Imagine you own a small business. A taxi rank, a stationery firm, an Amazon Marketplace sex emporium jumping on the Fifty Shades bandwagon. You’re reasonably successful, but there are many more like you. Now imagine you give out awards to your employees once a year, like Michael Scott’s Dundies in The Office. Now imagine this ceremony is broadcast globally, Heat Magazine harass your female employees about their outfits, and the world’s press see your decisions as the worldwide be-all-and-end-all of the best taxi drivers/paper salespeople/dildo mailers there are. That’s what the Oscars is. A bloated works do come fashion show.
Now, the act of having awards ceremonies I can’t object to. It’s a good way of celebrating achievement and giving people nice things to put on their CV (not that Benedict Cumberbatch needs to jazz up his CV too much at this point). But there’s a certain subset of films that win Oscars – serious American dramas with rousing American music, made with lots of American money, about great Americans or posh Englishmen. The kind of films enjoyed – and produced – by the people who vote in the Oscars, the members of the Academy, who are 76% male, 94% white, and, on average, 63 years old. Granted, last year these old, white men gave the Best Picture to 12 Years A Slave, a powerful telling of an important story about slavery by a black director, but this year they reverted to what seems like self-parody – giving the big award to a film about an old white man who happens to be an actor having an existential crisis.
Now, I’m not saying Birdman isn’t a good film. It’s certainly a technical marvel; I found the characters too smug, but I enjoyed it. But it isn’t the only film. My personal favourite films of last year included a low-budget Australian horror, a British comedy drama, and a low-budget New Zealand comedy. And yet did the makers of The Babadook, Pride, or What We Do In The Shadows get to walk down that red carpet?
So the Oscars tend to go to a specific type of film. And even within this type, the voters have history for going for the safe option, and of making choices which time does not defend. This year, Boyhood was surely a more interesting film than Birdman. Wind back four years and they chose The King’s Speech over The Social Network – a competent but generic period drama over a bold summation of our times, Colin Firth doing a fancy voice over an intelligent encapsulation of the noughties internet boom. Wind back five more years and Crash won out over Brokeback Mountain; in 1969, 2001: A Space Odyssey lost to Oliver!; and in 1941, Citizen Kane lost out to How Green Was My Valley. And if you’ve seen How Green Was My Valley, or even have any idea what it’s about, you’re a much better film buff than me.
Now, the Oscar voters are as entitled to their opinions as anyone, and (most of) the winners are in no way poor films, but can we please stop acting as if the opinions of this narrow elite are the most important opinions, and can we please stop embellishing their opinions with tediously long build-ups, endless media thoughtpieces like this very article, and demeaning over-analysis of what all the actresses decide to wear (I saw one headline about Margot Robbie ‘debuting’ a new hairstyle. Take a moment for that to sink in. ‘Debuting’ a hairstyle)? Can we stop staying up all night to live tweet an event we’re streaming from thousands of miles away when we have a very good idea of who’s going to win anyway?
Some moments are worth watching the show for. But for every great speech like Graham Moore’s, there’s at least three ill-advised jokes (I’m looking at you, Sean Penn) and at least half an hour of watching people walk down the world’s smuggest carpet.
Oh, well. At least this moment made it all worth watching:
Yes, that is Will Arnett in a 90’s Batman suit. And yes, my unquestioning affection for anything related to The LEGO Movie will one day be the downfall of my reputation as a film journalist. But that day is not today. At Hollywood’s end-of-year piss-up, everything is glamourously, pompously awesome.