Oscar politics

Susan O’Sullivan questions the increasingly banal method of awarding Oscars to undeserving candidates in a highly politicised ceremony.

Sandra Bullock’s Academy Awards acceptance speech was one of the more impressive feats of the drawn out, trite ceremony back in March last year.  Her speech mesmerized us all with the wit, humility, poise, and that bearable dash of sentimentalism. Sadly just a week later Bullock’s career glory was overshadowed by her husband’s, ahem, discretions.  However, the one thing I can guess everyone was thinking was, “Miss Congeniality, an Oscar?  Really?”

The politics of the Oscars are a funny thing. Perhaps we, the common people, may not be astute with the wily ways of film production and acting, but year after year this circus seems to award campaigns rather than art.

Oft times, it just feels like the awards are given out for continued efforts, and even for the actor’s longevity, rather than judging the specific performance.  Sandra Bullock’s coup over Hollywood was admirable, but Jeff Bridges being awarded for his work in Crazy Heart was lazy and consolatory. The dude clearly deserved it before, Crazy Heart just sounded the knell for the “it’s-about-time-he-got-one” Oscar.

The event has always been surrounded by murmurings of doubt.  Marisa Tomei’s win for My Cousin Vinny was even rumoured to have been a drunken mistake by presenter Jack Palance.  Shudder to think that either comedy or Tomei’s talent could hold a viable place among Academy proceedings.

Remember a few years ago, when Will Ferrell and Jack Black crashed the stage, and not only serenaded Helen Mirren, but lamented a comedian’s place at the Oscars?  Well society has progressed little since then.  Not since Annie Hall some thirty-three years ago has a comedy been awarded the big kahuna; the Best Picture.

The “Road to the Oscars” has ever been a global hot topic.  The bloodbath that is the media coverage is way more fun than the ultimate win.  Each year the nominees play nice with each other and get nauseatingly comradely on our ass, ass usually being the operative word.

Take last year’s festivities, where we saw former spouses James Cameron and Katherine Bigelow being pitted against one another mercilessly by the world’s press. The David and Goliath battle was in no way helped by the petty antics of Nicolas Chartier either. The Hurt Locker producer took his campaign to extreme proportions and emailed Academy members pleading them to give his film and “not the $500-million” film the big award.  Hmm…. wonder what one he was referring to?  Subtlety, unlike films, was not his strong point and for that he was banned from attendance.

The Hurt Locker still triumphed at last year’s show, though it faired underwhelming in the box office. Every year there is that one indie darling that represents the budget minimalist clique of filmmaking. After Little Miss Sunshine charmed the Academy’s Egyptian-cotton socks off, the theory has henceforth been dubbed “The Little Movie That Could”.

Speaking of the impact the box office may have on Oscar night; cast your mind towards the recent extension to ten nominations for Best Picture. It is highly unlikely that this is an innocent means to celebrate the arts. It concedes to the viewership, including the box office fare and the limited release crossovers in a battle of wits, creating more tension than when Marlon Brando sent a faux-Apache to collect his award.

Though most of the eventual award winners are reflective of the genuinely significant cinematic contributions of the given year, the awards are undoubtedly tainted by their institutionalised heritage. They henceforth alienate the universality of film with categories such as the Best Foreign Film. Spare the odd Brit, this division establishes a night that is thoroughly red, white, blue, and stars all over.

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