Friday, February 22, 2013

In defense of the Academy Awards

The 84th annual Academy Awards ceremony airs Sunday, Feb. 24, at 8 p.m. This is the culmination of an award season that seems to add several new award shows every year. I've never particularly cared about the other ceremonies. I just wait for the big one.

For many people, it is understandably hard to care about the self-congratulatory love fest that is the Oscars. Even though the crowning of who is the year's best is entirely subjective and there is no correct answer, each year I'm once again emotionally invested in the final outcome.

It may seem silly to care about who will win at the Academy Awards, or any award show for that matter. It doesn't change anything. I will still adore a film that doesn't win or even get nominated. So, even though the outcome of the Oscars really doesn't matter in the big picture, why should I or anyone else care?

We care because when we fall in love with a movie we feel an emotional attachment to it and we will defend it to the bitter end. This is the same deep connection sports fans form to their chosen team. For myself and other film fanatics, the Oscars are our Super Bowl.

Beyond that, the Academy Awards have value in spotlighting films that the public may have missed and pointing people in the right direction.

There are a lot of films that come out in any given year. When they start making their way to DVD, it can be hard to decide what is worth investing time and money into. Instead of seeing the Academy Awards as a bunch of Hollywood blow hards patting each other on the back, look at it as a chance to be educated.

Who gets nominated and wins isn't an exact science and omissions will occur. It is certainly not a perfect system, anything that is opinion driven never will be. That is why a film like "The Dark Knight Rises", which many would say was not only one of the most popular films of the year, but also one of the best, was completely ignored. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has its biases and superhero movies is one of them.

The academy has been accused of being out of touch with the tastes of mainstream audiences. It is a fair criticism and the snubbing of "The Dark Knight Rises" is certainly an example of that. On the other hand, the Oscars aren't meant to merely mirror what is most popular, but to showcase excellence in filmmaking.

Sometimes what is popular and great is one and the same as with "Lord of the Rings" or "Titanic." Other times it is a film the general public missed entirely or would never consider watching.

Last year's big winner was "The Artist," a black and white silent film that most average moviegoers would dismiss outright as too old fashioned to be interesting to modern audiences. The shame in that is "The Artist" was one of the most charming and engaging films to come out in 2011. Thanks to the attention it received at the Academy Awards, people who would not have given it the time of day may give it a look.

Similarly, 2009's "The Hurt Locker" was little seen by audiences in theaters. It won against "Avatar" which made billions worldwide. You could debate which film is superior — I'm in "Hurt Locker" camp — but it was most definitely "Hurt Locker" that needed to have people pointed to it.

This year's nominations for best picture, for the most part, are a collection of films that have already found a mainstream audience. The exceptions are the French film "Amour" and the indie film "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Foreign language films and indie films often struggle to find an audience because they are rejected as too arty and therefore not as entertaining as a big blockbuster film.

This is a reasonable assumption as a lot of so called art films can be difficult to engage with, but a film like "Beasts of the Southern Wild" is a wonderful film for the whole family. It is the rare film that truly captures the perspective of a child including a sense of magic and wonder.

"Amour" is a harder sell to American audiences because not only is it a foreign language film, but it focuses on a love story of a couple in their 80s. I haven't seen "Amour" yet as I haven't had access to it.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't watch as many foreign films as I should, but, again, this is the value of the Academy Awards. It is an excellent guide to films you wouldn't even necessarily be aware of.

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