goals, aesthetics, genres, and budgets at hand. I realize it’s the industry congratulating itself, but I really have no issue with peers acknowledging other peers in any field on principle. (If such a thing existed in the blogosphere and I were noticed for some unconscionable reason, would I be expected to refuse any and all well-meant encouragement from fellow bloggers? No? Then I’m pretty okay with actors high-fiving each other, regardless of paycheck sizes.) On the shallower levels that other viewers enjoy more than I do, I must say I don’t care who’s wearing what; I don’t care who’s sitting in the audience (I cringe at every strained expression the camera forces from them); and I don’t care who’s presenting each award (it’s either last year’s winners or someone with a powerful agent and an upcoming project to plug).

But I enjoy the process and the ceremony anyway. There’s something about the idea of films figuratively wrestling each other in ideological steel-cage matches that appeals to some weird, competitive part of me that sports fail to satisfy. Big guys versus little guys, expensive spectacles versus indie handicraft, drama versus dramedy, Oscar-pandering Important Films versus tiny but earnest street-level films — honestly, in my mind all those incongruous dichotomies add up to the best art-based soap opera ever.

To prepare myself for proper participation, I obsessively see all the Best Picture nominees. All of them. I’ve seen every single Best Picture nominee since 1997, and have a long-term objective to work my way backward through the preceding years until miraculous completion or death. (I’m current stalled on 1996 because DVD copies of the elusive Secrets and Lies presently sell for exorbitant collectors’ prices. I’m not holding my breath waiting for it to show up on On Demand either.) This unorthodox and not-recommended procedure of mine has meant seeing some films I didn’t want to see (Erin Brockovich, The Reader), enduring films whose worldviews were at odds with mine (The Cider House Rules, American Beauty), and catching a few films that made me chortle in all the wrong places (Chocolat, War Horse).

On the other hand, it’s given me an arbitrary excuse to see some terrific films I might have otherwise missed — An Education, Winter’s Bone, A Serious Man, There Will Be Blood, et al. Those discoveries are my favorite part of the Oscar experience. Sure, I could experiment with such films of my own accord, anytime outside Oscar season. The truth is, making time for hard-sell films isn’t a high priority for me, largely because the only art-house theater in Indianapolis, the Keystone Art Cinema, is on the opposite end of the city. My Academy Awards fixation is my best, most easily enforceable excuse to leave my comfort zone for a month and reach out to some new viewing options, even if a road trip is required.

Out of this year’s nine Best Picture nominees, as of this writing I’ve seen four. Of the remaining five, one is on home video, three are still in theaters, and Amour is entering week four of its limited-release rollout, which translates to another two-to-four-week wait until the Keystone Art Cinema presents it exclusively for Hoosiers. I can bide my time and catch up with the other nominees till its arrival.

Lo, my next OscarQuest has begun!


[photo credit: prayitno via photopin cc]

6 responses

  1. A man that knows what he wants! I have watched it on occasion, if I have seen enough of the movies to know what’s happening. My wife is no awards show fan, so more often than not I defer to her. Sometimes it is easier that way.

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    • My wife prefers the Emmys to the Oscars, but I love her anyway. Some years are definitely more engrossing than others, depending on that year’s slate of movies. I still remember the dark, quiet time when all the 2008 nominees were iconoclastic, challenging, or just plain unpleasant movies that pretty much alienated everyone in my immediate circles. That was a tough year to muster any enthusiasm.

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  2. i still can’t believe you would doubt the coen bros even for a second. i tell you, the oscars have been a harsh mistress to me in the past few years, and become more of a joke as time goes on. i think we all rememeber the comment “3 6 mafia, one oscar, martin scorcese, zero.” i’m still not over the year where a film that achieve absolute PERFECTION in every single aspect was snubbed for best picture – district 9. even with all of that, i too, always at least read the results religiously if i had missed the main awards.

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    • The Coen Bros. have done great work, and I admire their versatility and refusal to be pigeon-holed into any one genre, but they’re still not an automatic sale for me. I haven’t hated what I’ve seen (though the ending of No Country for Old Men made me want to start cutting myself while watching the credits roll), but some of their stuff just doesn’t look like my thing — e.g., The Ladykillers; O Brother, Where Art Thou? And a shocking but true confession: I’ve also never seen The Big Lebowski.

      I agree the unforgettable Three 6/Scorsese line was the best quote from Jon Stewart’s year, and that kind of thing happens so often that some years are a lot more laughable and/or frustrating than others. I blame Hollywood for not thinking more like me. They need to recognize.

      I’m on board with the District 9 snubbing, too — another film too easily overlooked. My son agrees with you even more intensely — as much as the world loved Avatar that year, it was a LOT more affecting to us, and for about one-zillionth the cost.

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  3. You and your wife should dress up for the occasion this year and do an MLCC red carpet event video followed by the constipated…um I mean anticipation face and over-acted surprise face. You could also show the ever entertaining shock & awww shucks faces. The Sally Field acceptance has been a little over done in the blogosphere, so maybe skip that part. This is what passes for fun in my house. I have come up with all sorts of ideas for videos to do from singing my original parodies of classic rock songs to cooking lobsters after my son has given them all names. Yeah it’s a laugh riot over here.

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    • It’s my understanding that there’s a massive market for original video programming. My son follows a lot of young adult males on YouTube who make a living recording themselves griping about movies, cursing about annoying things, or giving MST3K-style commentary while playing video games. That’s all these guys do, but they earn a serious income for it. I’m pretty sure you could top anything that their limited resources and experiences could possibly offer. Just a hunch!

      As for our award ceremony chances: I eagerly look forward to a day of attending a posh party at a swank auditorium, where million-hits-a-day bloggers show up in their finest discount Armani suits they won off eBay, and my wife and I take several days to road-trip to the festivities while clad in our finest JCPenney attire. We’ll look like one of those out-of-place older couples who show up at the Kodak Theatre so the doting husband can accept Best Documentary (Short Subject), thank his li’l old wife while smiling and crying, and grieve over the realization he will never accomplish anything this publicly acknowledged ever again. Should be a blast!

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