On The Contrary: It’s not you, Oscar, it’s me.
It’s Oscar week! Did you notice?
I sure didn’t. I have been conscious of the date of the show and the nominees ever since they came out. I’ve seen nearly all of the nominees (and all 10 of the potential Best Pictures). But it hardly feels like the week leading up to the biggest awards show of the year. There just doesn’t seem to be any excitement. And I live in Los Angeles.
Granted, I don’t work at a company that has any dogs in the race. I’m sure people at Sony or The Weinstein Company are hurriedly adding the final touches to any last minute promotions to capitalize on potential wins (since it’s a fair bet all of the votes are in for the awards, any Oscar campaign ads at this point are purely symbolic), and assistants for the big shots are scrambling to ensure all arrangements are made for the marathon of events on Sunday. But to me—an informed and generally enthusiastic spectator—my feelings for the awards can be summed up in one word.
This is actually kind of a big deal, considering the Oscars used to be bigger than the Super Bowl to me. I didn’t care so much about the show itself with the presenters and performers, but I was obsessed with the build-up campaigns and the announcement of awards. Throughout high school it was just too bad if I had a test on the Monday after the Oscars, because I sure as hell wasn’t going to be cramming the night before. I would read everything I could on handicapping the awards, and would go out of my way to see all of the nominees, praying they would come to a theater near enough for me to get to in rural Western Pennsylvania. On the big night I would fill out my ballot, sit up late into the wee hours of the morning—alone but for the piles of chips and snacks I had stocked up on for the occasion (I was a round-ish teenager). All for the simple pleasure of seeing if I had guessed correctly, or if the movies I had seen would win. At the peak of my Oscar obsession, I won a newspaper Oscar contest, which gave me a three-month pass to the local movie theater (though since it wasn’t Oscar season it was not helpful in boning up on the next year’s awards).
The Oscars were my Super Bowl. But something has happened in the last decade. Gradually the Awards have gone from being the highlight of the early year to barely a blip on my radar. Some of this can be attributed of course to the fact that about six years ago I discovered sports (with a vengeance), so now the Super Bowl is my Super Bowl. But it’s not just that. I still love movies and see as many of them as I can—hell, I’ve made them my career. But my relationship with the Oscars is feeling like a relationship past its prime.
Here’s the thing with the Oscars—if you follow them closely over time, you realize you can predict them fairly accurately. Sure there are surprises (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE winning over SAVING PRIVATE RYAN), but ninety percent of the time you either know with certainty what’s going to win the category or you can guess the top two or three candidates. So that takes the spontaneity and surprise out of the relationship.
The movies are also so accessible now. Growing up in Brush Valley, PA the only way I was getting to see a lot of the smaller independent films was if they were nominated, and even then it usually would be hard to track them down. Living in a big market like L.A. or New York makes a difference, because I’ve seen these nominees months ago. And even outside the big cities, short waits for DVDs, streaming video, and pay-per-view has made it much easier to see the movies. So the benefits the relationship with the Oscars gave me of meeting new movies are gone now. I already know everybody Oscar knows.
Finally, there are the little changes the Awards have made over time. Changing the Best Picture field from 5 nominees to 10 was probably a good move as far as the fairness of the awards. It allows for a much broader group of movies, from the popular independents to the blockbusters. It also increases the likelihood that people watching in Lincoln, Nebraska will have seen at least one of the nominated pictures. How can this be a problem?
It’s a problem precisely because it makes things fairer. Arguing over what films were unfairly excluded from nominations is one of the best conversation topics for movie enthusiasts this time of year. Just like the BCS Ranking systems of college football, the Oscars are most fun when they can lead to heated but pointless arguments (click here to see my thoughts on that system). With only five nominees, invariably something would be left out that could provide fodder for a multitude of conversations and debates. Now, it’s pretty hard for someone to disagree with all ten nominees. It’s fair, yes, but very boring. To stretch the relationship metaphor to the breaking point, it’s like running out of things to talk about with your significant other.
None of this is really my fault, and none of it is really the Oscars’ fault. Time brings change, and love fades. I’ll always remember the 1990s and the good times I shared with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but until I find myself with a good reason to care about the Awards again (i.e. something that would require me to be in attendance at the Kodak Theater), I think it’s for the best that I let Oscar go. I’ll follow what happens, maybe stalk Oscar’s Facebook page when I get lonely from time to time, but I think the love affair is over.