I posted a link to what I thought was an interesting article about the Academy Awards ceremony the other day on Facebook.
Most of the responses to my posting were “Meh.” It seems people lost interest in the Oscars a long time ago, and many of my friends and acquaintances had other plans for their Sunday night.
I’ve always kept track of the awards. I have made a point of seeking out most of the Best Picture winners and watching them over the years, although I’ve been less faithful to that goal recently because the Academy and I have drifted apart in terms of what we think is worthy of two or more hours of my time.
Therefore I pretty much “aced” an online quiz that gave me the Best Picture nominees for the past 25 years and asked who won – my only misstep was when I said the brilliant As Good As It Gets had won the year the overrated bloat Titanic was the actual recipient. Come to think of it, 1997 may be the year I started losing interest.
My friends’ reaction to the Oscars made me suspect that the Academy is one more gatekeeper that has bitten the dust.
Once upon a time, we relied on gatekeepers to determine which books got published, which movies people went to see, what songs people will hear. But our digital toys have made the gatekeepers less and less relevant.
Instead of brilliant novelists telling stories of being rejected 30-odd times before a publisher finally took a chance on their masterpiece, we have stories like Andy Weir, who published The Martian on his own and was approached by a traditional publishing house only after the book became such a massive success it could no longer be ignored.
Once upon a time, the same applied to the music industry. Artists worked their butts off to grab the coveted recording contract (and often then got ripped off by everyone who wanted a piece of the pie they baked with their artistry). Now they can chart their own course on iTunes and YouTube.
In those days we watched Siskel & Ebert on TV or bought Leonard Maltin’s movie guides to determine the movies that deserved our attention, and the Best Picture nominees and winners were worthiest of all. Even before that, movie theater operators stood at the gate to determine what films we would even see. We’d have to take their word that these were the creme de la creme.
But now films have a more direct path to the marketplace, and we can see for ourselves that Citizen Kane is a more brilliant work than How Green Was My Valley, that E.T. the Extraterrestrial is more moving than Gandhi, or that As Good As It Gets has more heart than Titanic.
Websites like Rotten Tomatoes – where the collected opinions of thousands of movie goers have as much weight as our favorite movie critics – help us to choose, and we have access to the films that aren’t even nominated in case we want to sample something altogether different.
And so the Oscars have become increasingly irrelevant. The movie that most people were talking about this year – Star Wars: The Force Awakens – wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture. Of course, that sort of thing has happened so many times over the years that, well, people have lost interest in the out-of-touch gatekeepers who choose these prizes.
To be sure the Oscars have the function of calling attention to well-crafted films that we might otherwise have passed by – but so does Rotten Tomatoes and Facebook and any number of sources out there.
Who needs a gatekeeper when it’s become so easy to get through the gates?
P.S. The Martian. You didn’t ask, but that was my favorite of the movies I watched this year. I have a soft spot for Tomorrowland, the severely underrated fable with Britt Robertson and George Clooney, but Ridley Scott’s adventure with Matt Damon is the best movie adaptation of a great novel since To Kill a Mockingbird.