Why We Need to do Something About Awards Shows.
While we’re at it we should also start giving out the awards to the films that were the best of their genre not just to the films that represent an artistic achievement. It’s great and all that Richard Linklater finally finished his 12 year odyssey that is Boyhood, but to say it was the best film of the year is either selling everyone else short or making a humiliating indictment on the current state of mainstream Hollywood films. It was a subpar movie year. Any pundit or critic who’s not lying to themselves (and their audience) will tell you that. The empirical evidence points that out (lowest ticket sales in twenty years), but just because it’s been a bad year doesn’t mean there haven’t been diamonds in the rough.
The films that did things artistically are not easy films to sit through. I love P.T. Anderson, but Inherent Vice is a tough one. Birdman is a gutsy little film that does some interesting things and yes, it even manages to entertain at times, but I still don’t know how you take a guy who’s talking to himself through the entire film seriously. The acting was the only net positive to come out of Boyhood. On behalf of writers everywhere I am embarrassed that Boyhood won a writing award. Well-written movies have things like plot and antagonists. Also, a well-written movie is going to make you feel something other than angry at the director for making a three hour movie (I know Peter Jackson fans get over it.) Some of arguably the best artistic films barely got noticed at the Golden Globes. Foxcatcher, Nightcrawler, Whiplash and Love is Strange were all but absent from the festivities. J.K. Simmons did win a supporting role award for his performance in Whiplash, but that was about all the attention those films got and it’s a pity because those films showcased the best that the industry had to offer: diversity in content, story, and characters.
The commercial films didn’t do very well either. Probably the best commercial film to be released this year was The Imitation Game and as good as the individual performances were in The Theory of Everything I just don’t know how you can pass up Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance in the Imitation Game. This year feels like a backlash. It feels like one of those years where indie filmmakers are going to declare victory over the commercial establishment by winning awards only to realize that they are being recognized by…the commercial establishment. The real reason that the MPAA expanded it’s Best Picture category to include more nominees wasn’t because Hollywood was turning out better movies, but because they understood that indie films were simply better than commercial films. Since it would look bad politically for the Academy to snub art house films year after year (as they did in the 1990’s) they simply created room for the good and the not-so-good. This year it feels like they will want to throw in Unbroken, the Theory of Everything and probably an animated film of some kind.
The problem with awards shows is the same as the problem with musicals: they aren’t entertaining. I’ve watched a lot of Rob Marshall musicals that were painful to get through but Into the Woods was the film that finally convinced me that they need to do something different musically to make the musical interesting again. Films like The Lion King, Once, and Pitch Perfect reinvigorated the genre. Films like Chicago, Les Miserables, and Into the Woods stifle it’s growth as a genre. They work as more of an impediment to meaningful filmmaking than an arbiter of it. The reason for this is simple and it falls in line with commercial films biggest problem overall and that is that they believe the future needs to remind us of the past. They are taking the most idiotic argument ever posed by amateur historians and trying to get an entire generation of film-lovers to buy into it and it’s not working. Since the Disneys of the world can only churn out so many lame musicals per year it restricts the potential growth of musicals even if they were good. Since they are all simply throwbacks to a West Side Story of the past the musical genre has no room to grow and simply falls backwards just like Hollywood’s awards shows.
If you’re like us then watching commercial television isn’t just tough it’s almost unbearable. I watched one football game on Sunday and I had enough. I didn’t even have the patience to watch the Peyton Manning implosion with glee and I certainly didn’t have the patience to sit through a big pat on the back for Hollywood by Hollywood. At some point, you’ve got to realize that everyone else isn’t as into you as you are, right? It’s like that cliché moment from the coming of age high school movie where the popular kid realizes that other kids go to the school too except Hollywood doesn’t care if other people are at the party or not. Indeed, Hollywood wants to celebrate themselves and they want you to celebrate them along with them, which sounds like just as embarrassing of a proposition as it really is, but the folks making movies are just too into themselves to notice let alone care. The 2015 Golden Globes drew in the highest viewership since 2004. Why? I kept asking myself as I looked at the numbers. Was Jennifer Lawrence taking her clothes off again? The answer unfortunately was no and the reason that the Golden Globes got such a big draw is because not many people hate Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. As bad as a lot of the jokes were and scripted as the entire show came across it still won’t be nearly as bad as the Oscars will be.
I don’t have an answer for Hollywood spiking the ball in the end zone with these awards shows, but my guess is that they will make more of them – not less – in the future because if there’s one thing that Hollywood loves it’s celebrating all of the things they aren’t by pretending to be all of those things at the same time. The definition of a con artist is someone who doesn’t just take your money, but actually makes you feel good about giving it to them. It’s much like Winston Churchill’s definition of a good orator as: “someone who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the journey.” That’s what Hollywood does every awards season, but few of us enjoy the journey anymore and most of us forget about everything but the destination. If the entertainment industry is really about entertainment then that should change, but since the industry is really about running victory laps I wouldn’t expect any big changes any time soon.