Saturday, March 04, 2006

Oscar: Who Cares?

My Oscar prediction is that this year is going to be the least-watched, most political, boring, devoid-of-entertainment-and-spectacle Academy Awards show on record. Government and corporate corruption, homosexuality, and racism. Oh, my. The Best Picture contenders are mostly reflective of Hollywood left idealism -- or perhaps more appropriately, guilt -- with no broad appeal. And Jon Stewart as host? The final nail in the coffin of entertainment. I can't wait to read the articles explaining why this year's show was such a dud. But if the opinion of Roger Ebert, whose reviews I mostly enjoy, is any indication, Hollywood will continue to deny why it's losing its audience
The five best picture nominees, however, were (as usual) the kinds of projects passed over by the major studios. We are entering an era when the studios do not often attempt to make Best Pictures, and most of the nominees are generated by independent filmmakers and specialty distributors. This may say more about audiences than it does about studios, which would cheerfully make good movies if they thought they could sell them. Hammered by the idiocy of formula television and video games, a generation is forming that has no feeling for narrative and character. The Oscar nominees represent filmmaking at a high level, but who do you know who has gone to see more than two or three of them?
Ebert has a point, but he is losing sight of the real reason nobody is seeing these movies, and exudes what Kevin at The Smallest Minority describes as ideological hubris. The liberal elite is so immersed in its own microcosm that it understands little of what really drives the rest of the population -- nor does it probably care. Like Pauline Kael's astonishment at McGovern's defeat in 1972 ("How can that be? No one I know voted for Nixon!"), Ebert is mystified by the lack of appeal of the Oscar nominees because everyone he knows probably adores them. No doubt the nominees represent a high level of craft, and American tastes have been dulled a little by years of TV banality and mind-rotting video games. But since when has TV not been banal? And video games have been rotting brains for decades. What stands out with this year's Oscar contenders is the absence of epic and spectacle and the prominence of blatant leftist politicizing, a guarantee to appeal to absolutely no more than a small percentage of movie-goers. Ultimately, for a movie to have broad appeal, it has to tell a story that either reflects the audience's beliefs and values or entertains the audience without insulting them. Take me, for instance, as a representative of typical red-state Jesus-freak movie-goer types. One of my all-time most-esteemed films is 1959's Best Picture, Ben Hur, but I also rather enjoyed 2002's winner, Chicago, even though it represented some of the lowest elements in our society. It was clever and loads of fun to watch, but didn't try to convince me that I should particularly like any of its characters or share their values -- it just entertained.

In previous years, Oscar-caliber movies tended toward broad appeal. They were often big, lavish spectacles like Ben Hur or Gladiator, and sometimes more personal like On the Waterfront or Schindler's List -- but they reflected values that are at the core of American culture: love, duty, freedom, honor, sacrifice. Others, like the engrossing Godfather movies or the energetic Chicago, don't necessarily showcase traditional American values, but neither do they insult them. Now, I have been proceeding on the assumption that the people making this year's Oscar nominees even want to appeal to a large audience. There is certainly a money-making component to Hollywood (a huge component), but the elite also suffer from "the vision of the anointed," and perhaps never more so than now. Look at a list of the previous Best Picture winners and you will recognize films that are adored by many, many people. Most of them set the narrative and technical standards for years to come. But there is nothing lovable or groundbreaking about this year's Best Picture front-runners -- these films won't even set any political standards, because they are just tired retreads of a failed ideology. I get the feeling that the Acadamy either (mistakenly) thinks its in tune with what Americans believe (thus the various and contrived excuses for a declining box office) or more likely that it's acting as a minority arbiter of truth and good, because the American public is too idiotic and unrefined to get it.

Well, Oscar is going to flop, and I hope the Hollywood elite learn a lesson from this. They either miscalculated hugely what mainstream America is all about or they simply failed to thrust their enlightened vision on the unwashed rabble. Either way, here's hoping that in years to come this year's Oscars will stand out as a historical blip -- reflecting a social experiment that failed -- after which we got back to the serious business of entertaining.

13 Comments:

Blogger Rusticus said...

For how much longer are we going to hear about "...the idiocy of formula television and video games..."?

I mean, this is old news, right?

Besides, who, besides Ebert and his ilk, watch movies for serious "...narrative and character"?

I read books for that.

3/06/2006 9:02 AM  
Blogger carnaby said...

I remember Ebert judging the old Dukes of Hazard tv show, which he admitted he had never seen, based on how stupid the Dukes movie was. What a jerk. The two were related in name only. The old show was quite good for what it was, and a nice show too. Not just about tits like the new one. Blarg.

For the record, I'm judging the new one based on Stickwick's review. I've never seen it and do not intend to, blech.

3/06/2006 9:38 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

If Clooney is any guide, Hollywood didn't learn a thing:

"I would say that, you know, we are a little bit out of touch in Hollywood every once in a while. I think it's probably a good thing. We're the ones who talk about AIDS when it was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn't really popular. And we, you know, we bring up subjects. This Academy, this group of people gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters. I'm proud to be a part of this Academy, proud to be part of this community, and proud to be out of touch."

Good for him. (Sheesh.)

3/06/2006 2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Godfather doesn't attack traditional American values? We're talking about the Marlon Brando/Al Pacino movies, right?

3/06/2006 2:31 PM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

The Godfather doesn't attack traditional American values? We're talking about the Marlon Brando/Al Pacino movies, right?

Not sure what you mean, anon. The Godfather flies in the face of traditional American values, but isn't an indictment of them (unless you think that the foundation of American culture is organized crime). Nor does it endorse the mobster lifestyle.

3/06/2006 2:53 PM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

Kevin,

Clooney is a buffoon, and a pretty good barometer for the political climate in Hollywood. I'd love to ask him where he and the Academy sit with respect to, say, the murder of Theo Van Gogh. No doubt, proudly out of touch.

3/06/2006 2:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stickwick, The Godfather movies (the good ones, anyway) do, in fact, make the argument that America was founded on the values that are seen in the Corleone family. After all, what are the first words we hear in the first film, before there's even an image onscreen?

"I believe in America..."

And American politics is implicated/attacked more in The Godfather movies than in Syriana.

Basically, you're positing The Godfather (and, by extension, great films of the 70s) as not "attacking American values" in the same way that films today do. Not only is that pretty untrue, I'd argue that it's backwards.

3/06/2006 3:02 PM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

The Godfather movies (the good ones, anyway) do, in fact, make the argument that America was founded on the values that are seen in the Corleone family.

I totally disagree. It's been years and years since I've seen the movies, but I remember them as an epic story crossing a couple of generations, not a searing indictment of American traditional values. Afterall, America didn't create the mafia, it was just transplanted from Sicily.

The point is, the United States can take in tens of millions of immigrants in the world, it can endure even the worst of the Old World, such as the Sicilian mafia, and still be a land of justice and prosperity. Indirectly the movie makes this point. You see how evil and violent and detrimental the mafia is, but over the long run the vast majority of Italians can live free of that sort of life. In fact, the one thing you get out of these movies is that America isn't free enough. If we got rid of the anti-drug and prostitution laws, we'd be almost entirely rid of organized crime and a lot of the peripheral crime that goes along with it.

3/06/2006 10:05 PM  
Blogger Rusticus said...

From : http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/4781282.stm

"Pundits had predicted that interest could fall this year due to the highbrow nature of the five movies nominated for best film - Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Crash, Munich and Good Night, and Good Luck."

"[H]ighbrow nature"? Highbrow?!

Good gravy, how are these films considered 'highbrow'?

"2001: A Space Odyssey", "Citizen Kane", "Lawrence of Arabia", "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb", " Schindler's List" for a few examples I'd classify them as 'highbrow'

"Crash" comes closest, really, otherwise we have a look at another Famous Person (Capote), gay cowboys (Brokeback), a look at terrorists and why Israel isn't white as a dove (Munich) and yet another look at another Famous Person (Good Night).

Is it highbrow because "Good Night..." was in black and white? Is that what it takes to move a so-so movie into the 'highbrow' category?

Just wondering.

3/07/2006 12:56 PM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

I guess this stuff is highbrow because it's leftist (B&W doesn't hurt, though). The guideline seems to be that any institution, person, or idea that's right-of-center is, by default, not only unintellectual, but anti-intellectual.

If a movie appeals to the masses, it's unintellectual. If it fails to indict whites, straights, Christians, Republicans, guns, or men, then it's unintellectual. If it's beautiful, uplifting, or generally positive about any aspect of the human condition, it's unintellectual.

But here is where critics get under my skin with their inconsistency. One of my absolute favorite movies, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, is a good example of how a movie can be beautiful, positive, and quite highbrow. Critics of the time, however, wrote it off as being too intellectual or too artistic, while the masses loved it.

3/07/2006 1:43 PM  
Blogger Rusticus said...

And yet "2001" had almost the opposite reaction, it's loved, but as far as I know, not by the masses, and the critics rave how it is intellectual and artsy.

I love it. I've seen it too many times, and I always get sucked into it, which is odd considering how slow the pacing is.

And speaking of inconsistency, "Passion of Christ" was panned because it was bloody and violent while "Kill Bill" was hailed because it was bloody and violent by the same critics!

That still makes me shake my head.

3/07/2006 2:52 PM  
Blogger JRob said...

As I have always understood it, "highbrow" is being able to listen to the "Willian Tell Overture" without thinking of the Lone Ranger.

3/19/2006 7:33 AM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

Heh!!

3/19/2006 11:44 PM  

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