Saturday, January 13, 2007

How "Oscar Season" Harms the Film Industry

By Nick


It's true. The year's wrapping up, and that means the awards-season buzz machine is swinging into full gear. That magical time of year hollywood gets ready to shower months of glowing accolades on itself for the 1% of its creative output that actually couldn't be beamed into outer space as an invitation to superior aliens to wipe us out with pain-fueled bio-lasers. A peer-reviewed celebration of creative and technical excellence? Likely story. If that were the case, I'd say bring on the aliens. Far from rewarding cinematic excellence, let's take a break and have a quick look at the average cinematic year, and how engineered around awards season film industry output is. There are exceptions to all these rules of course, but they're reasonably dependable guidelines.

















CURSE YOU LITTLE MAN!




As we know, from January-March are basically the dregs. This is the slot where films go to die. They've been deemed not good enough for the holiday season, and having no chance in the crowded summer market. And even if a film is genuinely good, it won't be remembered by the academy (hence, not released) so get cozy with your dvd player.

Spring-Summer of course, is the dumping ground of expensive noise with incredible budgets, and the latest technical demos from ILM, showing us new and exciting angles to explosions, car crashes, and superhero brawls. The chief joys to be had here are placing bets on the winners and losers; the jack sparrows and the effeminate supermen, and trash-talking the 'Stealth'-level bombs. As well as the internet flamewars built around "I know ___ got totally panned, but screw it, I had a blast."

Around early autumn it winds down and leads into a period of indistinct mush, in which you're likely to see Meryl Streep or a turtleneck-clad Friends alumnist star in a wheepy romcom. It's essentially Oscar-lite season. The period for inconsequential feelgood dramas meant to go hand in hand with fall. A nip in the air, a warm sweater, and nice smells radiating from the oven; after which it's off to the multiplex to see Richard Gere or Julia Roberts have pleasingly trite romantic misunderstandings.

Then.. Ba-boom. Awards season. The one time of year we all gather for the "Real" cinema hollywood's been holding back all year. Preachy, longwinded, gorgeously photographed, and usually eye-wateringly dull and self-important! Strap yourself in for penetrating looks at the foul suburban underbelly, repressed housewives living in their husbands shadow, repressed closeted kids coming out to their parents, the hidden racist/bigot/homophobe in all of us, 'the cost of war' flicks, long hard looks at sinister corporations/government agencies, the retarded or minority protag overcoming adversity, the occasional joyless historical epic, the odd holocaust flick, and a whole lot of Nicole Kidman's bottomlessly classy cleavage.

In other words, it would appear we're in a rut. In large part, thanks to the awards-system structure. But how do we fix this crustily clockwork-dependable state of affairs?

I'm not sure either. The Oscars, Globes, etc.. are at bottom, marketing for seasonal prestige pics. They're part and parcel of the economic machinery of the business. I have no problem with 'commercial' films; but this combination of factors has a uniquely toxic effect; essentially creating the genre of the 'oscar-bait' flick: Expensive, mainstream prestige pictures that need to 'look' appropriately important and 'about something significant' while still on a short leash of mass audience appeal. Hence, they risk doing everything wrong, and winding up as crushing, pretentious bores. Neither entertaining, or artistically interesting. Paying lip-service to artistic credibility, while doing their level best to not go over the heads of the lowest common denominator Hence, Ron Howard.

Like most awards-seasons, I'll be sitting most of the oscar nominees out. The critically-mixed "For Your Consideration" is still my #1 of the year, and I'll be spending plenty of time getting cozy with the second Pirates of the Caribbean outing; marvelously fun, and apolitical escapism and one of my yearly faves too. Other than that, only Letters from Iwo Jima has piqued my interest in the slightest.

Sorry AMPAS and the producers that cater to you, but there's only so much dour drama and suburban angst I can stomach in one cycle.


-Nick




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