Okay, so I have very little to say about the Academy Awards tonight (or ever, really), but what little I do have I will say now.
I have nothing against awards ceremonies per se, and while I know rather little about the film industry aside from what is common pop-culture knowledge (which feels like knowing a great deal, given the centrality of that industry, but I am sure those of my friends who actually work in the field can reassure me of how little I truly know about the internal workings of their craft), I would absolutely agree that the efforts of the many many talented people involved at all stages of the filmic art form deserve to be recognized and lauded by their peers.
However, I do not think that said event of (self-)congratulations needs and/or deserves to be a breaking-news, live-tweeted, world-stopping cultural event. This has nothing to do with the lavish excess of such events (which some might deem scandalous, but I am done being scandalized as a general rule). Nor do I intend to cast aspersions on anyone who finds such spectacles enjoyable and entertaining on their own merits, precisely as entertaining spectacles: if you dig that, then keep on digging it. Instead, I take issue with the degree to which such riveting attention to the Oscars (and the several other awards shows that the same industry cycles through every year) tempts film-viewers — individually and collectively — to abdicate responsibility for their own appreciative faculties for the films they see.
I love film as an art form. The concatenation of the actor’s craft, the expressive impact of the visual arts, and the infinite emotional palette of music into a unified art of visual storytelling that is far more than a sum of its components, is something I have happily spent probably thousands of hours enjoying already at this point in my life. (As a more-or-less direct result of my transition to my rôle of husband and father, I have not seen anywhere near all the films I wish I had in the past decade or so — I’ve kept a list, obviously — and I should probably get started on my list for this decade pretty soon, too, before I lose track.) I know which films I enjoy (for various reasons), which I feel are particularly amazing, which might even deserve to be called important. But I do not know one reason why the bestowal of an award of any kind upon any film I see should have any relevance to my relationship to that film as an individual work of art. Just as when I read a book or a poem, or look at a painting or a photograph, or even eat a burger and drink a glass of ale, I am the only critic in that moment. My taste is the only arbiter whose judgment is of any interest to me as I consume, in whatever sense is relevant, the experience I am facing.
So it saddens me, I guess, more than anything else, when people make such a point of seeing the five (or now ten) films nominated for best picture, or later, when I hear someone say “Oh, I didn’t really like that one, but it won Best Picture, so…” So what? Yes, your taste may well be crap, as indeed mine may be, but it is mine, and I generally stand by it, gilded trophies be damned. For a long period in my life I watched David Fincher’s Se7en about once a week, and even now would never think of parting with my DVD copy, but I couldn’t tell you to save my life whether it won any awards or not. I am pretty sure Titanic did, yet I struggle to imagine a scenario where I would willingly sit through that particular film again.
So, yes, if you love to watch the dresses come down the red carpet with celebrities inside them, then pop another bottle of whatever and sit back: tonight is your night. But if you love to watch movies, if you delight in the immersive experience of film, please do yourself the simple courtesy of honoring what you think is good, great, and legendary, and not worry whether it matches up with the awards list from this or any other season.