Oscars 2012: What Hollywood should be ashamed of
There’s something to the complaint that there’s too much noise surrounding awards season. As is often observed at this point, every teenage boy with a mild interest in film and the ability to create his own blog can now, as they say, "join the debate". Cue lots of cyber-sulking about how "unfair" it is that Oscar voters haven’t acknowledged some film that someone, somewhere really, really loves.
Well, the Oscars, as we now know from a recent survey, are overwhelmingly male, white and over 50. (Not to mention affluent.) So they’re hardly going to get behind a movie like, say, Drive – it’s simply not for them. The same is true, more regrettably, for tough-minded, uncompromising titles like Shame and We Need To Talk About Kevin. There’s no point in chastising the American Academy about this – to change their opinions, they’d need to change their entire world view, and that’s not going to happen. There are other awards bodies – the BIFAs come to mind – that will give films like Shame and Kevin a warmer embrace.
Still, there is a valid reason to chastise the Academy, and here it is. By the end of awards season, many of us are weary at having to dissect the same relatively small group of films over and over again, guessing which ones will be nominated, win on the night, or be ignored, yet almost all the films in contention for awards are superior in their own way. You can like or dislike them as a matter of personal taste, but there’s an integrity about them that speaks to the artistry and craftsmanship involved in their creation.
As soon as awards season ends, the whole movie business undergoes a shift. Walking through London today, past cinemas bearing the titles of films that have just opened, Tube station posters and the sides of buses advertising movies that are about to open, is a dismal experience. Thinking back to only last week, feeling warmly immersed in awards-worthy films, then contemplating dross like One for the Money, Jack and Jill, Safe House and This Means War – it’s like having a bucket of cold water chucked in your face.
Yet these films were conceived of, approved, financed or distributed by the very people who were sitting in the Oscar ceremony audience last night. Many of these people hold down influential posts in Hollywood studios; I wonder if it occurred to any of them, confronted with The Artist, Hugo, Tree of Life, Moneyball or the wondrous A Separation, that maybe they should aspire to such quality themselves.
I’m not saying all films have to be awards-worthy – or even “worthy”. There’s a place for comedies, genre thrillers and romcoms. But it would help if they were made with care, with a sense of quality control, to make them as good as they could possibly be in their own terms. Too often multiplex audiences are fobbed off with films that are slapdash, ill-conceived and cynical, with scripts that feel like hurried first drafts.
I doubt it’ll happen, or at least not in the foreseeable future. But the prospect of so much inferior product to come is not a happy one. Several people I know are today professing relief that the film awards season, and all the hype, ballyhoo, endless discussion and analysis that accompanies it is over at last. Me, I’m looking ahead and thinking it feels like a long time till September, when it starts all over again.