With the Oscars approaching, I’ve committed myself to watch every Best Picture nominee. I’ve already watched six. I’ll happily make it through the next two on my list — The Shape of Water and Phantom Thread — and force myself through The Post. No knock on Steven Spielberg and his cast. I just tend to have a hard time getting into historical films.
Many viewers seem to regard awards shows with something between amusement and derision, and with good reason. The worst award show — the Grammys — is downright out-of-touch at this point.
I spent a lot of winter break driving around and listening to sports talk radio. One day, a broadcaster stated that he wouldn’t be watching the Oscars. He loved Insidious 3, he reported, and it wasn’t up for any awards. As such, the Oscars weren’t worth watching.
This sentiment sums up one criticism of the Oscars. The awards don’t reflect what people actually like to watch. Insidious 3 is an odd movie to hang your criticism on, though. The more convincing example this year is Get Out. Audiences both loved it and are sure that it won’t win Best Picture.
Other critics think that idea of award shows itself is strange. Pitting works of art against each other doesn’t make much sense.
While I reveled in its spectacle, I also long felt that watching the Oscars was a pointless exercise. Does “Best Picture” mean the best directed movie? (There’s a separate Oscar for that.) Does it refer to the movie with the best cinematography? (There’s an Oscar for that too.) I threw up my hands, decided that taste is subjective anyway and watched the show to feel in the loop.
Recently, a post on forum site Quora changed my thinking. A user asked if the 2017 Best Picture snafu hurt winner Moonlight or La La Land more. Commenter Jonathan Brill replied, pointing to the Oscars’ economic impact.
“If I’m the producer of distributor of Moonlight, I’m calling up Pwc [sic] and the Academy and asking for a blowout ad budget to… get back some of the roughly $50m in publicity it just lost,” Brill wrote.
Many people could care less what awards a movie wins. Others — myself now included — will go out and see a movie if its producers hoist a golden trophy. That viewership, as Brill points out, can amount to a good chunk of change.
There is another, more important reason to pay attention to the Oscars. The show mirrors our cultural values, either reflecting or distorting them. For some, nominee Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri depicts the supposed redemption of a racist cop. For others, the movie is a high-energy offering from a talented director and cast. For still others, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Sam Rockwell could likely win an Oscar for his role as that police officer — Jason Dickson. Will he win because of his skillful portrayal of a difficult, detestable character? Or because Oscar voters want to think that everyone is worthy of redemption?
Last year’s Oscars presented a made-for-television face-off. A small-budget, intimate story of repressed love — Moonlight — faced off against a glitzy (and Oscar-baiting, if you’re cynical) ode to Hollywood — La La Land. At least, that was how many people viewed the Best Picture category. Never mind that seven other movies were in the running.
The mix-up only cemented the David versus Goliath narrative of Moonlight’s win. Critics later noted that La La Land technically wasn’t the “runner-up” as far as we know given that the Academy doesn’t release voting numbers.
Still, the image of La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz holding up the winning card for Moonlight will be seared in movie fans’ minds for years to come. It was a movie-worthy moment in its own right: “This is not a joke. Moonlight has won Best Picture.”
In the words of punk greats Jawbreaker, “it gets so easy to narrow these eyes.” But I encourage viewers to keep an open mind and watch the Oscars this year, and not just to hope that their favorite film wins Best Picture. (I’m already salty that my personal favorite, Call Me by Your Name, has poor odds to win any awards.) In the end, each and every Oscar winner tells us something about our cultural and aesthetic values.
Shay Collins is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Morning Bowl of Surreal appears alternate Mondays this semester. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.