Once again we have witnessed that celebration of competition in the most ridiculous of venues, motion pictures. The Oscars are useful only for promoting the rare piece of artful entertainment that might otherwise go overlooked by the public, perhaps a film like The Life of Pi. But choosing one film or one actor, director, etc. as the best in a field where reasonable comparisons are impossible is just another product of our winner-driven society. Leave such competition on the playing field where it is the object of a game. Or leave it to television’s ubiquitous reality shows/competitions.
In 1971, George C. Scott refused an Oscar for his performance in Pattonand decried the Oscars as a “two-hour meat parade” that was offensive, barbaric and innately corrupt. These words, from one of our greatest actors who didn’t believe in competition among his colleagues, ring even more true today when the political event has degenerated into a three-hour meat-parade-cum-fashion-show. One of the chief absurdities of this event is that it honors up to 10 films and five nominees in other categories. Why 10 or five? Why not three or 15, i.e., as many as are deserving instead of an arbitrary number? And why insist on a winner when all may be as deserving for wildly different accomplishments even in one category?
Consider some of the idiocies of the current festival of self-promotion and explain why it is not corrupt and offensive to one’s intelligence. Argo is nominated and goes on to win the award for best picture, while its director, Ben Affleck, is not even nominated. How does one compare the superbly sober performance of Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln to the unbuttoned comic performance of Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook? Why is Christoph Waltz placed in the Best Supporting Actor category when he was clearly the better of two leads in Django Unchained? The deserving supporting performances in Django were from a surprising Samuel L. Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio. How does one reconcile the nomination of Emmanuelle Riva for Amour with the lack of recognition given her even more deserving co-star, Jean-Louis Trintignant (in a larger and more difficult role)? And how do you compare Riva’s portrait of a descent into death with Jennifer Lawrence’s brave celebration of youthful vitality and hope in Silver Linings Playbook? What is the means of comparing Anne Hathaway’s touching musical performance in Les Miserables with Helen Hunt’s realistic minimalism in The Sessions? Making such comparisons goes beyond the foolishness of comparing apples and oranges; it is more akin to comparing apples and broccoli.
And there are the films that are routinely overlooked by the Academy, films that we never see because our multiplexes, and even our independent cinemas, are showing overrated stuff like Zero Dark Thirty (a film that might have benefited from Affleck’s ability to clarify a complex story) instead of Holy Motors or Berberian Sound Studio. As an example of just two in a legion of miserable omissions of actors, why wasn’t Samantha Barks nominated alongside Hathaway for her equally moving work in the same film—and why wasn’t our most underappreciated of actors, Richard Gere, nominated for the terrific Arbitrage?
Perhaps the Motion Picture Academy could take a hint from Scott’s metaphorical meat parade and run the business more like a livestock competition. They could hand out multiple blue ribbons in more narrowed categories where cattle, sheep and goats are judged in their own categories, where a swine needn’t compete with a turkey. It could be custom-tailored for the Oscars and could include such categories as: best performance of a historical figure, best performance of a person with disabilities, best performance opposite a CGI character, best performance as a CGI character (the continually overlooked Andy Serkis). . . .
When I was a kid and we visited a county or state fair in Wisconsin, I was impressed to find out that sometimes more than one blue ribbon was given even in one livestock category because two or more sheep had met or exceeded the criteria for excellence. I understand this still happens in some 4-H and FFA competitions. Of course that would not satisfy the Oscar crowd’s need for a winner.
I’m not suggesting that the Academy go as far as the Iowa 4-H club leadership went in 1996, when it gave out the same 3,500 multicolored ribbons to recognize participation that disappointed the youthful participants and created a firestorm of anger from their parents. But perhaps the Academy could adapt the practice of an organization it would likely be more comfortable in aligning itself with. Fortune 500 has 27 Blue Ribbon companies. No arbitrary number here.
Anyone who truly loves films and chafes at such nonsense ought to boycott the Oscar parties next year and host a party that shows an underdog film, be it foreign, independent or one of Hollywood’s own ignored gems (like Arbitrage). Or watch Scott in Patton, a far more rewarding use of three hours.