There’s no such thing as a bad movie, only a bad audience.
That may seem a strange thing to say from someone who writes movie reviews, but, it’s how I feel. My reviews are my opinions, nothing more. I don’t pretend to speak for everyone, nor do I have the audacity to think my opinions are the “right” ones. In any case, I’d like to get say something else that may seem strange coming from someone like me, and that’s this: I hate the Oscars.
What’s wrong with the Oscars? You mean, besides the fact that they amount to little more than a decadent, masturbatory, self-congratulating, backwards-thinking sham wherein nominations and wins are awarded more because of industry politics than legitimate achievements? You mean besides their focus being more on maintaining the status quo and playing favorites with already-established stars — many whom are long past the point of true relevance — than on pushing the boundaries of the medium and honoring the hungry young talents on the front lines, who are busting their asses trying to expand and explore new possibilities in storytelling? You mean, besides all that?
Well, how about this?
The Oscars are bad for cinema. Period.
No, on second thought, hold the “period.” Because the Oscars aren’t just bad for cinema specifically; they’re bad for art and entertainment in general. On a broader scale, I’ll even argue that they’re bad for society. Don’t laugh, I’m serious.
Now, we can argue all day long about who deserves to win an award and who doesn’t, or about who got snubbed and why. The truth is it doesn’t really matter. It’s all opinion. The fact that it’s all opinion, however, reveals a deeper problem with the Oscars, and that’s that they are built primarily on the idea that some people’s opinions are more valid than anyone else’s.
See, here’s the thing: art and entertainment are subjective. That’s the way it is and that’s the way it should be. “Good” and “bad” are meaningless words, the definitions of each relative to the worldviews of individual people. Simply put, different people have different tastes. Those with similar tastes may gravitate towards each other and form bonds based on shared opinions. Friendships are born.
Somewhere along the lines, though, some people with shared opinions got together and decided that a friendship based on common tastes wasn’t good enough. Their opinions, they decided, were the only ones that mattered. Those people formed the Academy of Arts and Sciences. The Academy gave us the Oscars, an award show meant to honor those films that best embodied the Academy’s narrow-minded ideal of what distinguishes excellence.
We’ve been deferring to them ever since.
The Oscars have been around for almost a hundred years. A hundred years! Think about what that has done to our cultural consciousness, to the cinematic zeitgeist. For almost a century, the Oscars have essentially billed themselves as America’s guide to the best filmmaking on the planet. We look to them to tell us what’s good, and, by association, what’s bad.
The Oscars are a great, big homogenizing machine, dictating people’s tastes to them. Modern society has developed a conventional, elemental understanding of what constitutes quality based on what we’re told is worthy of Academy recognition. We all know that Katharine Hepburn was a brilliant actress, or that John Ford was a genius director. We know this because the Oscars said so.
The fact that you can watch a movie and call it “Oscar-bait” or look at the Academy nominations and predict who is going to win illustrates the problem perfectly. You watch a movie and you can tell if it’s going to get an Oscar, not necessarily because it’s a groundbreaking or captivating work of art, but because it hits all the Oscar criterion right on the head.
At this point, when we ask ourselves who we think is going to get the “Best Picture” Oscar, we’re not asking ourselves which “Best Picture” nominee actually is the best of the best. We’re asking which one fits the long-established, easily-predictable model that the Academy has established as necessary for all movies to conform to if they are to be deemed worthy of recognition and acclaim.