In case you hadn’t realised, Oscar season is in full swing. We’ve already had the Toronto International Film Festival. There’s already a front-runner in the form of The Master. The seemingly obligatory voting controversy has already been reported upon. Newspapers and on-line film websites are already launching their coverage of a race that won’t be over for another five months, despite the fact that many would argue the race probably already has a winner. And that discounts those websites already set up specifically for the race, which are (understandably) kicking into overdrive.
And I… find myself having difficulty mustering too much enthusiasm about it.
To be fair, it’s hardly new. I enjoy the Oscars when they take place – even if I don’t obsess over them in the weeks running up to the announcements, and the night of the ceremony. When something like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close sneaks a Best Picture nomination, I’m more resignedly disappointed than I am viscerally upset. I don’t judge the worth of a film through the weight of Oscar gold it brings home, and so I’m never too tied up in the fact that my opinion only ever barely overlaps with the Academy. However, there’s something more than that at the root of my apathy towards the long start to awards season.
It’s the exclusivity of it all, I think, that disappoints me. It’s the fact that it’s a time of the year where quite a few film fans are relegated to sitting on the side lines while insiders gossip relentlessly over movies they’ve seen and you haven’t. The discussion is based around picking winners from a pool, but often the potential winners aren’t in wide release and certainly haven’t swept the international market.
I’ve always loved film as perhaps the most accessible form of narrative media. After all, almost everybody has an opinion on cinema and film – everybody has a favourite film, or one they look forward to. Cinema is a great discussion point, it’s something you can steer a conversation to in its more awkward moments. It’s also something of a springboard for more interesting conversations, about how we relate to media and how we see the world. I’ve always adored that about film.
However, Oscar season makes it almost impossible to do that – because it feels like less of a discussion or debate and more like an extended five-month-long commentary. People do up prediction charts and insiders snipe at one another, but audiences really feel sort of left on the sidelines. As a result, the conversation feels hedged on. When people talk about The Master, a film I’m interested in seeing, it seems they talk more about how its Scientology-related undertones might affect its Oscar chancesthan they do about what it’s actually saying.
Of course, even if the discussion were about what the film actually means, I’d still be locked out of it until The Master is released in the United Kingdom and Ireland, in November. And that’s one of the earlier contenders to get a release. I didn’t see last years contenders like Shame and Martha Marcy May Marlene until early this year. You might argue that there’s a very good reason for this – that the Oscars build the necessary hype for these films to have a potentially successful cinematic run outside the United States, but that still makes the whole thing more than a little frustrating.
Due to these tight release schedules over here, I have to race to see all (or even most) of the contenders before the ceremony itself, so that I can legitimately feel like I’m rooting for the best would-be winner, rather than the one that everybody else told me I was supposed to get behind. Don’t get me wrong, everybody who does the Oscars commentary seems to love it. And I’d be lying if I didn’t concede a geeky thrill in reading some of it, but I always feel like I’m watching the action from behind a screen. As oddly appropriate as that might be for coverage of film, it doesn’t make for the most satisfying experience.
I’d love to be able to engage with the inevitable end-of-year film conversation on the Awards, but it’s just not possible. I’d simply find myself parroting what other far more qualified commentators had said, or I’d be trying to judge films I hadn’t seen – neither of which really appeals to me when it comes to film. There’s enough stuff to talk about in the stuff I’ve actually seen.
Where’s the fun in stacking up John Hawkes’ performance in The Sessions to that of Joaquin Phoenix in The Master if I’ve seen neither? How can I back a horse in that race? It seems more than a tad disingenuous to do so, but it also reduces the role of film-watching to top trumps. My Phoenix beats your Hawkes because he gets a “+1 relevancy bonus.”I don’t want to do that, and I feel a bit disappointed that this is about the extent of my ability to comment on the Oscar race.
Ah well, maybe by the time next year’s awards come around I’ll have a legitimate opinion on most of the contenders. In the meantime, this will explain why you don’t see too much Oscar coverage around here.
Filed under: Movies Tagged: | Academy Award, Academy Award for Best Picture, arts, Film Festivals, Joaquin Phoenix, John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Master, Movies, oscar, Oscar season, Scientology, toronto international film festival, United States