Some people overcome this by engaging with the Oscars purely as a wagering opportunity, and I would have thought I could get behind that. Why not study the ill-formed critical patterns of the unemployed actors in the Academy voting bloc, and grimly profit in your office pool? But once you read this piece by the AV Club’s Noel Murray and Scott Tobias, you’ll have trouble doing so. As Tobias says:
When a film gets deemed “Oscar-worthy,” it’s the furthest thing from critical advocacy. All it means is that a particular film has qualities that Oscar voters traditionally find attractive—a middlebrow sense of grandeur, a message that seems risky without actually being provocative, name stars emoting like crazy, and the potential for at least modest success at the box office. If the [Oscar Prognosticators] have any effect on the process, it’s really to enforce (rather than challenge) the status quo: Instead of doing something good for humanity, like asking voters to consider some movie or performance that really moved them, they’re filtering everything they see for the same “Oscar-worthy” qualities that have made the awards such a useless barometer for cinematic excellence throughout history.
So Oscar Prognosticators (critics and other pundits who obsess over which films will do well at the Oscars) are not just harmless fools who can be ignored. They are diverting attention away from more worthy cinematic product, toward well-made but ultimately forgettable Oscar-bait projects (often before anyone has seen the films). Which in turn leads the producers and distributors of film to concentrate on producing Oscar bait.
Consider the inevitability of The King’s Speech and its 12 nominations this year. The first thing any of us rubes hear is the marketing campaign, which is already crowing about the film’s Oscarworthiness, quotes supplied by the Oscar Prognosticators. We go see it because of this.
Yes, I watched it the other day, despite my aversion to Oscar bait. I watched it perhaps because I enjoy being that crank who will spit on the film you loved the most this year, and tell you all the things you should have watched if you were a real cineaste like myself. Perhaps I watched it because conversations about the merits of films that all parties present have seen are more rewarding than those where the parties exchange lonely lists. (But then again, I can’t force you to watch Dogtooth.)
Yes, it is very well made, with great direction, a great script, and excellent performances. Yes, it is the uplifting tale of a courageous Oscar-nominated protagonist triumphing over adversity with the help of a quirky, Oscar-winning supporting actor. And of course I loathed it, unfairly but inevitably for what it represents, and for what it lacks – challenge, experiment, provocation of thought, hard truths that are not immediately resolved, openings into which our thoughts and feelings might seep and mix in new ways.
Only in the most Forrest Gumpish world could this be considered the best film made this year. And of course any film we choose to watch is a choice to not watch any number of films, films that may actually be the best film of the year.
But we will never know.
You see what I mean about bitterness.