As I was watching the live stream of the Oscar nominations announcement, here is what went through my head:
“Wow, this is fun. A screenplay nod for A Separation, Rooney Mara getting nominated for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Tree of Life up for both Best Picture and Best Director, Gary Oldman finally scoring his first acting nomination… A fair share of surprises and interesting oddities. I bet there’s going to be a lot of happy people on the internet today.”
Re-read that last sentence. Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking either.
Of course everyone was angry. My Twitter feed quickly filled up with outcry about what was snubbed, what undeservedly got in, and how the Academy members are a bunch of idiots with no taste. “Why no love for Drive!?” “No Michael Fassbender!? #OscarsFail” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close for Best Picture!? #lol #smh” “Melissa McCarthy and Jonah Hill are now Oscar nominees? Kill me now.” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon – 3 nominations. Shame – ZERO. WTF?” “Somewhere in a bar, Tilda Swinton is drowning her sorrows. What the HELL, AMPAS?”
I do not begrudge people for being passionate about films they love. It’s what being a movie fan is all about. Here it was mostly expressed in negative ways, however. Many were happy about so-and-so being nominated for this-or-that, but a majority of the comments I read were focused on complaining about the nods and snubs they disagreed with. It got a bit tiresome. Surely we should be celebrating the good stuff instead of dwelling on the bad, no? But whatever. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.
Speaking of opinions: did you know that they’re subjective? And that there’s no such thing as “right” or “wrong” when it comes to taste? And that not everyone likes the same stuff that you do? And that the Academy members are people with their own opinions?
I like awards season. At times, I even love it. But it’s for the brain, not for the heart. I like seeing the ebb and flow of the race, sussing out which films have buzz going for them, spotting the dark horses, and trying to determine which of my hunches should be followed up on. This is completely separated from how I feel about the movies themselves. The truth is that I haven’t seen most of the films nominated for anything yet. Hell, I’ve only seen two of the Best Picture nominees at this point: Midnight in Paris and The Help, both of which I enjoy but wouldn’t put on my own ballot were I an Academy member. Don’t take my lack of personal viewing as a reason for why I remain so detached, though. I was more caught up last year and had more horses I loved in the race, and I still had no problem remaining zen about the nominations.
The Academy voters like what they like. There is no reason for me to be neither overjoyed nor sad if their opinions do or do not match my own. I don’t need Nicolas Winding Refn to be nominated for Best Director to know that I thought Drive was a great piece of movie-making. I thought Super 8 had jaw-dropping visual effects and a teriffic performance by young Elle Fanning, but I’m fine with AMPAS not nominating that film for anything. And the fact that Corey Stoll wasn’t nominated in Best Supporting Actor for playing Ernest Hemingway in Midnight in Paris doesn’t mean he didn’t steal in the film in my eyes.
If there is such a thing as “objectively good film” – and I doubt it more for each passing year – it’s clear that the Academy voters don’t concern themselves too much with the concept. I assume that’s what gets people so riled up: that “Best Picture” is supposed to go to what is objectively the year’s best movie – hence the outrage that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was surprisingly nominated when most critics found it lacking. It’s currently at 48% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, a fact that many people have cited the past few hours. Many haven’t seen it themselves, probably because of the lukewarm critical reception and, if I may be a bit presumptious, because it was written off as not likely to score any Oscar nominations.
But now more people probably will check it out, if only to see if it’s “worthy” of its Best Picture nomination. Which brings me to the good aspect of awards season: the way it brings attention to movies that otherwise wouldn’t be seen by as many. If not for awards season, there’s little chance that something like The Artist – a French black & white silent film – would have ever been talked about outside of hardcore cinephile circles. Smaller films from previous years like An Education and Winter’s Bone also garnered more attention thanks to the whole Oscars thing, which has lead to more interesting roles being available for their stars Carey Mulligan and Jennifer Lawrence. The Oscars and other awards ceremonies can thus do good things for movies. Perhaps this is why many people get so emotionally invested. We all want the films we love to be seen by as many as possible. Both for the sake of people seeing good movies, and so that the men and women who made them will gain added exposure and be allowed to make more great films in the future. Still, the point is diluted when you go from “I hope Fassbender gets nominated so that he’ll get more awesome roles” to “By snubbing Fassbender, AMPAS once again proves that their members have their heads up their asses.”
To me, words like “worthy” and “deserving” tend to be misused in Oscars discussions. It’s a contest to get the most votes from the Academy members. If you do well in this contest, you get in. That’s the mark of being deserving of an Oscar nomination. I get what people are saying, though: this or that movie does not deserve to be called one of the best films of the year. What I feel often goes wrong is that the sentiment gets warped by the wording and context. A movie can be worthy of attention, accolades and acclaim in our eyes, yes. But what tends to be conveyed instead is that “this film does not deserve to be liked by the Academy members”, which is something I don’t think we have any right to say.
By all means, express love for the films you adore and spew bile on the films you hate. You are definitely entitled to. Your opinion is as important and valid as anyone’s. But allow the same courtesy to the Academy members. They’re often the same people who make the movies you enjoy seeing.
A few closing notes on the nominations…
- A big congratulation goes out to my fellow Swede Max von Sydow, who got an unexpected Best Supporting Actor nomination for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It’s always nice to see Swedish actors recognized internationally.
- Drive, which I’ve seen at the top of more 2011 Top 10 lists than any other film, got its sole nomination in the Best Sound Editing category. 12 years ago, this very same fate befell another film with lots of devoted fans: Fight Club. They both made roughly the same amount of money at the box office, too.
- It has been 30 years since a film won Best Picture without also being nominated for Best Editing. If this holds true this year too, there are only four conceivable Best Picture winners: The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo, and Moneyball.
- Yes, Transformers: Dark of the Moon got three nominations: Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects. Don’t be upset about how it doesn’t deserve to call itself an Oscar nominee. The Oscars are meant to reward great crafts work within their respective fields. The overall quality of the film is irrelevant.