How the Oscars Incite Public Debate and Personal Dilemmas

“For most people, all the pre-game guessing is as much fun, and as much a part of Oscar tradition, as the fancy dress-up event itself. Sure, the Academy Awards ceremony is about pomp and cinematic celebration, but it’s also about completing printable ballots with the hope of winning $150 or so, not to mention an invaluable sense of cross-cubicle pride, in the office Oscar pool. It has always been this way, and as long as Alan, the quiet, corduroy-pants-wearing cinephile who works in accounting, keeps the Oscar pool going, it will always be thus.”

This quote, from a great article this morning that poignantly points out how the Oscars are relentlessly predictable but ultimately productive in the way that they encourage and promote spirited public debate on the year’s work in film, highlights an interesting conundrum that any fan of cinema faces this time of year. We all collectively try to enter the self-admiring minds of the 6,000 some members of the Academy in an attempt to predict the winners. But we also understand that the year’s greatest achievements often fail to be recognized because of money, politics, and incestuous Hollywood scheming.

Despite being attune to how much it’s all a sham, we still invest ourselves in the Academy’s decisions. If we did choose to fill out a ballot amongst friends or for an office pool, our rooting interests on Sunday night become skewed. We are forced to think of the films that came out in 2013 in three bizarre ways:

1. What we think SHOULD  win

2. What we WANT to win

3. What we think WILL win

For example, I’m a huge fan of David O. Russell.  I think you can put The FighterSilver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle next to just about any other working director’s trio of top films. I’d love to see Russell win some statues this Sunday, but I’m also picking 12 Years A Slave to win Best Picture, Alfonso Cuarón to win Best Director, and Her to win Best Original Screenplay. I’m not necessarily rooting for all of this to occur, but I do have an invested interest in accurately predicting the voting patterns of the Academy members.

Is there any other art form where we section off our opinions into SHOULD win, WANT to win, and WILL win? And what’s with this incessant focus on “winning“? In what other art form do we obsess about ranking and filing the past year’s work? Perhaps, though, some intense, high-stakes competition ends up doing the art of cinema a service.

See, if you want to identify the overarching benefit of having award shows like the Oscars, you should turn toward the fact that the public debate that arrives out of these competitions inevitably creates important discussions about how we, say, reckon with our nation’s disturbing past (12 Years A Slave) or how we face the intimidatingly unknown future of technology (Her). These films are relevant to our society and the Oscars tend to lead us toward debates about real issues that affect our lives. In turn, you might say we learn something about ourselves and grow from it.

If that’s all too optimistic for you, let me remind you that there is still a chance that Gravity wins Best Picture and the intellectual elite in Hollywood all scramble to dumb-down their scripts, and up the levels of 3-D special effects and CGI for their next film. After all, the most important element hanging over this entire industry is money, not meaningful art.

Let’s just say a Best Picture win for 12 Years A Slave this Sunday would do a lot toward reestablishing the public’s faith in Hollywood’s ability to create, promote, and honor films that aren’t entirely about money, but about real issues that affect us today. Your move, Academy.


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