I say this every year so here we go again. I recognize that some blogger-columnists feel that sitting on the sidelines during awards season and gauging the industry’s political and emotional sentiments regarding this or that nominee is what they do and should do, and that this is both important and expected of them and so on. I’ve never gone along with this. In fact, my reaction to this philosophy has always been “what?”
I believe that the proper role of a good Hollywood columnist is not just to report on the conversation (which passes the time and is occasionally interesting), but to lead it — to stand tall at the lecturn and be an advocate and to put wood into the fire and keep the passion going for the right films and the right filmmakers. To celebrate art before politics. And to argue against awarding mediocre films, which is what most people are always inclined to do — i.e., be supportive of their friends and colleagues because it’s a friendly, neighborly thing to do.
The highest calling of a Hollywood columnist during awards season is to be a strong and impassioned shepherd and show the sheep where the good grass is. This doesn’t imply that sheep don’t have a nose for good grass on their own. Of course they do. But there is crabgrass, grass, decent grass, better grass, higher-quality grass and world-class gourmet grass. I would humbly submit that shepherds have an eye and a nose for grass, and that life is short so why eat regular grass when all you have to do is trudge up the hill a bit and sample the really good stuff?
In this light I feel that a statement to the effect that “it doesn’t matter how good an actor is in a given movie….there’s no way he/she will be awarded for this work” — a statement made yesterday by Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson — is, from my vantage point, wrong-headed. No matter how accurate this assessment may be in a political sense (and I’m not saying for a second that Thompson is incorrect), it is wrong to dismiss good creative work or to suggest that it’s not even worth considering in an award-season sense, even if it doesn’t have a political prayer.
I’m not stupid. I know that the chances of The Beaver‘s Mel Gibson ever winning praise from the Hollywood community are all but nil. But there’s something in me that can’t help but recoil when I hear a statement like Thompson’s. If an actor (even a racist-minded actor) has delivered an exceptional performance then he/she has delivered an exceptional performance — period. You have to always consider the long-term view and not get too parochial in your thinking. Because there’s the judgment of history — a judgment unaffected by the moody political currents — to consider.
There is nothing more banal or dismissable in the game of evaluating the best in a given field than for people to say “yeah, but I don’t really like him/her” or “but he/she is so nice!” There’s no getting away from this, but the Movie Godz are constantly asking us to not think or judge according to to the current political ether, which is to say the mentality of a group of junior high-schoolers hanging out during recess.
To put it another way, the “I’m just taking the pulse of the town and staying out of the argument ” columnists are like Judean shepherds on a hillside near Mount Sinai. Shepherd #1: “Look at those sheep over there, eating all that yellow grass and those weeds.” Shepherd #2: “Yeah, I know, and with that really nice looking patch of rich green grass to the left about 100 yards.” Shepherd #1: “Why don’t we get our staffs and scoot them over in that direction?” Shepherd #2: “No, no, that’s not our proper role. We’re here to just chill and observe and keep an eye on whatever the sheep are up to…nothing more.”
Bringing Up Baby died commercially and wasn’t even reviewed all that well when it opened in 1938. Obviously the critics and the public didn’t get it. Shouldn’t we all strive to recognize and celebrate good films or performances when they are in fact really good, regardless of the prevailing mood or peer-pressurings or whatever?