An Analysis – Best Picture Academy Awards and the Test of Time
The annual festival of Hollywood-types congratulating each other for their ability to play make-believe really well while flaunting a garish display of uniquely American excess is rapidly approaching. Of course I’m talking about the annual Academy Awards. As a concept, and looking at the amount of import it is often met with, the entire affair can be seen as somewhat ludicrous. Wealthy people handing out statues while displaying millions of dollars in gowns, tuxedos, and jewelry can be seen as paling in comparison to really important things. Teachers, firefighters, doctors, nurses, social workers, Peace Corps volunteers, parents, and thousands of others toil away in professions that, it can be argued, deserve much more praise. They do REALLY impactful work for far less/no money with often little thanks. So yes, the Oscars can be seen as yet another example of our out of whack priorities. Much like the carnival that surrounds sports figures or models or reality TV stars or musicians, the Oscars elevate a group that already gets plenty of rewards for their toils.
Despite all of that, I love them anyway.
First off, as a Film Geek, this is my Superbowl. There’s not a lot I pay attention to in sports. Yeah, I know New York won the Superbowl and it was close. Yeah, Boston finally won the World Series a few years back, reversing the curse of the Bambino. And soccer/futbol is so popular worldwide it causes deadly riots. I’m peripherally aware of all this, but movies are where I geek out. So, seeing the biggest deal awards-wise in movies is just plain fun. I don’t end up caring too much about the dresses or who brought whom as a date. But I do actually pay attention when the obscure French film student wins for Best Documentary Short Subject and gives an impassioned speech about the medium itself. That’s fun.
The issue we all end up with when assessing Oscar’s choices is what is judged to be “Great.” It’s assumed that if a film wins Best Picture that it’s important or its artistic merits are worthy. But the process behind those choices is often so skewed by the aging, Caucasian, male Academy that it doesn’t always equate that the Best Picture winner is the actual best picture of that year. There’s been a lot of debate on this very site discussing what should have won when. The media is full of prognosticators who will be guessing whether The Artist will truly bring home the prize or if Hugo will stage an upset or who will win the race between Meryl Streep and Viola Davis.
However, this year I’ve sensed a distinct lack of enthusiasm from a lot of people regarding the year’s choices. 2011 seemed to be a year with a lot of good, solid films. But it seemed short of great ones. I think I personally found more to like in 2011 than I did in 2010. But even so, the frustrating thing with Oscars is the amount of prestige they bestow on a film for all time. The Best Picture winner will be at least mentioned for a long time to come, whether it is worthy or not. Oscar often gets it wrong. But when they get it right, they can get it so right.
The greatest example of this memorializing a film for all time is 1942’s Best Picture winner, Casablanca. No one, but no one, can argue its place in the pantheon of great films. It boasted one of the best, most oft-quoted scripts of all time. When going through the mental clip show that everyone can run in their heads right now of all films, Rick and Ilsa at the airport works its way in. “As Time Goes By” is among the most memorable of all film songs. Bogart in his white suit crying into his tightly gripped scotch at the bar; Claude Rains in his French military uniform; Ingrid Bergman in soft focus. It may or may not be your favorite movie ever, but it’s easily earned its place in the pride of Oscar’s selections.
There have definitely been other quite inarguable winners as well. The Godfather, All Quiet on The Western Front, Lawrence of Arabia, Amadeus, Schindler’s List: the list could go on for a while, but the point is that when Oscar gets it right, it gets it so right. There are timeless movies that deserve the accolades they receive.