Friday, May 24, 2024

Are the Oscars becoming irrelevant?

With the Academy Award nominations having been announced, and the usual snubs and surprises are being dissected, are awards for movies even important any more?

A short while back I happened upon a Facebook thread focusing on whether or not Lady Gaga deserved a second Oscar nomination for her work in House of Gucci. The conversation grew Jiffy-popcorn heated, as such celebrity chatter tends to do, with some ranting and raving that, yes, goddamn it, Gaga had been robbed of her A Star Is Born win for Acting (she did win for Best Song) and was long overdue for a second shot! Others were less kind, type-scoffing and mad emoji-ing that, please, the Lady needs to stop acting and focus on her music! 

Before the thread grew into mass trolling, as pretty much all social media topics do, I noticed one thing all the participants had in common—none had seen House of Gucci, a still-unreleased film. Further, none of the people expressing their informed opinions seemed even remotely interested in the notion that a performance should be seen before it’s judged. That’s so Baby Boomer. 

Turns out that, all too often, all that glitters has nothing to do with who gets the gold. 

For many reasons, the Oscar, or Emmy, Grammy, Tony, and whatever else is proffered up this time of year, might be a nice thing for the recipient to place on his or her or their mantelpiece and resume—I’ve still got my grade-school-prepared speech memorized—but its expiration date as meaningful theatrical metric has long passed.

The Academy Awards show itself, whenever it finally airs—so long, scandal-plagued Golden Globes, it was nice knowing you and your Pia Zadora-winning, unnamed “journalist” clown of a legit awards ceremony—has long lost its luster or, for that matter, thrill factor. When Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty’s Best Picture malfunction is the most memorable event of the last several years, something’s gotta give. And forget qualified hosts; any possible contenders are either plagued by past tweets or uninterested in taking on the burden of boring people to death. At press time there’s been an announcement that the show will have a master of ceremonies this year, so I’m placing my bets on someone really titillating, like Lea Michele or the remaining cast of “The Brady Bunch,” minus “serious actress” Eve Plumb, of course. 

Part of the reason the show’s become so dull is that Hollywood, as we know it, is dead. Glamour is a thing of the past, so are movie stars—at least in the “wet your hands in cement” sort of way—replaced by lots of talented industry types who work really hard at their craft. Yep, there’s a difference, and the latter doesn’t make for a star-studded night. Wasn’t it fun not seeing Lauren Bacall finally get her lifetime achievement award because the producers decided that part of the show didn’t need to be aired? But those endless short films that no one’s seen or cares about except the makers and their moms—those “bathroom break” awards will last from here to eternity. 

Yes, mean-tweeters, I know that lots of people work on those projects, and they deserve their place in the sun. I also know that lots of people who work in all aspects of film will never get airtime recognition. When’s the last time a gaffer got to make a speech? If you want people to tune in you’ve got to give them a little razzle dazzle, provided, of course, that Rob Lowe’s singing or Debbie Allen’s choreography aren’t involved. 

When Joan and Melissa Rivers ruled the fashion runway (because of their vast experience in the design field?), people loved getting off on their red carpet criticisms. Their antics were often amusing, but they echoed the direction the country itself was headed in regards to celebrity culture—famous people existed for our collective bitch fest. By that time, early in the millennium and smack dab in the middle of the Reality TV revolution, the show had already gone south, and people paid far more attention to the forever-after coverage of how ugly everyone looked. It didn’t matter if there was cruelty behind the slants, because each celebrity, not just Britney, was our personal prisoner. 

And don’t get me started on the “cutting off the speeches at the 45-second mark” rule—that further exemplifies the notion that we don’t really give a fuck who wins or what they have to say. 

It was around Joan Rivers’ time that stars became so afraid of getting a bad “review” that the women all started dressing the same—identical mermaid gowns existed for, like…wait, I think actresses might still be wearing them. Nothing says excitement like a Night of a Thousand Stepford Wives, each woman defined by their label, not their name or nomination. 

And those were the good old days. Now that long-overdue corrections are being made in regards to who votes—first off, you should have seen a movie since the invention of the DVD—the Oscar show has been one long apology for past bad behavior. No sooner has some poor sap woken up at the crack of ass to announce the nominees than the hashtags so wrong emerge. Someone’s been snubbed, everyone’s enraged, apologies ensue, people resign, and, if we’re really lucky, Jada Pinkett Smith will try to convince the world that her husband not getting an Oscar nod for Concussion, a film that nobody saw and fewer people liked, has nothing to do with the reason she’s pissed off. 

Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, 1963

Do more minorities need to be nominated and serve as voters? 100 percent yes! Should we change the categories to gender-neutral? Go ahead, make my/me/his day. Has the Academy been largely overseen by out-of-touch white men who wouldn’t even watch Brokeback Mountain because it offended their puritanical Western sensibilities? R.I.P. Ernest Borgnine. Should straight people keep winning the Oscar for playing gay? WTF is that about!? In simpler times, all you had to do to get the statue was play a terminal patient or almost die in real life (Elizabeth Taylor, you will always be our queen!), but now you gotta be gay-for-pay if you expect to have any chance of going home with a little head. 

Even dying for real is no longer good enough for Oscar’s peccadillos—Chadwick Boseman wasn’t just robbed of his trophy, he was grave-robbed! (Word to the Academy wise, unless you’ve rigged the awards or have peeked at the winners’ list ahead of time, don’t shuffle the entire show to highlight the favored winner.) And poor Anthony Hopkins, berated for winning Best Actor last year, instead of Boseman, even though the octogenarian was pure perfection in The Father, mostly because he wasn’t grateful enough to be on camera to accept his damn award! Well, sure, it was five a.m. in Wales, where he lives, and the Academy wouldn’t let him zoom, but that’s so not the point. Neither was the murder of George Floyd, although that didn’t stop an understandably emotional Regina King from making the homicide the first thing she talked about when opening the show, before announcing the actual ceremony. Leaving politics aside is so Generation X.

Chadwick Boseman was robbed

The show has become so wrapped up in our volatile world—“60 Minutes” is less serious—that there’s no fun left. And what the world needs now, at least for one long night, is a little joy. Hey, who doesn’t love Joaquin Phoenix speaking out about animal rights and admitting he’s in douche recovery, or Spike Lee storming out of the building to show the world that Oscar rewards the undeserving—he did, oddly enough, keep his own statue—or Matthew McConaughey paying homage to God, aka himself, but extra-curricular activities shouldn’t define the show. The real crime, however, and the one that’s existed since Wings took home the first Best Picture trophy in 1927, is that the Academy Awards have never been about who’s deserving so much as they’ve been about who’s desired. 

And speaking of joy, do not get me started on how the Oscars have almost always avoided rewarding comedy—they ignore laughter the way half the country ignores an attempted Republican coup.

In the same manner that glamour can no longer define a Hollywood where we’ve learned of the people pulling the stars’ puppet strings, we can’t keep pretending that the Oscars are little more than a psychological swimsuit competition, based sometimes on sentiment, sometimes on a chronicle of work, occasionally on merit (Olivia Coleman, you made a wonderful queen!), and, more often than not, brutal campaign strategies. As for those voters, if you know any, as I do, you’re probably aware that half of them select a few movies to watch, then ask for guidance from friends, spouses, life coaches, before sending off their ballots. 

If Oscar were simply about who’s the best, Glenn Close would still be savoring her Fatal Attraction win—she never would have been ignored!—while Cher would be content in the realization that, after a successful career as singer and TV host, she made a footprint in the film business as well. If nominations had no sentiment attached, the hype surrounding Kristen Stewart’s amateurish turn as Diana Spencer would never have lasted past twilight—“Wow, she rose up from bad reviews in bad movies and nabbed a terrific, leading role playing a tragic princess. Give that girl the gold!”—but Caitriona Balfe’s masterful performance in Belfast would be the talk of the town. And if movies were simply judged as they are, the Crash cast would be honored just to have been nominated in the same category as winner Brokeback Mountain.

Everything’s subjective in art, and no one will ever agree on who and what is the best work of the year. That’s the joy of it all. But if we continue to use the Academy Awards as the barometer of excellence in film, and not just one list to ponder along with what our trusted friends and other resources tell us, our viewing choices will be as lackluster as the show itself. As for me, I’ve decided to skip the show this year and watch a movie instead. Maybe I’ll finally check out House of Gucci. I understand I already have strong opinions about the flick. 

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David Toussaint

David Toussaint is the writer of five screenplays (with six film festival awards between them) and four best-selling non-fiction books. A professional journalist since the age of 15, he’s written for such publications as Huffington Post, Queerty, and Conde Nast Traveler. Toussaint is also a professional playwright and actor.

David Toussaint has 24 posts and counting. See all posts by David Toussaint

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