Academy Awards Profiles

It is what it is. Besides, it’s much more fun to bitch about it and look at the clothes.

—Pauline Kael on the Oscars (interview with Modern Maturity, 1998)

Ah, the Oscars. Who doesn’t love the glamour and flair of the ultimate multi-hour midwinter movie event? It’s fashionable now more than ever to criticize the ceremony for being irrelevant and self-promoting. William Friedkin called it “the greatest promotion scheme that any industry ever devised for itself.” Perhaps even worse, it’s such an important televised event that there’s no room for risky humour, and the hosts generally embarrass themselves telling jokes that would be booed in the worst comedy clubs. These criticisms are all accurate and important.

But, keeping these biases in mind, we can adjust for them. When the awards ceremony includes lame and unpleasant jokes, we can relish the moments that someone genuinely funny comes on. Half the fun of awards commentary is denigrating the Academy’s preference for mediocre movies that push the right buttons over truly great movies that “don’t look like Best Picture winners”. The awards aren’t a good chronicle of the most important or most entertaining films in history, but they’re not often completely off the mark.

In the end, the process is extremely flawed, but it’s a lot of fun for everyone involved, especially those who get a reason to gnash their teeth without losing anything material. It makes a lot of money for the people involved without doing much harm and gives much-needed exposure to some movies that would otherwise die. And it provides us a springboard to talk about movies, which is really what the modern concept of the “awards season” is all about: it gives everyone a chance to be an amateur movie critic. Who doesn’t want that?

84th Oscars

83rd Oscars

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