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A Little Gold Man, Far Away: Oscar Season as a Spectator Sport…

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.

The show goes on…

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.

Hank-ering down…

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.

Good luck catching all the contenders from Paris…

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 barely see enough to keep me ticking over…

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.

I feel like I get the worst seats in the house…

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.

9 Responses

  1. Very much agree with you , it is the same with the 10 best movies of 2012 lists. By the time I have seen most 2012 movies it is May 2013

    • I can agree to an extent. In fact, I feel guilty about even making a top 10, because – due to the limited hours in a day – I haven’t even seen all the films released. There could be a gem (or something others hated, but I would love) lurking at the bottom of my “to see” list.

  2. Films are like second language acquisition – no matter how fluent you you are, there will also be a new and useful word that you have yet to discover 😀

    I can’t wait to see The Master – it looks really good and I always like to see what not only PTA creates but Phoenix too. It’s been a while since he appeared in a really good role.

    The media love to place films like The Master in the context of religion and so on and identify them only by that but even Anderson himself said it wasn’t a commentary. I can’t quite remember his comments but it was something to the effect of it being more of an examination of the human condition.

    I watched The Great Gatsby trailer a few minutes ago. It seems a bit….blah. I’m not sure if it even merits a word 😛 It looks very much watchable but I can see my mind wandering during it.

    I’m looking forward to seeing some intelligent mainstream films. Not in a hipster way! I’m the first to watch a film for enjoyment’s sake but I really want a dose of thought-provoking ones before the end of the year. Or even if there was an okayish film with one really good performance. After watching Jesse James recently, Casey Affleck’s unnerving performance wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it stayed with me! Then again, throw a good soundtrack on and even Mr Snuffleupagus would move me.

    • I like that!

      Another aspect of the Master that I’m looking forward to is Phillip Seymour Hoffman. That man is always great, even if the movie around him isn’t. And I think The Master will be.

      With regards to good though-provoking films, have you seen Killing Them Softly? It comes highly recommended on that front. It’s even from the same director as Jesse James.

      • No, I haven’t seen it – I went to see Anna Karenina instead. The picture was really blurry, so I had to go out and ask one of the staff to fix it 😛 If Killing Them Softly is definitely worth seeing, then I’ll slot it in for this weekend.

        I’m going to watch Keyhole tonight. I remember going to see The Saddest Music in the World in Kino Cinema (which now no longer exists) in Cork and I was the only person in the audience who seemed to enjoy the film. Actually, I remember hearing one other person in there saying positive things. I still can’t believe that so many people hated it…and they really did hate it. Maddin started my Super 8 fascination. I’ve also only written one proper film review and it was on TSMITW! A lot of films make you feel nothing in particular, so for a film to shake people up a bit…well, it’s a good thing surely 🙂 Anyway, I’m so excited to go and see this one. I think it’s partly a nostalgic celebration! I have to admit that I’m not a fan of some of his short films, as they are just a little too much. For anyone wondering what the bejesus the film is about: http://filmplicity.com/2010/07/guest-post-the-saddest-music-in-the-world/. I really wish I could rewrite that 2010 review though. I even put an upper case letter after each dash. Shame on me.

      • I would recommend Killing Them Softly. And that cinema stuff sucks. I’ve had several terrible experiences in Coolock – where the movie starts late or half-way through, or doesn’t have sound, or had some strange colour filters. Took them forever to fix it.

  3. It’s hilarious the way Irish people (or at least Corkonians) won’t move from their seats to let the staff know that it is completely blurry or that half of the picture is being projected on to the damn floor. One time people a few rows behind us started fighting and one dragged the other over a seat. Taytos were thrown and I ended up with Fanta in my hair.

    There’s an outdoor cinema in Cork but my car is too old and broken to pick up a good signal 😦

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