I'll try to be brief. With the triple threat of Venice, Telluride and Toronto, we've entered that foggy realm known to the industry as “awards season.” And with it we're getting, like clockwork, self-satisfied dismissals of this time of year, pieces that surmise that the Oscar frame is “ruining movies,” and that coverage of the prestige months (i.e., places like In Contention) are a root of the problem. I suppose it's time for a reminder that such a position is nonsense.
First and foremost, is your passion for movies really so easily ruined? A segment of press devoted to covering the, typically, quality work presented by studios this time of year is such a blight on the industry? I won't argue that it's too noisy out there; it absolutely is. And as someone who's covered this beat for 14 years now, I've certainly taken note of the increasing volume. But why is this harping relegated to this time of year? Why not square attack on box office coverage, which certainly goes on longer than a mere “season” and boils the value of art down to its fiscal worth? Or what about “Star Wars” and/or Marvel obsession, which is going to fester in the media for God knows how many years en route to cementing the place of brand-focused filmmaking, helping to squeeze out bold original visions (and quarantining bold, original filmmakers like, say, Rian Johnson)?
No, “no stakes and fear is ruining movies,” as someone mentioned to me on Twitter. If indeed anything is ruining movies at all (because somehow I'm still able to maintain my passion amid this torrent — I guess I'm a superhero). And, of course, I'm assuming members of critics groups who take such umbrage with the awards season will be abstaining from said groups' awards votes this year, right? I kid…
I sort of get it. I've actually seen seasoned writers dive into the awards beat and lose a bit of themselves, too caught up in the “sexiness” of the season to keep things in perspective, too hungry for the thrill of the race. And I often speak out against it. But more often than not, this consistent battle cry is merely a point of entry for outsiders looking to knock the Oscars for being pedestrian, and the stewards of the season that leads up to them as being complicit. (Though the amount of times that those who offer up the “Oscar coverage is ruining the movies” line end up, you know, covering the Oscars, makes this all rather interesting.)
But let's stop and consider that frequently banged drum, the idea that the Oscars “get it wrong” all the time. I'm not even agreeing or disagreeing, I'm simply pleading for some much-needed perspective on that. You're talking about 6,000 people. You're talking about consensus. You're talking about a least common denominator. You're talking about broad appeal. Ergo, you're NOT talking about a singular or esoteric point of view.
This comes at a time when, on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, “Forrest Gump” finds itself on the receiving end of a boorish dump by critics hanging it out to dry for not being a skewering indictment of some of the various subject matter it flirts with. I admit I was never cool enough to be a part of this club, and I deign to enjoy “Forrest Gump” every time I watch it. I just drove through Monument Valley on the way back from Telluride and couldn't help but recall the moment Forrest stopped his cross-country run and retired back to his home in Alabama. I also recently watched “Dances with Wolves” again, a hugely satisfying and extraordinary epic that any filmmaker worth his salt would have been proud of accomplishing. I bring both Best Picture winners up because they get a lot of vitriol sprayed their way, often because they had the gall to beat out such totems of the cinema as “Goodfellas” and “Pulp Fiction.” But you try to get 6,000 people to agree on “Goodfellas” and “Pulp Fiction” and see how that works out.
All of that, of course, is before we get to the inherent issue of subjectivity and the desire of cultural critics to be gatekeepers for the film-going community. No, I'd in fact argue that the Academy does a rather fine job of serving as a time capsule and boiling things down. History takes care of the rest. That's its job.
So as we prepare for another six months of the awards season onslaught, those new to observing this craziness, just try and keep a handle on perspective. It'll keep you sane and you'll realize that (at least for many of us) it's all about a celebration of movies rather than their specific place in an awards landscape. After all, do you think I always agree with the Academy's choices? Of course not. Did “Gravity,” “The Grey,” “Margaret,” “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” “A Serious Man,” “The Fountain,” “Inland Empire,” “Last Days,” “Dogville,” “Finding Nemo,” “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Moulin Rouge!” walk away with the Oscar for Best Picture?
Those films represent the pinnacle of my top 10s for each of the years I've been doing this. A little digging into the coverage you decry might just uncover a level of passion for that art and those artists, and if the awards season is to be my platform for discussing that passion, then so be it. It sure beats writing about comic book movies every day.
It's in my bio, located at the end of every post I put forth here, but I'll just reiterate once more: I'm begging you not to take any of this too seriously.
Now, enjoy the season.