Wednesday, January 19, 2005

What is "Relevant"?

I've been noticing a weird meme sweeping around the media both in major outlets and in websites about what is "relevant" when it comes to awardage. If you diss any one of the perceived frontrunners for Oscar's "best picture" Sideways, The Aviator, Million Dollar Baby you are considered "irrelevant." So, the OFCS is irrelevant. Cinemarati is irrelevant. The BAFTAs are irrelevant. DC critics are irrelevant. If you don't champion one or all of those three you are irrelevant. Never mind that this is all subjective, matters of aesthetic taste, etc...If you aren't predictive of the Oscars. You are UNIMPORTANT. The funny thing is this: If there is a surprise snub on Oscar nomination morning of one of the perceived frontrunners are the Oscars themselves than irrelevant?

The attacks on the Golden Globe (who nominated all three) have been going on since time immemorial but it seems to me that influential people in the BFCA (not just David Poland) would really like to see them falter significantly so that they could be replaced by other 'precursors' that are more 'relevant'. The issue of course always hinges on how "predictive" any awards group is. That's the true meaning of the world "relevant" in all of these discussions. Since the Globes now take place after Oscar balloting has closed, they are currently perceived as having lost their influence.

This is an absurd notion of course. The truth of the matter is that all of the "major" precursors (Globes, NBR, BAFTA, etc...) are relevant in that they continually narrow the field and they cast some films as winners and some as losers. By the time Oscar nominations arrive there are only six or seven choices that are "relevant" (popular) for any group of five nominees. It's really irritating that there's so much homogeny... but people tend to move towards where the buzz is. As I said on Poland's blog:

"--what's relevant and what's not--at some point the conversation really SHOULD shift to matters of aesthetic taste rather than predictive power.

So there is definitely some discussion to be had in that we'd all be better off (in terms of seeing "quality" films nominated) if all the precursors awards (BAFTA, critics, Guilds, GLOBES, etc...) would stop trying to predict and really start focusing on what they perceive to be the best."



what I always would suggest is to look at a variety of things. That's what I do for old movie years... and that's why the homogeny lately bothers me. Take some itty bitty Nathaniel of the year 2050 who is looking back at 2004 and trying to decide which films to seek out for viewing. He's only going to see the same 5 or 6 movies listed over and over again (as these groups keeps choosing the same) and my problem with the various groups this year is those 5 or 6 movies don't seem particularly relevant to the year we just had...which was quite varied and interesting.

Is anybody going to think of Ray and Finding Neverland as true noteworthy marks of what was happening in the cinema in 2004 even as soon as 2008? Seems to me that the movies getting pushed to the side Eternal Sunshine, Vera Drake, and others are going to be better remembered very quickly.

Nigel said...

This sort of thing annoys the hell out of me. I seem to recall Tom O'Neil - or someone of his ilk - actually criticising one particular critics group because they were poor at predicting last year's Oscars. I think we might have the Golden Globes to blame for this, because they've never shied away when people keep calling them the best forecaster for the Academy Awards, even though this is a bit of nonsense if you look more closely at them.

So, are the critics groups (and I still only count the top four - New York, LA, National Society and National Board) there to say who they think were the best of the year, or are they there to say who could pop up come Oscar time? One would hope the former, but the press and those in charge of Oscar campaigns increasingly make it the latter. That's quite sad, but the critics groups are to blame as well for making such bog standard choices year in, year out, with the occasional exception (Cameron Diaz, There's Something About Mary; Eddie Murphy, The Nutty Professor). And then when they're making an out-there choice, is it because they honestly think that's the best performance of the year, or are they just trying to create headlines? One wonders.

But ARE they making bog standard choices each year, and if so, why are we expecting them to be different if that's their honest opinion? It's a vicious circle.

adam k. said...

There seems to be a bit of a paradox happening if groups are trying to pick films in order to predict the oscars, when in fact the oscars look at those groups' picks in deciding what to nominate. You can't predict when your "predictions" influence the results. I think what all groups want is influence. I certainly don't think the critics were all "predicting" Sideways to be nominated, they wanted to get it nominated. But the talk of "relevance" is just stupid. One would hope every group would just pick what they love (or better yet, what they feel is worthy), or at least, every group but the academy would do that and the academy would then look at the others' picks. Anyway, I think the homogeny of the last two years is cause of the date change. No one has time to think.

Anonymous said...

Right on.

The awards groups I respect most at this point are from San Diego and DC (and Toronto, I think), as they seem to genuinely want to acknoweldge the best, most important works of the year rather than what may be considered "in" at the time, like the films you mentioned. I know someone in the San Diego critics group and it appears there was still much struggle in recognizing Vera Drake, which is a pity. Apparantly, Finding Neverland was quite a big thing among the group. Thank God THAT wasn't awarded anything it didn't deserve..