So I’m going to the movies tonight. All the movies. All eight best picture nominees for this year. Does this mean that I am seeing the pinnacle of filmmaking for 2016? Not by a long shot.
First off, I’m pretty sure that people of color, ALL colors, did some damn fine acting this year. Don’t look for them on the Oscar ballot though. They aren’t on there. None of them. This is what happens when old white men who aren’t even required to see the movies, pick the movies. Weird, right?
Second, I’m pretty sure good movies were released all year long. However, old white men have really short attention spans, so all the Oscar contenders are released in December. So even though these movies and performances are supposed to be unforgettable, movie studios release them all at once, some of them only being released in a handful of theaters in NYC and LA just to qualify.
Third, don’t be fooled by some movie just seeming to catch the attention of the critics and sailing away on a flood of nominations. From the very beginning of the project, some movies are considered Oscar bait. Actors are given scripts encouraged to take on the role because it will get them an Oscar. Same for directors. Release dates are set based on being in primes position for award season. Movie articles are written about a movie’s award potential before they even started filming to draw attention to them.
Fourth, the award season is so similar to our current political process that it wouldn’t surprise me if Trump and Leo wind up on the same podium one day. This is a long slog where the nominee must appear on every talk show, press junket, and private screening so Academy voters can meet and greet their way to the podium. It is all about the hustle. Social media is scrubbed of all pictures of super models and yachts and replaced with wholesome pics of family and volunteerism. There are sound bites that are given over and over again as they work to stay on message promoting themselves and their movie. There are stories about actors who weren’t willing to spent months on the circuit, who didn’t want to curry favor – and they lost. You have to want it.
Fifth, they ALL want it. Ignore the stories about how they were sound asleep in their beds, in their tousled jammies, blissfully unaware that the nominations are being read. That is nonsense. Every actor or actress who even possibly might have a shot at the big show, is wide awake, fully dressed, and on speaker phone with their agent, manager, producer, director, hairdresser, and mom. Every quote about how the actor heard about the nomination is preselected and prescreened to offer whatever point of view they are trying to sell.
The biggest shell game going is that the Oscar nominations actually mean something. Think about it. How do you compare art? Different actors playing different parts in different movies? It isn’t just the difference between apples and oranges, it is the difference between apples and ducks and polka dots. Plus, it isn’t as if we are all watching a linear performance that hasn’t been altered by others. Can you compare actors on the stage? Probably. Stage presence, acting ability, range, etc., can all be witnessed first-hand. Give them all the same copy of the Scottish play and see what happens. Can they sing? Can they dance? You have two or three hours to really watch, analyze, and make your own decisions. The editing process takes that all away. Rumor has it that many a performance was saved in the cutting room. Insert the right musical cue here, cut away from the bad actor there, add in a voice over to fix the line there, swap scene one with scene 12, maybe trim that part, beef up this part, etc. Ta da!
However, does knowing all this stop me from watching the Academy awards year after year after year? Nope. Does it stop me from rooting for some actors and against others? Does noting that my ticket sales mean nothing, that my opinion means nothing, and that my demographic in particular, of young white women, is basically ignored entirely during the movie making process? Still nope.
What I know is that this weekend, I am going to put on comfy clothes and hide in a movie theater for three nights and two days abandoning my children and husband. I will eat all of my meals from the nearby Dollar Tree and I may or not wear supporting undergarments. I’m going to the movies. See you when I get back.