Oscars Reward Status Quo, not Art

Being the movie geek that I am, the day that the Oscar nominations come out is always a fun day for me. I love to obsess over the commentaries and argue on behalf of my favorites, and I compulsively add any nominees I haven’t seen yet into my queue.

And Oscar Night! Glamorous, elegant, thrilling. I love everything from the awkward red carpet interviews to the gorgeous dresses to the stilted host performances to the thank you speeches to the day-after rehash.

But the last couple years I’ve started to notice something about the Oscars. The defining moment was last year, when The King’s Speech was named Best Picture of the Year.

Best Picture of the Year? Best?

I saw The King’s Speech. I fully admit I’m not one for historical dramas, but I’ve seen several that were excellent. The Aviator, The Queen and All the President’s Men come to mind. The King’s Speech was fine, but it most certainly was not excellent. And it was up against films that really were excellent: Inception! The Fighter! The Kids Are All Right! Winter’s Bone! Black Swan (my personal favorite)! All incredible. All did something unique, all said something valuable.

But no, the Academy liked The King’s Speech. Never mind that it was formulaic, predictable, a real stick-your-story-elements-in-here-turn-the-crank-and-your-plot-will-come-out-there kind of film. And the stakes were overcoming a speech impediment. A speech impediment. Come on.

“Yes,” people said in its defense, “But the Oscars love that kind of stuff.”

And that’s how I came to see the Oscars for what they really are. Maybe everyone else realized this many years ago and my romanticized perception of movieland has kept me ignorant.

But the point is this: The Oscars are intended to recognize the very best in the art of filmmaking. Emphasis on art. But their top honors don’t reward creative risks. They reward the status quo. I can’t think of anything more anti-art.

Maybe the Oscars will prove me wrong this year. Maybe I took one bad year and let it break me. Looking at the Best Picture winners history, it’s a mixed bag of truly superior films and mediocre heartwarming dramas. Maybe I’m judging too harshly and taking one bad year too much to heart. But I’m not holding my breath.

There’s some good films in the nominations this year. Midnight in Paris was enjoyable and unique. Tree of Life was excellent. So was The Descendants. The Artist and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close both appear to be worth their salt, too, though I haven’t seen them yet.

I would like to see some of these artistic efforts rewarded. But based on last year’s experience and my new jaded perspective on the Oscars, my money’s on the nice historic drama in the bunch, Spielberg’s War Horse. Ugh, animal movie.

Am I wrong? What do you think of this year’s nominees? Any favorites?


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