By A.J. Serrano
Last Tuesday morning, I choked on a spoonful of Quaker Oats Oatmeal Squares cereal. The culprit of my balanced breakfast-induced asphyxiation? The list of new nominees for the 2012 Academy Awards. The horrifyingly mediocre list of nominees plunged me into an immediate state of shock, so much so that, after clearing my wind pipe from its temporary discomfort, I vowed to discover the cause of the annual deranged madness that is the Academy Awards voting system.
That the Academy Awards rarely provides an accurate appraisal of the year’s best films is an irrefutable fact. When one’s job is to weed through the subjective hellhole that is the process of compiling annual “Best of” lists, it’s surprising how incredibly easy it is to become lost in the stench of one’s own bullshit.
But how is it possible that Oscar voters are so consistent in their wrongness? Whose idea of a twisted joke was it to award Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the cinematic equivalent of watery pig’s slop, with more Oscar nominations than the sublime Drive? And did the producing team behind Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close slip blank checks into each Academy screener of their film? Other than lacing the screeners with a heavy coating of peyote, I cannot think of another feasible explanation for the film’s Best Picture nomination.
This year’s head-scratching list of nominees and eventual winners is but a small footnote in the ever-growing anthology of Oscar snubs.
Exhibit A: Alfred Hitchcock He was one of the most beloved and prolific Hollywood directors of all time, giving us such classics as Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho, yet that golden statuette eluded the Englishman throughout his career.
Exhibit B: Shakespeare in Love I could care less about the Academy’s preference for period films with supposed literary merit and big name stars. The fact that Shakespeare in Love trumped Saving Private Ryan for the top prize at the 1999 show remains a laughable failure on part of the Academy when one considers the resounding impact that Spielberg’s gritty WWII drama continues to have on the aesthetic of successive films, television, and video games. Shakespeare in Love, on the other hand, is currently resting in its grave at the bottom of a $5 dollar DVD bin alongside Flipper and The Pagemaster at a Super Walmart in eastern Kentucky.
Exhibit C: The Departed It took Martin Scorsese 20 films before he won an Oscar for chrissakes. After overlooking such classics as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas only to finally give him the award for The Departed, I half-expected the Academy to etch the words “Oops, We Fucked Up” on the gold plaque of his long overdue Oscar.
Now I don’t really have any gripe with the Academy’s recent expansion of the Best Picture field from 5 to 10 nominees. I initially found it a refreshing change and an excellent opportunity to recognize the type of films that do not usually compete in the top category; i.e., documentaries, indie darlings, animated features, comedies.
How delightfully naïve I was.
Three years after the expansion to 10 films, the decision can be viewed as simply business as usual- an effort to boost the show’s ratings by recognizing underwhelming major studio fare like War Horse, The Blind Side, and Extremely Loud and ensuring that the big name stars attached to those projects make an appearance at the award show. The main goal here is profit, not prestige; surface, not substance. Anything that strays too from the conventional is ignored. The Academy doesn’t give a horse’s ass about that award-winning French documentary shot entirely from the point of view of a street mime’s penis. They could care less about appeasing the cinephiles by recognizing that Sundance darling about the blind psychologist who marries his ex-wife’s chimpanzee. Let’s face it, the Academy doesn’t care about what films you think should have been nominated because fuck you, you are going to watch the show anyway.
When Hollywood’s elite gathers in Kodak Theater on February 26th, the real reason they are there is much more intricate than simply handing out golden statuettes. They are there to sell a fantasy. Viewers don’t tune in to the show to see who wins and who loses. They watch to fantasize about wearing designer threads, to see millionaires assure us that dreams can come true and that a fantasy life is just a wish away.
Other shows in the award circuit such as Cannes and Sundance may stake their claim with the viewer’s head, his intellect. But I can assure you that they all secretly envy Hollywood’s firm hold on the viewer’s heartstrings, his hopes and fears. No matter how much I try to deny it, I always fall victim to the Oscar’s seductive charms.