Monday, February 25, 2008

Oscar Hangover

Part 1 of 2, Oscar Review
a rant about the way the media will continue to treat Oscar's declining ratings

It began with a hangover. Don't judge. Last night was Oscar night, who didn't have one too many? Something had to keep me going through the most conservative fashion show I can recall ever seeing on Hollywood's High Holy Night. The theme was either 'risk free" or they were all wearing black in mourning for Heath Ledger. But if so, I think it a poor tribute. He would have liked a spot of color. I mean, you saw the socks he wore to the Berlin Festival last year, right? You saw Michelle Williams dress on Brokeback night. This was not a conservative star and color is good. So, I frantically typed for 5 hours straight. What's wrong with me? I can't win an award for doing this. No shiny gold men for me. Why these enormous tasks I set myself? The hangover proved short lived and I trotted off to the other job... running a little late due to things like ironing, trying to find my keys, obsessing about the color of Tilda Swinton's eyes; you know, daily routines.

For what it's worth, they're very very green.

READ THE REST ... for anger-inducing misleading memes about Oscar's obscure favorites and the endless (context free!) desire the press seems to have to make the Oscars more like the People's Choice Awards.


El Gigante said...

This hangover article is easily my favorite piece of post-Oscar writing I've read in the last 24 hours. Bravo Nate on cutting through the whole "boring show about movies no one sees" nonsense. Very gratifying to read.

adam k. said...

Isn't it nice, then, that Transformers didn't win anything? Since it was the biggest blockbuster nominated tonight (and, in fairness, the most brainless, too)? I was sure it'd win at least won oscar, and I'd predicted it to win three.

Bourne Ultimatum is at least an intelligent and well-made action flick.

And YAY YAY YAY for Tilda.

And I'm so glad more people have now heard of The Swell Season. May they become much more popular, and may they never become polluted by their popularity.

(probably won't happen, but a guy can dream)

Joe Reid said...

If you haven't paid attention to the film year and then sit down in front of the Oscars and bitch about not knowing what any of the movies/nominees are, that's exactly the same, to me, as not watching any NFL football all year, sitting down in front of the Super Bowl, and bitching that you don't know who any of the players are.

The Oscars is supposed to be the culmination of the film year if you've paid attention. If you haven't, maybe take it as an opportunity for some Netflix ideas.

Great piece, Nathaniel; the point about Kramer vs. Kramer is an important and underreported one.

CanadianKen said...

This is one of your best ever pieces. I loved reading it. And - for writing it - you most definitely DO deserve a shiny gold man of your own.

Robert said...

This whole Oscars are out of touch argument pops up every year before and after the show and it really pisses me off every year. I guess all I can think to say is to repeat that great story from Roger Ebert.

A couple asks him what he thought about a specific movie and he responds, "I think it's the best movie of the year." to which they say, "Oh, well that doesn't sound like something we'd want to see."

Nate Tyson said...

Hey Nathaniel, just checking in post-Oscar to let you know I'm still here, and still reading religiously. As soon as I get my next paycheck, I'll be dropping you an Oscar Season afterglow present to help you out.

I actually just started up my own blog. I'm amateur, obviously, but I'm a somewhat quick learn. I've tried a few other times, but just lost interest. This one has me more invested. There are only 4 posts so far, but I'm addressing anything pop culture related, especially film, music, and TV. I really hope that you get a chance to check it out. It's funny, your's is one of two blogs I check multiple times a day, you're something of my internet idol/role model.

Anyways, let the Oscar-baggers pack up, we fulltime readers are here for ya Nat.

Nathaniel T.

(Fan Since 2000)

Nate Tyson said...

Oh! I also would be remiss if I didn't direct you towards this:

The entire site is absolutely hilarious, but I thought you'd get a kick out of this entry in particular.

Nate Tyson said...

shoot, forgot this one:

makes me feel a few shades paler

Glenn Dunks said...

Totally agreed Nat (although those actress lists are surprisingly strong!) I'd much rather live in a world where people reward stuff like Atonement, No Country and so on than the ones you mentioned in the article (however good some of them may actually be, they're not "best picture" worthy at all).

And, on the subject of it, I have been saying for years that dramas would gross far more if released in the '70s or whatever. Take Pursuit of Happyness. If this were the same box office landscape as 1979 then it'd make $270mil, but it didn't. Same for movies like Million Dollar Baby, The Aviator and so on. They would've all made much more, but the landscape is different. And so while the Academy is changing (the telecast is not) I'm glad they're not routinely letting in to pressure to be more audience friendly.

And, on a side note, maybe the three wins for The Bourne Ultimatum is a sign of things to come. I mean, years ago that movie woulda been a Best Picture contender!

WickedScorp said...

New Oscar Rule : if you are slated to come out and present and actor or actress award after winning the year previous and cannot convincingly read the script, i.e. read off the prompter as though you are not, you should be stripped of your Oscar. Case in point, Jennifer Hudson... who didn't deserve the win in the first place.

Brian Darr said...

Terrific piece, Nathaniel. Lots of great analysis and opinion, but the two words that rang out for me most clearly were "ad budgets".

These newspapers depend on the big studios dropping advertising dough for as many releases as possible. If the arts section becomes perceived as a bastion of artsy-fartsy intellectualism, hostile to would-be blockbusters, then will the ad revenue from the producers of the Vantage Points and 10,000 B.C.s of the world still flow to the fishwraps? I think that's (at least one reason) why most dailies seem compelled to provide lip service (and then some) to these dumbing-down-culture ideas. The studios know that College Road Trip will get terrible reviews from the paper, but as long as readers aren't being exposed to too steady a drumbeat of how great the alternatives to studio fare is, they'll be willing to put a half-page ad for it in the Sunday section anyway.

Anonymous said...

Great article, and it spotlights a media tendancy that, in the main, I feel blissfully sheltered from in the UK.

Normally I'm kicking and screaming through British coverage of award season because it's so British-focused (Tilda Swinton gets coverage; Javier Bardem gets less), but I'm yet to spot our media excessively criticising the Academy for not focusing on crowdpleasers. Most newspapers here either don't like to admit that they know less than Oscar, or prefer to think of themselves as purveyors of highbrow art.


Anonymous said...

Once again you express clearly and with elegance what so many of us feel. Thanks.

As Rob says, it's a little different over here in the UK (also infuriating) but the "why can't dumb be rewarded for making scads of cash" brigade sure are vocal.

Personally without the Oscars I would never have really started watching films. I don't have to like them, I just appreciate that these are experts honouring their own. At the very worst that gives me an informed starting point for forming my own opinions. Where is the bad in that?

Anonymous said...

I'll add my appreciation to the chorus. It was disheartening to read the post-mortem today. Reporters blaming the quality of the movies on the ratings, as opposed to the lingering effect of the strike, not to mention the fact that we're also in a presidential campaign that has people's attention.

As for Tilda -- hooray! My question for you and your readers is, how do people interpret her first words on stage, looking at the statue: "Oh, no." I mean, it was meant to be funny, but it also felt like she was imagining some terrible consequence...

lylee said...

Thank you, Nathaniel. This needed to be said, and couldn't have been said better.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is: hear hear.

You actually made me feel a little guilty about my own Oscar bashing...well, bashing is a strong word, "my own reservations about the Oscars" may be more accurate. Although I usually criticize them from the other end: I think they should be more discerning (rather than less), and not let mediocre movies like Chicago and Crash even be contenders. But this year? No nitpicks, great nominees all round.

Oh well. Maybe I should just appreciate the Oscars for at least showing more of the world how insanely cool Tilda Swinton is.

Anonymous said...

Shuddering at the thought of box office being a (primary) determining factor at the Oscars. That'll be the day the Oscars would die. Thankfully that will never happen because I have faith in most of 6000-strong membership.

And even if films like No Country, Juno, La vie en rose, The Bourne Ultimatum, Sweeney Todd, Elizabeth 2, The Golden Compass, Once, The Counterfeiters weren't too my taste (they all, except for Sweeney Todd, fall in my 3-star (out of 5) bracket), I understand why they are "quality" to others. Whereas films like Pirates 3, Spider-Man 3, Harry Potter 17 would just be plain ridiculous listed alongside such company.

The Jaded Armchair Reviewer said...

Ah Oscar night, where was my clip of Glenn Close and Kate Winslet sitting together and threatening the video camera with switchblades then calmly saying "TEN TIMES!" Ah well.

On this note I would like to point out my own awkward movie season (February 2007 - February 2008) wrap-up to anyone not tired yet:

(I had a lot of build-up entries but nobody read :P)

To anyone who reads it, I apologize ahead to your eyes.

Oh and Nath, the donation drive isn't over yet is it? I was supposed to send after the Oscars but Oscar Night (well, morning for me) fell on a public holiday.

Ignacio said...

Great article, indeed!
I'll just add two side notes:

What worries me most is what you mention about this infantilizing ¿? of the audience by the media. Sadly, it seems to me it's a global tendency, not only referring to movies, but in general. The media tend to patronize their audience so much it is really depressing to see their efforts at telling you what to think or how o react to everything.

No wonder why blockbusters are blockbusters. Corporations make sure they open worlwide and as in many theatres as possible, to hit the box office the first weekends, so that by the time people react by telling others how bad that crap was, the corporation has already at least, recovered what had ben invested. Were the same conditions for There Will Be Blood or for NCFOM flicks, figures would be quite different.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. It was so annoying how many times I heard someone say, "The oscars are dumb," or, "Who are these people?" But to an extent, I don't care anymore. If I like the ceremony, and I like the films, that should be enough. If no one else is going to take the time to watch No Country for Old Men, La Vie en Rose, Michael Clayton, or There Will Be Blood, then the loss is on them. What I have found, though, is that people who actually go to the movies and see these films all agree the winners are the best. It is the people who have never heard of them who complain. I find that ironic. Great piece.


wickedscorp i agree with your new rule. But then I'm also of the opinion that the oscar should be removed as soon as they've won it if they pull out a piece of paper and read without ever looking at the audience (i'm talking to you JENNIFER CONNELLY)

Kamikaze right. I suppose the focus on the popular brigade would be very happy if the nominations were AMERICAN GANGSTER, JUNO, HAIRSPRAY, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM since then you're talking all "top 40" instead of all "top 60" plus one low grosser and those are all movies people here and there are free to argue for and have their merits. But it's really depressing to think of making a popular contest (that's what it is) even more of a popularity contest...


but then I find that many arguments are this way... they just totally ignore context. including the "oscars are racist because only ruby dee was nominated this year" argument. I mean who did they snub? Denzel Washington is a great actor but no way was his work in Gangster equal to the five guys that were nominated, you know? And Oscar isn't prone to racism with Denzel since he's something like the 14th most popular of all time with them where the men are concerned (i looked it up a few days ago for an article i didn't end up writing but it was something like that)

You have to look at context. The only alarm bells in terms of racism would be the way TONY LEUNG & TANG WEI were ignored everywhere this season but the Indie Spirits... but then that's probably more the fault of critics who got all prudish about it and didn't support the movie. so again, probably not racism. Or at least not only that

so these things are always complicated. they're never as simple as articles like to make them out to be.

anon in yorkshire glad to see that more people discovered film through the oscars. One TV Show i watched last night showed a clip like "and the first oscar of the night goes to..." and they cut back to the reporter "who cares?" and they launched into the fashion talk. Which is fine. Each piece of the Oscar puzzle contributes to it being an institution.

But i've found the tendency of looking down your nose at Oscar also from many cinephiles which always makes me sad.

I personally don't know that I would have found foreign films, would have started loving unreleased films, I don't know that I would have started writing even if I hadn't accidentally stumbled upon the Oscars in 1983 and become instantly and irrevocably changed and curious about the movies I hadn't seen and as the obsession developed the way movies are perceived by public vs critics vs in the industry itself.

so yeah, i guess i'm feeling Oscar love this morning. They make a lot of mistakes but i can't imagine the movies without them.

gabrieloak said...

Though I didn't find the Oscars boring this year because I had seen almost all the movies nominated, I did find myself distanced from the show because I was rooting for so few people in various categories. When you watch a lot of films over the year, you can't help thinking about all the fine films that were ignored by the Academy. And part of that problem is marketing. It's obvious that a lot of the winners were sold well to the Academy.
Which is why it's always interesting when someone like Laura Linney sneaks through after all the hype.

I know I'm in the minority but I thought all the best film nominees had problems this year. So I didn't care which film won this year.

As far as racism goes, I think the Academy usually ignores actors and artists from Asia and India. You can count the number of nominees of Asian descent over the years on two hands. The year of The Joy Luck Club for instance--an actor's love fest--none of the actresses were nominated. The Last Emperor which swept the Oscars had no acting nominations. Crouching Tiger with 10 nominations had not acting nominations. Again this year, the refusal to recognize Tang Wei and Tony Leung. And the actors from The Namesake.

Part of the problem is when diversity is talked about in media--diversity usually only means "black actors."

Anonymous said...

I tell you what pisses me off the most - and it's completely related to this idea of next morning reports dismissing coverage of the actual Oscars in favour of red carpet coverage.

It is cool to like "good" music (as in be as leftfield in your tastes as possible) - but when it comes to films, the same people with impeccable, open-minded music taste start singing the praises of something as mediocre as I Am Legend. They'd be embarrassed to admit they liked, say, Gwen Stefani. But would actually be proud of saying they went to the cinema to watch I Am Legend the night before.

Why is that? Why is it cool to like serious music, but not as cool to enjoy serious film?

Anonymous said...

New Oscar Rule : if you are slated to come out and present and actor or actress award after winning the year previous and cannot convincingly read the script, i.e. read off the prompter as though you are not, you should be stripped of your Oscar. Case in point, Jennifer Hudson... who didn't deserve the win in the first place.

So should we strip Helen Mirren of her Oscar too for flubbing a line in the lead actor presentation? Or should Cameron Diaz be banned from the Oscars forever for not knowing how to say cinematography correctly? All of this Jennifer Hudson hatred shit is getting beyond annoying and stupid.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, excellent article Nat. I was so irritated reading news reports about how this year's Oscars were disappointing, while the films were, on a collective whole, some of the most ambitious movies in recent cinematic history.

I live in movie obsessed NYC as well, and I have an odd fascination of seeing what is playing at local multiplexes when I visit other places. For instance, when I visited my parents in the suburbs of Philadelphia over the holidays, the most highbrow affair playing was "Charlie Wilson's War" (which I loathed beyond all belief). Following the movie, as the audience filtered out of the theater, the conversation centered about "how insightful" the film was.

NYC is where Atonement was still playing to sold-out audiences one month after opening, where I went to a 2pm packed showing of "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"...but at the same time, I know people who readily dismiss the Academy Awards as "too mainstream" and prefer to stick with their fare at the IFC Center.

Yes, there are times that the Academy's choices anger me to no end. But, the Academy Awards process provides people with an opportunity to see some of these amazing films...without the accolades before the awards, would "There Will Be Blood" have opened at more than 100 theatres? What about "Brokeback Mountain"? Without the branding of "nominated for Best Picture", many of these films would never have reached multiplexes beyond the top 10 markets.

To me, it's not so much about the box office gross; it's about the ability to disseminate these artistic works to a wider audience. A life without the Oscars would relegate such films to a shelf life only in New York and Los Angeles. So, with all the imperfections that the system retains, year after year, I'll embrace the Academy Awards with open arms.

Herb Levy said...

Just thinking how much the cost of things have changed over the last forty years of my life, I'm pretty sure that changes in the price of movie tickets doesn't track inflation very well.

So if you want to compare box office figures as a measure of relative popularity over the years, it might make a lot more sense to look at number of tickets sold than it does to overall money taken in.

Notas Sobre Creación Cultural e Imaginarios Sociales said...

Lovely piece!
It all gave me flashbacks of that speech Stanley Tucci gives Anne Hathaway about how "Runway" was a beacon of hope for a kid who should be in soccer practice and you get the idea...
I was an 11 year old naive kid when I began watching the Oscars and I remember that same feeling of searching for the movies I hadn't seen.
It sucks ass when you're living in the third world, but after the "Titanic" sweep I became fascinated by the Oscars and by films.
I remember the very next weekend I went to my video place and for the first time began to browse in the "Classics" aisle.
Got myself the Barbara Stanwyck "Titanic" movie and before long I'd moved on to the Foreign Language Films' aisle (which if you ask me is ridiculous to have in a Spanish speaking country) but anyways my love affair with Fellini, Truffaut, Hitchcock, the Hepburns, Peck, Brando and Dean began with what I thought would be a simple awards show.


herb the numbers are from box office mojo, which is a pretty respected site box office wise. but if you know of a better source, let me know.

i'm not sure how their ticket inflation system works... but also I think it's plain as day that movies aren't as popular as they once were period... since there's so much more home entertainment then there once was.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful piece of writing and I agree with everything you said.

The Oscars should not bow down to the lowest common demoninator and should reward the brightest and the best regardless of box office.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Nathaniel, great piece!

And yes, Cameron Diaz should be banned form the Oscars, not because of any mispronunciations, but because, really, what is she doing there?

Jennifer Hudson was not good, or anywhere close, and I agree she won an Oscar for lip synching a prior studio recorded performance, albeit by herself, and then having a great director cut it together well.

I would have more respect if she hadn't played it in the same vein as Holliday, but, she did go with the same already established And I Am telling You schtick, so, she gets no love from me either.

I promise I'll eat my words if she comes up with a great performance in a future movie. But, I'm not holding my breath.

On another note....Katherine Heigl....don't walk on stage at the Oscars, as an actress and behave like a nervous school girl. Even Miley Cyrus didn't do that, and she is a school girl!

Anonymous said...

I'm more thing.
What also needs to be discussed, because I work in publicity, I can tell you, it is very difficult to get publicity for your small movie, or a movie that doesn't have the feel of a blockbuster.
Take Letterman and Leno for example. Do you know how hard it is to get good actors on these shows?
They will have repeat invites of Paris Hilton, Regis Philbin, some zoo guy with a funny animal, Hayden Panittiere or some other television "hottie" but will refuse a Sarah Polley, Emily Mortimer, Kristen Stewart, Jamie Bell...they wouldn't even put Jim Sturgess or Evan Rachel Wood on for Across The Universe and they can sing live! Do you think Ellen Page was there when she was trying to promote Hard Candy? They'll let her come to the party now, but if her movie had made 13 mill instead of 140?
Same thing with the magazines...they'll have Lindsay Lohan with nothing to promote or a Hilary Duff for the umteenth time before they will put an up and coming no matter how beautiful actress on the cover.
Do you know how long it took these people to invite Kirsten Dunst to the party? If she hadn't done Spiderman, would she still be a "pass"?
It is difficult to get the studio/distributors to put up the money to market properly to begin with, and then almost impossible to get your actors out in the media unless they are already A list!
So, it's not that the audiences have left the building...not unlike the problem with our elections, the media is telling people what to see, who to like, who they should know.

It's hard out there for a pimp!


the thing that's so aggravated about that though is that how does the media benefit by limiting the field of view so much. It's not like these other celebrities are NOT trying to sell product to the people.

i don't get why every time i turn on E! or ET it has to be George Clooney. Every time. I love George Clooney but jesus christ. Who wants to look at the same 4 people (julia, george, flavor of month, dumbass starlet who has nothing to contribute to movies or tv but who they still talk about endlessly) all year long?

i just don't get it.

I am known to be a little obsessive with actors I like but trust me when I tell you that I couldn't survive on Pfeiffer alone.

I don't get why they hide so much talent and bang so few drums so loudly.


sammy jo shoot me an email at filmexperience (at) gmail (dot) com

Todd said...

Great piece, Nathaniel. I think I'll link to it in lieu of blogging. I wrote on some of the same issues here, in 2006, when this storyline first took hold in a way that overwhelmed the whole normal media narrative about the Oscars. And it's become the narrative every year since -- an easy way to scapegoat without having to think too hard about it.

As a side riff, doesn't it seem Oscar kind of screwed itself over by shunting the animated films to their own category? The winners in that category this decade are pretty remarkable, and many of them were box office champs. Sure, I don't think Happy Feet needed to be in for BP, but I think you can make a real case for, say, The Incredibles in 2004.

Unknown said...

Wonderful piece! I wrote a very similar article on my blog on Tuesday here, but you said it much better. I couldn't agree more.

I guess I should have read your's first!