Saturday, January 24, 2009

Oscar Nominees: The (Yearly) Aftermath

So, a few days have passed since the annoucement of the Academy Awards nominees, and I've calmed down considerably. The black outs aren't as severe and I've started to eat solid foods again. Thanks to all who sent cards and letters.

I'm kidding, of course, but the Academy Awards do frustrate me. For every credible nominee (Richard Jenkins for his layered, probing work in The Visitor; Robert Downey Jr. for his performance in Tropic Thunder, the only consistent aspect of that movie's attempt at big laughs/satire), the Academy misses the boat, the water, and the planet Earth.

Let's take a look at The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and its 13 nominations. How does a movie that's created solely to court Oscar votes not get away with getting such accolades? This is a film that pretty much was made from a prestige film starter kit. Decades-spanning storyline? Check. Ridiculous attempts to fashion a Christ-like character? Yup. Doomed love story? Sure thing. Padded running time to make the movie feel important? Double-check. Lots of fancy make-up and great costumes?

You get the idea.

Late every year, studios trot out "serious" movies like Benjamin Button, in the hopes that critics, award committees, and Oscar voters wet themselves, which will lead to Jack and Jill Consumer to shell out $20.00 in movie tickets for a night out. Some of these movies are terrific (The Reader, The Wrestler, Frost/Nixon) but a lot of these are as hollow as the summer blockbusters. Witness Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio's two-hour screaming match as suburban satire in Revolutionary Road or Clint Eastwood's borderline sitcomish stand on race relations in Gran Torino. Oh, and let's not forget about Doubt--a filmed play marked with some of the most obvious, showy camerawork short of a freshman film class.

The bottom line is that it's extremely important to not get suckered by movies that look "important." Do a little research on and see what the director and screenwriter's past is like. Did you like their previous movies? Check Rotten Tomatoes and see what the criticial consensus, or better yet, find a critic who you can relate to, who you can rely on. Or find a friend whose tastes match yours. Use the information out there as your guide.

I watch all these movies for two reasons: 1.) I get paid to do this; and 2.) I love movies much too much that I'm afraid to miss anything. But in these rough economic times, going to the movies needs to be more scientific. Don't waste your money on garbage, if you don't have to. It's like online dating. Would you go out with someone without reading their profile or seeing a picture? I wouldn't, and it's the same with paying to see a movie. Your time is valuable so do a little legwork to decrease your odds of watching crapola.

And don't trust the Academy Awards on everything. This is the same group of morons who bestowed an award to Kim Basinger in LA Confidential over Julianne Moore in Boogie Nights, who handed over statuettes to Crash, and who awarded Scorsese his Best Director award but not for Goodfellas or Raging Bull. They make mistakes, just like every other awards outfit, whether its the Pultizer committee, the sportswriters who vote for the NBA MVP, or the Grammys.

You are the ultimate authority, and the Academy Awards is a yearly reminder.

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