Okay, I like the Oscars. It was a special day for me; I made my predictions in all the categories on Oscar.com and kept score throughout the evening (correctly predicting 11 and missing 13). I changed my work schedule to make sure that I had it off. As far as I'm concerned this is my Super Bowl.
Is it fair to compare it to the Super Bowl? I have no interest whatsoever in football. As with religion, football fans are socialized into believing in it; there is nothing intrinsically interesting or valuable about the sport. Still, I wonder how highly it would be valued amongst most sports fans when it's not their team playing in it. The message that I'm getting is that it's not meant for football fans, it's meant to be for a collective mass audience. I skimmed the game and watched the commercials this year and I found myself very deeply depressed what I was seeing. We usually equate the lowest common denominator with the lowbrow, but in studying the commercials and half-time show we realize that the lowest common denominator works desperately to not offend. Their crutch is the shock celebrity gag cameo. I don't know any way that we could justify to any extent something as banal as the Jessica Simpson ad; and I would shudder to meet the hypothetical yokels who found it stimulating.
The Oscars haven't quite gotten that big. I think that there is still the idea that they're catering to a niche audience. It's more compelling television is what I'm saying. I here you protesting, "But Alex, Stewart relied on shock celebrity gag cameos as well in that intro." Quite right, but to much more of a limited extent. And some of those gags, like the one about Steve Martin's kids have a left-of-center absurdity that's missing in what I see during the Super Bowl. There's relatively more freedom here, more of a capacity to alienate. The collective mass audience appeal of the Super Bowl makes me feel lonely, the more limited (movie-loving) mass appeal of the Oscars makes me feel connected.
The passage of time and the maturing of my tastes in film really helped to wean me off the idea that the Oscars are rewarding the best in year's cinema. Really, I think that the three year win of the mediocre films Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, and Chicago really clenched it for me. I don't take them seriously enough to get mad. I just don't think that they have that much power.
It helps, I guess, that at least one really good film gets nominated every year. Crash actually was my favorite this year, in some way it might have been the only real genre (sci-fi or fantasy) film this year. The musical number, featuring zombies wandering around a burning wasteland of crashed cars, was kind of eerie and wonderful I thought. Love it or hate it, that movie was a work of madness. Not saying that madness necessarily denotes virtue, Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman was a work of madness also and it was one of the worst films of the year.
Anyway...I also liked Brokeback Mountain and Munich. I would have been happy to see them take home more than they did. On average, a Best Picture nominee would earn three stars from me.
Brokeback Mountain: ***
Good Night and Good Luck: **1/2
The Aviator: ****
Million Dollar Baby: ***
Finding Neverland: **1/2
Lost in Translation: ****
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King: ****
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World: ***1/2
Mystic River: ***
You know, maybe only one or two of those each year will find their way into my top ten, but I have generally positive feelings toward the kind of cinema that the Academy recognizes. Maybe I’m just a glass half-full kind of guy. I’m not really bothered that Rocky won over Taxi Driver or that The English Patient won over Fargo; I’m genuinely glad that they were nominated and that that is swimming around in our cultural history.
The Chuck Workman montages and the memoriam and the Lifetime Achievement awards, those always electrify me. I feel good about film when I watch that stuff. I like George Clooney, I like Ang Lee, I like Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I like Jon Stewart. Spending three hours with them is a pleasurable experience for me. I guess that this is the long way of saying that it’s not what the Oscars actually award, it’s just the very idea that they exist that there is one night in the year that is devoted to the canonization of the art form.
This was, by the way, a better show than last year. Thank God that they quit that putting the “lesser” nominees on stage as the winner was being announced to save time. Save time for whom exactly?