In defence of the Oscars and movie awards

Feature Simon Brew 26 Feb 2014 - 07:17

Awards season is upon us, and many are rolling their eyes. But the Oscars do serve some purpose, argues Simon.

This weekend, the Academy Of Motion Picture Art And Sciences - AMPAS - hand out their annual gongs, or as more people most commonly know them, the Oscars. You can tell this, because statistically, 11.3% (give or take) of websites are devoted to making predictions, denouncing them, talking about what clothes people are going to wear, or raking up anything vaguely related. This site included.

I should be clear from the off: I don't really like movie awards anymore. But I still think the pros of them outweigh the cons. And I am going to defend them, just through slightly gritted teeth at times.

Because as years have gone by, I've come out of the other side of my fascination with the Oscars, still bewildered by the night that I stayed up to try and wrap my head around why L.A. Confidential kept losing to Titanic. Anyone who's sat through any awards show ever has generally been dissatisfied with the outcome. That someone's determination of what's 'best' doesn't tally with their own. We attended an awards show once and saw Liz Jones of the Daily Mail being given a best columnist prize. To this day, it's the only time we've ever done a full cavity search of ourselves to see if we weren't hiding drugs somewhere. Because something in the universe had gone clearly very, very wrong.

Furthermore, whilst I wouldn't say I'm award show-phobic, I'm at a point now where I think a mantelpiece full of awards is recognition for making a good film, but rarely the best reward for it. Making a film that's still appreciated ten or 20 years down the line? That's something I'd argue is worth more than any prize.

Still, awards season is a major part of the movie calendar, and it stretched back to just before Christmas through to this weekend. That's a quarter of the year where, by most criteria, the quality of films that get released into cinemas tends to be better than for the other nine months. That's a big, crude assumption certainly, but I can't be alone in eagerly awaiting the releases we get in the UK every December through to February. That's when the Oscar bait tends to arrive on these shores anyway, and when around three quarters of the eventual nominated films come to the big screen in Britain.

So for a start, having the biggest range of films in cinemas for a few months is a firm tick in the plus column for movie awards. And furthermore, you can't help but stretch that back to earlier in development. Just because a bunch of films were nominated, a whole other host of them got greenlit with a possible awards campaign potentially the tipping point to getting them financed. Thus whilst you get the depressing collection of films that have been given the go ahead seemingly purely with the idea of getting Oscar attention (I'm looking at you, August: Osage County), there are others where the opportunity of getting some publicity via awards suddenly makes a project at least financially worth a risk.

For not only do awards help in the greenlighting of films, they can also help draw attention to smaller projects that otherwise may fall off people's radars. If they were ever on them. The Artist is the best possible example of this: if awards didn't exist, how many people would truly have gone off to see a near-silent black and white film? As it turned out, the film took over $130m at the worldwide box office. That's some achievement.

It's the headline example though, and there are lots of smaller, lower profile projects that have gained exposure via the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, the Oscars and such like. That they help get good films made, seen and appreciated is the very best side of awards.

The downsides, of course, we're going to see a lot of over the next week. I've seen all of the nominated best actor performances this year for instance, and I've yet to hear an argument that convinces me that any are better than the work that Robert Redford delivered in All Is Lost. Because that didn't fit the Oscar bill though, because a big awards push wasn't behind it, and ultimately because its face didn't fit, Redford got snubbed.

Furthermore, to award something the 'Best' of anything, let alone film of the year, is clearly subjective. To dilute it further by subjecting it to democracy? To then further attack it by having the politics of a film, or controversies surrounding those involved, influence said choice goes against the whole principal. If then people feel, as they probably will, that Cate Blancett gave the best leading performance from an actress all year, then that's the only criteria required to secure a vote for her. Anything else takes the award from being about film.

That said, the Oscars and such like have only partly been about film for some time. You don't need us to tell you that awards season is about business first, given the dramatic financial impact on a movie's takings that an armful of prizes can make.

Awards are, by their very nature, a flawed beast. Just because Titanic won best picture back in March 1998, I've long since appreciated that it didn't make it a better film than L.A. Confidential in my eyes, so in that sense, nothing has changed. Your favourite films are ultimately still your favourite films, no matter what anyone else has to say about them.

But still, while I can't get excited about awards in the way I once did - and I've not even touched on the award shows themselves - I'm at the 'acceptance' stage of my relationship with them. I think, on balance, they're a good thing, particularly when approached with fully open eyes. The kind of open eyes that appreciate that Before Midnight would have more than one Oscar nomination if Harvey Weinstein had been running its awards campaign.

Thus, you don't have to like the movie awards circus, but cinema might just be - on balance - a tiny bit better for it.

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I would say that January and February is probably the time of the year where I go to the cinema the least. I am not a huge fan of Oscar Bait movies as I tend to be left disappointed after I watch them. I would say the following order is the time of the year that I attend the cinema from the most to the least:

July
May
December
March
June
October
August
November
April
February
September
January

I'll be the first to admit that I LOVE the Oscars. The other shows, 'meh' I can read who won online, but I watch the Oscars every year. However, I have come to be disillusioned by the winners over the past few years. It feels like a Hollywood puppet master is pulling the strings and telling people what to watch and who to like.
How can you let Avatar win almost every single award and then give the best picture to The Hurt Locker? That doesn't make any sense. Not that Avatar or The Hurt Locker overwhelmed me that year, but because it was politically relevant, it won?
There are just too many fluke winners that I feel maybe had more to do with being PC than the actual talent being awarded.
I agree it gets good projects noticed, most noticeably in my life was The Cove, I would not have know about it until much later had it not won and now I keep an eye on best documentary every year, so it has broadened my horizons.
Having said all of that, not having Idris Elba nominated this year to me feels wrong and having MM winning over Chiwetel is going to be upsetting, but I'm a sucker for punishment and I'll keep watching every year and I'll keep going to see Oscar bait movies, because sometimes you get a little surprise.

Oscars or as i like to view them which movies to avoid watching since the winners are nearly almost always the same boring drama filled snoozefest most of the winners are simple not worth watching more than once.

I like awards season because it encourages my local Cineworld to show those kind of dramas, really if it wasn't for the buzz that McConaughey and Leto got for Dallas Buyers Club I can't imagine the cinema showing it. Same for films like Her.

Now I don't always like the results, to this day I'm still annoyed Brokeback Mountain lose to Crash or that Moon was snubbed. But overall they bring interesting films to a wider audience.....just also have to accept that there will be ones that are duds as well.

No, storytelling existed long before the Oscars. All the Oscars do is politicise the creative process and make a mockery of it. Tiny bit better? No.

Such as 12 Years a Slave?

Powerful and striking film, but will I watch it again... No, no I won't.

I don't watch these shows I can't stand all the sycophantic rubbish.

Who's this Oscar fella, then? Is he like a cinematographist?

I like the Oscars, but AMPAS are outdated, biased and downright living in the past

The Oscars lost any relevance when Forrest Gump won over Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption. Seriously what were they smoking that year?

Of course the Oscars are a pat on the back each filmmaker gives each other, more so in recent years.
From my point of view, I like the Oscars in terms of the nominees first off, then the actual award winners, from which I then put on my list to watch. Most of the time these movies are ones I have avoided as it isn't my usual taste
In recent years, I would put The Artist on top of that list, I didn't plan on seeing it as I thought it was best suited to people who call movies "delicious" and "delightful", but when then awards season started, and then it got nominated (then won) best picture, I saw it, loved it, and have rewatched it several times.
On the other hand, when it comes to Best Actor/Actress etc, thats more of a hard fight for me to watch. Anne Hathaway = Les Mis...have NO plans on watching it at all, and Daniel Day Lewis for Lincoln, with Spielberg behind it, my god that was BORING, and i didn't even get past the first 30mins....it just seemed that the movie was MADE for Oscar bait....
The same with War Horse, again (bloody Spielberg!!), it bored the poo out of me, switched it off after 20mins, and all I can remember from that movie was "Oscar Oscar Oscar Oscar"....and of course, it was nominated at the Oscars! Ha!

Yeah like The Departed, Slumdog Millionaire, LOTR Return of the King, No Country for Old Men, Gladiator, Silence of the Lambs...what lame, slow moving snoozefests...

Since 1990 there has been maybe 6 or 7 movies that would be worth watching more than once that leaves a lot more that just aren't worth my time. I mean they might be good well acted movies but will they make my list of 100 best movies i think not. The ones you named except for Gladiator cause that sucked are good rewatchable movies but the are the exception not the rule.

You might surprise yourself with Les Mis...I felt the same and only watched if for "father / daughter bonding", but found I really enjoyed it.

So you agree that over 30% of the winners, for you personally, are worth re-watching. That isn't simply "an exception" since, despite being wildly subjective, nearly 1 in 3 Oscars has produced a result that is relevant to you.

The concept of "re-watch value" is incredibly subjective (I personally can count 13 winners since 1990 that I have enjoyed more than once) and is hardly a benchmark of artistic merit. I would probably choose to watch Fast Five, a guilty pleasure of mine, over Schindler's List on a friday night but it doesn't mean that Fast Five is a better film or that Schindler's List isn't an incredible piece of art that depicts a historically important story.

The original article's point is that whether a film wins or is nominated, even being recognised can bring attention to decent films that otherwise wouldn't have appeared on one's radar. The films are becoming increasingly diverse with smaller "boring drama filled snooze-fests" that deserve a watch like Beasts of the Southern Wild and Her being recognised alongside big "boring drama filled snooze-fests" like Inception and Avatar. Providing acclaim to great films that may not have the re-watch value or box-office of a widely enjoyed blockbuster, is the mechanism that encourages studios to take risk on less-marketable material and allows a greater diversity of films to be greenlit.

Essentially without the awards season, people like Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson would struggle even more to get their projects made and studios be more inclined to only fund cheap money making horror sequels like Saw or marketable big franchises like Transformers. Film would stop being an art form and people on the internet would have even more to bitch about.

Just because a film doesn't make YOUR list of 100 best films of all time (a statistical improbability since not all years are going to produce a film that makes it on your list) it doesn't mean that it doesn't deserve recognition. After all, you might be an idiot.

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