How did you spend your Sunday?
Me, I got up late, had lunch with my family, worked on some writing, finished playing “Call Of Duty: Black Ops,” and then sat down to watch the same thing every other movie fan watched this Sunday evening.
My new Blu-ray of “Vampire Circus.”
Wait… what? As I was Tweeting some thoughts on the film, I was getting bombarded by people asking me why I wasn’t weighing in on the Oscars, and I realized that in all the time I’ve been here at HitFix, I’ve never formally explained my anti-Oscar stance, and since it seems like covering the Oscars is automatically expected of anyone and everyone who writes about films, maybe an explanation is due.
So why don’t I watch the Oscars?
After all, HitFix has a blog dedicated entirely to awards season and coverage of all the stops on the way to the Oscars, and we’ve certainly benefited from some ad revenue this Oscar season. And I’ve done interviews with many of the nominated actors and directors and writers this year. Why wouldn’t I take part in what many people consider to be the pinnacle of the year in movies?
For me, it started young. There was a time when I would spend months obsessing about the Oscars ahead of time. And I was deeply invested in the idea that winning the Best Picture Oscar meant something. Even though I was too young to see certain nominated films, I would read everything I could about the movies and root for my favorites. And the very first year I did that, I learned about bitter disappointment. That was 1977, and considering “Star Wars” made me want to make movies, I considered it the best film of that or any other year. And when they handed out Best Picture and called the name “Annie Hall,” my first reaction was anger. But then I figured that the Academy knew better than I did, and that “Annie Hall” must be really amazing if it won the award over “Star Wars.” I figured I needed to see more movies and learn more about what made a movie good, and I put “Annie Hall” on my list of films I needed to see in the future so I would understand what happened.
In 1981, “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” was nominated along with “Chariots Of Fire,” “Atlantic City,” “On Golden Pond,” and “Reds,” and I made sure to see all of the nominated films before the awards ceremony. That way, I knew for sure which one was best. In my mind, it was “Raiders,” no question. And when “Chariots” won, I found myself heavily invested in being furious again. I railed for days. Weeks. I ranted to anyone who would listen. I even went to see “Chariots” again to see what I’d missed and ended up even angrier.
And for the next few years, it seemed like I just angrier and angrier. “Gandhi” beat “E.T.” “Terms Of Endearment” beat “The Right Stuff.” “Back To The Future” wasn’t even nominated. And right around the time I started working at a movie theater, in 1986, and started seeing even more movies than I already managed to pack into a year, I realized something about myself.
I don’t care what other people say about the films I like.
And I don’t care if they win awards or not.
If I depended on the Oscars to justify my taste in movies, I would probably have a nervous breakdown. If I needed my favorite films to be the top of the weekend box-office every single time one of them is released, I would be so broken-hearted I’d never get out of bed. If I agreed with the mainstream every single time, I would probably not do what I do for a living now, because what would be the point? One of the reasons I first started writing about film and writing films is because my perspective is not fully satisfied by any other critic or filmmaker out there. I am arrogant enough and pompous enough to think that my opinion matters and that my voice deserves to be part of the mix.
But it’s more than that. It’s not just that my opinions aren’t echoed by the Oscars. I dislike the entire culture around them. I dislike the campaigns. I dislike the way people attach significance to the awards. Let me ask you something… whatever your favorite film was last year, let’s assume it was not “The King’s Speech.” Tell me… now that “The King’s Speech” has an Oscar as Best Picture, does it change the way you feel about your favorite film?
If it does, then for the love of God, tell me why. Tell me why it matters to you what a group of people inside the industry who all have their own political agendas thinks about a movie.
And if it doesn’t, then why watch at all? In the long run, a film will have a life totally independent of what awards it won or what box-office it earned, and the ubiquitous nature of home video has changed that relationship even more. Now movies can become hits years after their initial release. Cults spring up around films that were nominated for nothing, while movies like “Out Of Africa” are rarely watched or discussed anymore.
The real reason I don’t like the Oscars and I don’t watch the Oscars and I don’t believe in the Oscars is because they narrow a conversation that I think deserves to be as limitless as possible. They reduce all of film during a given year to a list of a very small number of films, and that seems obscene to me. The beauty of movies is that so many different voices find ways to express themselves in films, and through movies, I’ve gone around the world and experienced places and people that would be impossible otherwise. I can watch a movie like “Pather Panchali” and I can imagine what a life was like that I might otherwise never experience. I can put on a film like “Brazil” and be transported by the experience completely. I can watch something as rowdy and bloody as “Conan The Barbarian” or as off-the-rails insane as “The Holy Mountain” or as down-the-middle funny as “Ghostbusters,” and I can love the films for what they are, and the idea of “awards” never enters into it. I love movies because they offer me a connection to people around the world, people who share that experience, sitting in the dark somewhere else, and it’s like we’re connected by the movies we love. Movies unite us. Movies explain us. Movies speak to us and for us. Movies are a language that manages to supersede anything spoken, and at their very best, they pluck us from our daily reality and take us somewhere else.
I don’t care about the Oscars precisely because I love movies so much.
On a day like today, when I’m getting e-mail and messages and Tweets asking me what’s wrong with me and why I don’t watch the Oscars, I’d turn that around and ask all of you, “If you love movies so much, then why do the Oscars matter?”
And if they do matter to you, then I hope you enjoy them when you watch them. I would just ask that you understand… loving the Oscars and loving movies are two totally different things. Feel free to storm around and scream about how angry you are that David Fincher didn’t win, but realize… if you invest so much emotion in what didn’t win, then you must really believe that it matters. You can’t celebrate a win you agree with and dismiss the ones you don’t. Either it’s all important, and it all really means something, or none of it does. You can’t have it both ways.
I know where my heart lies. And I know why. And I still say “Chariots Of Fire” is a load of crap.
Now I’ve got the last ten minutes of “Vampire Circus” to watch. Do me a favor. Don’t tell me who wins. I’m rooting for the vampires.