Greetings again from the darkness. With apologies to those who have depended on me to help with office Oscar pools, and even to my fellow movie lovers who have simply enjoyed arguing over the years, I am opting to put an end to my annual Oscar prediction column, effective immediately.
My track record of accurate predictions is significantly better than most of the big media experts, so this decision was not made due to fear of failure. Instead, my annoyance with the “headlines” and “top stories” related to the Oscar nomination process has soured me on the whole thing.
Every year, rather than celebrate the nominees, we are inundated with articles and TV reports focusing on “snubs” and “politics” and an “out of touch Academy”. I take movies about as seriously as anyone, yet fully understand that Academy voting does not take place in some bubble or vacuum. New voters are invited each year, and they maintain voting rights until death or incapacitation. It’s no secret that the Academy demographics skew older – white – male, and to assume these voters would vote in a manner that doesn’t involve their own personal tastes and preferences would be to ignore human nature. Just take a look at Olympic judges for figure skating, diving, gymnastics, etc.
As for the politics involved, would we really expect voters to not support those who have influenced their own careers, or might in the future? Isn’t self-interest a part of most decisions we make? Aren’t we able to acknowledge that when voting for the President of the United States, many votes are cast FOR or AGAINST a particular candidate based on a perceived personal connection (or bias) on details as fundamental as religion or skin color? If that decision-making process is utilized for electing the leader of the free world, perhaps it’s understandable that a similar process occurs for something as relatively minor as Best Actor or Best Director of a freaking MOVIE.
Mathematics also plays a role here. Due to the outcry over so many “worthy” films not receiving Best Picture nominations, the Academy responded a few years ago with a rule change which allows as many as ten (10) pictures to receive a nomination. None of the other major categories were affected, including Best Director, which remains at 5 nominations. This year eight (8) movies received Best Picture nominations, and immediately the ridiculous cries of “I suppose that movie directed itself” rung out. Simple math tells us at least 3 directors of Best Picture nominated movies would not receive a Best Director nomination. Additionally, and more importantly, it should be noted that these are two distinct categories (Picture and Director). It’s certainly feasible, and highly likely, that some of the best work by directors was not accomplished on films nominated for Best Picture. An easy comparison is with Major League Baseball. The Manager of the World Series winning team may or may not have done the best coaching job amongst all the coaches in the league, which is why the World Series trophy and the Manager of the Year are two distinct and separate awards.
I do understand the emotions that follow movies. Everyone has their “favorite”, and often can’t understand why all their friends and movie critics and Oscar voters don’t feel the same way. But the accusations of racism and politics as related to Oscar voting seems to imply that the Academy has the power and responsibility to change society mores … even when these same traits are ever-present in elections from school boards to civic leaders and even our nationally elected officials. Perhaps we should expect more from the Academy, but it seems we should each look in the mirror before passing this buck.
Movies certainly have value in society. They entertain and inform and tug at our emotions, and the best ones generate lively debate and discussion. They re-tell history, introduce us to fascinating characters, educate us on different cultures, and teach us how to relate to each other. The Oscars, despite all the hoopla surrounding designer dresses and 6 figure $ earrings, are simply a celebration of an art form that is easily accessible to the masses. The “best” are not determined by a scientific formula, but rather a small group of people who have many of the same flaws and personality quirks as you and I. And while they may not always agree with our movie tastes, we should know they vote with a combination of heart and head … a messy combination that rarely results in perfection.
Just to be clear, I most certainly have my Oscar predictions and preferences in mind, but for the foreseeable future, will not be contributing to the morass of heavy-handed judgment that is all too prevalent at Oscar time. Though soured by the media fallout, I will just sit back, watch the presentation, and be thankful that Rob Lowe will never again perform with Snow White.