Americans hand out awards for everything: humanitarian achievements, beauty contests, musical talent, video game design, you name it. Yet somehow, the most important, and most talked about, award is the one we give out for movies. We Americans love our movies so damn much that it dominates our culture. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because movies are so easy to take in. You go to the theater, you pay $10, and for two hours your senses are dominated by a film. Whatever the reason, movies have a prominent place in American society.
Which brings me to the Academy Awards, AKA the Oscars. This year was the 87th time we’ve had the Oscars. I almost can’t believe that. For 87 years Hollywood has been honoring itself in a self-indulgent circle-jerk, and for 87 years the rest of us have tuned in like it was actually something that mattered.
If you can’t tell, I’m not a big fan of the Oscars. Oh, I tune in every year like everyone else, but it’s more for curiosity than for actual derived enjoyment. The most deserving nominees seldom win, and worthy films are often snubbed by the Academy. Which brings me to my first point: why the hell do we pay attention to the Academy’s opinion about anything, let alone movies?
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was founded in 1927. A bunch of studio bigwigs, led by Louis B. Mayer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, got together and decided to form an elite club for members of the movie industry. This club would mediate industry disputes and promote a positive image for the industry. And membership would, of course, be by invitation only. In 1928 the Academy forgot all about labor disputes and decided that its primary function would be handing out awards.
Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit. The Academy does a lot of other stuff for its members and the industry, like compiling an enormous library of film industry information and offering numerous film screenings. But the most obvious thing they do is give little golden statuettes to rich white people.
The Academy membership is pretty telling. In 2012 a study was conducted by the LA Times which revealed that of the Academy’s almost 6000 members, 94% are white, 77% are male, and 86% are age 50 or older, with the median age being 62. Would you trust a bunch of old white dudes to make an informed and inclusive decision about anything, let alone the best movies of the year? I sure as hell wouldn’t.
The show itself is a farce, which varies in entertainment depending on who the host is in a given year. The James Franco/Anne Hathaway show was an unmitigated train wreck, because neither of those two people know anything about hosting. This year, Neil Patrick Harris (a four-time Tony hosting veteran) did a pretty decent job, all things considered, and his opening song was pretty damn good. Unfortunately, even his winning personality couldn’t save a dumb show from sucking.
Of course, there were some nice moments in the evening, as there always are. All of the Best Song nominee performances were fantastic, and Lady Gaga’s Sound of Music medley (though random) was surprisingly excellent. Most of the jokes cracked by the presenters and Harris were safe and stale, but I had a few legitimate chuckles. Unfortunately, if a nearly four-hour broadcast can only provide me with a handful of enjoyable moments, they’re doing something wrong.
The show was constantly ground to a halt by unenthusiastic presenters and pointless industry crap, like the annual speech by the President of the Academy. Why do they still do that? Don’t they know that no one cares? I don’t even think the Academy members care.
Harris’ laboriously established joke about his predictions being in a sealed briefcase on stage had a disappointing punchline where he revealed his predictions to be moments from the night he couldn’t possibly have conceived of in advance. Wow! How did he do that? Could it have been a false bottom on the case we never saw the rear of? Or is that just crazy talk? This bit had all the appeal of mediocre magic trick, and it definitely didn’t warrant constant attention throughout the night or a live feed online.
The dumbest part of the whole show, apart from bizarre snubs like Ralph Fiennes and David Oyelowo for Best Actor, was the blatant racism and sexism on display. They didn’t nominate any black actors (or Selma, not that it was particularly amazing), so they gave Best Song to Common and John Legend, who used their speech to make a statement about race relations. That totally makes up for it, right?
Birdman won Best Picture (and a slew of other awards), which was nice, since it was a really good movie, if not the actual best of the year in my opinion. Alejandro González Iñárritu was a gracious speechmaker, and it was nice to see a Mexican get some love, and his remarks about treating Mexican immigrants with dignity and respect were timely and eloquent. But despite that seeming inclusiveness, we get this comment from inexplicable Best Picture presenter, and champion of thoughtfulness and sensitivity, Sean Penn: “Who gave this son of a bitch his green card?” Even though it was meant in good fun between friends, the remark illustrates the outsider status of non-white-men in Hollywood. “You made a good movie, Alejandro, but you can’t fool us into thinking you’re white. The Academy’s too smart for you!”
Then there was Patricia Arquette’s speech for her Best Supporting Actress win for Boyhood. I find it very interesting that she used her time to make a speech about equal pay for female actresses, despite the fact that she was accepting an award which is seen as less important than the one given to her male counterparts (and comes earlier in the show). Why can’t there be a Best Human Supporting Actor award? Would that make too much sense? I guess I’m just crazy.
It also drives me nuts that every year the Academy nominates five foreign films to give an award to, as if those five films somehow sum up the entirety of motion pictures made on the planet outside of America. It seems a bit patronizing and colonialist to me. “We, the white men of the American movie industry, deem these five films worthy.” They also nominated a Studio Ghibli film (The Tale of Princess Kaguya) for Best Animated Feature, which is nice, but why did they ignore all the other anime films released last year? Was How to Train Your Dragon 2 really better than all of them? It’s as if these old white dudes just vote for whatever’s most prominent and prestigious, without actually thinking about it. But that can’t be it, right? I mean, that’s just an absurd notion!
George C. Scott said it best when he refused his Oscar win for Patton: “The whole thing is a goddamn meat parade. I don’t want any part of it.” Good for you, Mr. Scott. We need more Hollywood insiders to recognize the show for what it is and stop putting up with it. Sure, there’s notoriety and prestige in it, and it certainly helps further your career when you win. I can’t fault actors for going along with the circus. But we all need to wake up and recognize that’s all it is: a big, loud, racist, sexist circus.