If there’s one thing the entertainment industry loves to do, holding awards ceremonies has to rank near the top, as evidence by the sheer number of these shows. At one time, you could count the meaningful ones (meaningful being a relative term, of course) on one hand: The Oscars, The Emmys, The Grammys, and the Tonys. You could even throw in the Golden Globes for good measure. So, with all this self-congratulatory hoopla, you have to ask yourself a question: Do movie fans really care about award shows?
Over the years we have been bombarded with The People’s Choice Awards, The American Music Awards, The AVN Awards…You get the idea. One thing is for sure. Entertainment industry types like to get together, dressed to the nines (or not, i.e. the AVN Awards), and hand out statuettes, thus dividing their world into winners and losers.
Most awards shows follow the Oscar template; and while the hosts’ faces may change, and a skit or dance number may be added here or there, the bones for these celebrations are very much the same. Achievements that have been predetermined to be “the best” are announced, and before you know it, the orchestra is playing off yet another tuxedoed gentleman or ball gown bedecked woman as they leave the stage.
The first Academy Awards ceremony was a simple affair. There was a 15 minute ceremony followed by an after party. And since that inaugural event was held in 1929, and the technology of television hadn’t yet advanced beyond a few laboratories, a three and a half hour Oscar night seemed unfathomable. TV, of course, has altered the way most events are produced. At first, it was passive. It merely allowed us to be observers to our entertainment. But over the years, awards shows—and sporting events, and everything else under the sun for that matter—have become made for TV spectacles.
It gives us forced pairings of presenters, people who we think should handle their duties more gracefully than they often do. And as this year’s Grammy Awards clearly exhibited, just throwing a few performers (Kanye! Rihanna! Paul McCartney! This has to work!) up on stage doesn’t result in good TV or a moment to boost your sagging telecast.
People still tune in to awards shows–and the Oscars in particular. But with the current state of media saturation, is it because they genuinely want to see who will carry home that little golden statuette, or has it become something different? Is it merely to attend an Oscar themed party? Is it just another show, a better dressed and better attended version of TMZ?
Questions always abound on Oscar night, and this year is no different. Why increase the Best Picture category to allow 10 nominations but then only come up with eight? How could Ava DuVernay be left out of the Best Director category while her film “Selma” was nominated for Best Picture? And will Michael Keaton finally win a Best Actor Oscar?
Another question has been asked quite frequently over the past few years, and it concerns the Oscars (and other awards shows for that matter) in general. Do the Academy Awards still matter?
On some level, yes. Winning an Oscar won’t change people’s opinion about a certain film or actor (Jeff Bridges won his only Oscar for “Crazy Heart” and not as The Dude in “The Big Lebowski? Most people would take issue with that.), but it still seems to change perception. That “Oscar winning” tag still has cache, both in the marketing world and in how somebody’s career will advance. It’s good for validation. When Bridges won his Best Actor award a few years ago for the aforementioned “Crazy Heart” (A damn fine movie by the way–and Bridges is great in it) it was seen almost as a lifetime achievement award. The same went for Martin Scorsese when he won Best Director for “The Departed.” Once again, a good movie, and Scorsese turned in a fine directorial effort. But to say that “Goodfellas” or “Raging Bull” weren’t Oscar worthy while “The Departed” is what captured the statuette? It’s rarely the first film you mention when you talk about Scorsese’s career.
The Oscars will continue unabated. Who knows, the telecast may grow even longer as the Academy looks to tweak things and modernize. Perhaps they will institute live Twitter voting, or a toll free hotline, a la “American Idol.” It’s not necessarily bad to have a night to honor the world of film; after all, this is our greatest modern art form. But as the way we view movies, movie stars, and film production has changed over the years, you may have to occasionally step back and ask the question: Why has this part of it not changed for 60 years?
There is always hope. The Film Independent Spirit Awards will take place on February 21, the night before the Oscars. In years past, this ceremony, which honors achievements in indie film, has been held on the Santa Monica beach under a tent. And while these awards have changed a little bit as well over their 30 year existence, it’s nice to see a lower key celebration of the film industry. And their statuette says it all: a bird sitting atop a poll wrapped with shoestrings (to represent the less than healthy budgets that these films have to work with).
So keep watching, and keep debating. An award isn’t the ultimate arbiter of what’s best or even what’s merely good. It’s a snapshot of that time, and the stars had to align just right. There are many films, filmmakers, actors and technicians who have been deserving, but in the end were shut out of the Academy glow. And in the end, who didn’t get a statuette is as big a part of the story as who did.