Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Oscars as a Starting Point


I've seen every Best Picture winner, even the ones not available on DVD. I've seen them on late night tv, cable, vhs, dvd, etc. Whatever format, whatever time, I've made sure over the years that I saw each one. And with few exceptions, I've seen just about all of the nominees. Oh, and as a point of useless trivia, I can name the Best Picture winners, in order of course, in less than a minute. It was a lot easier when I was a kid and there were thirty or so less but I can still reel them off in just under sixty seconds. Why? I'm obsessed that's why.

When I was but a tyke I started reading the encyclopedias my parents had and when I came to the "Motion Picture" entry I found my true love. But what really drew me in was the last part of the entry where they listed the Oscar winners through the years. Being a normal kid I was enthralled with Star Wars and was fascinated to see Alec Guinness, Obi-Wan Kenobi, listed in the Oscar winners for some movie called The Bridge on the River Kwai. I knew I had to see it. And that's when it started. That's when the obsession with seeing all the Oscar winners started.

Are the Best Picture winners the best movies of all time or even their respective years? No, of course not. But before the days of A.F.I lists and movie magazine top 100 polls the Oscars provided a template for a young cinephile to start seeing some of the most talked about and celebrated films in Hollywood history. Seeing all of them gave one then, and still does, a fairly good starting point for the Hollywood essentials, whether or not they're great being beside the point. The winners like Wings, All Quiet on the Western Front, It Happened One Night, Gone With The Wind, Rebecca, Casablanca, The Lost Weekend, The Best Years of Our Lives, All About Eve, An American in Paris, etc give one a good starting point for seeing some real classics.

And then there are the losing nominees. Endless discussions about The Thin Man, Grand Illusion, Wuthering Heights, Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons right up through recent years gets people, and definitely young cinephiles, discussing the true merit and artistic achievement of film and what should or shouldn't be considered the best.

All of these things make the Oscars worthwhile in my book because they bring the year, and the discussion of film, to a culminating point that wouldn't exist without them. But the real reason, the big reason, the overriding reason I love the Oscars and value their existence is the effect they have on the studios. Folks, if it wasn't for the Oscars there would be nothing but summer blockbusters all year long. Don't get me wrong, I love blockbusters but I want some more adult fare every now and then too and the studios are all about two things: Who makes the most money and who has the most prestige. Without the Oscars they wouldn't make distribution deals with independent productions, foreign productions and finance smaller more intimate dramas. You think Brokeback Mountain got backed because the studios thought they'd make a fortune? Hell no! It was backed because they wanted nominations and awards and prestige.

So all hail Oscar! It fires the flame of young cinephiles, fuels the existing flame for film fans everywhere and provides a necessary quality check for the studios. I wouldn't get rid of them for an instant. I'm glad they're here.

13 comments:

Robert said...

This is a compelling argument you make sir, and admittedly more thorough than mine (which, also admittedly, only works best in a hypothetical world where good movies can get financed without the Oscars).

I think my problem still is: The Oscars are good as a starting point.... provided one can get by such a behemoth.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Thank you Sir Robert. I think it's easy enough for a cinephile to get around them eventually but I never attend Oscar parties because there are never enough, or any, cinephiles at them, just daytrippers who don't know half the people they show in the memoriam tributes. It's depressing.

Glenn said...

Well said. That's pretty much all I have to say :)

NATHANIEL R said...

Jonathan. You're attending the wrong oscar parties. That is all ;)

but yes. I agree with the Oscars being a great launching pad for budding cinephiles. Which is why I always feel bad that many film snobs like to dismiss their very existence out of hand. They're as important as anything else and more than most...

sure they have bad taste. But what of it? It's still a great talking point each year. And a relatively easy way for people to engage in discourse about what constitutes a great film and what doesn't.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I'll see if I can find some better Oscar party buddies this year.

John T said...

I, too, can name all of the Best PIcture winners in under a minute! It's a party trick, which has gotten harder through the years (possibly the only good thing about Crash winning).

NATHANIEL R said...

I cannot name all the Oscar winners in under a minute *buried head in shame*

Catherine said...

I agree completely with everything you've said here, Robert. I've not seen half of the Best Picture winners (I'm working on it!) but the Oscars have been a great inroad to me for obsessing on movies, complaining when my favourites don't get in and rejoicing when they do.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Robert?!?!?! Hey, now he's taking credit for posts I write! Dagnabbit!

John T said...

You need to start practicing Nathaniel. :)

Jonathan Lapper said...

John t - I've gotten to the point where I can barely do better than 58 seconds. A couple more winners and I may have to change it to seventy seconds but that doesn't have the same ring to it, alas.

John T said...

I can still keep it around 45 seconds-and I say the entire title for LOTR:ROTK. I just keep saying 60 seconds because eventually it's going to be at 60 seconds.

Catherine said...

Oops - sorry Jonathan!