“The Oscars are just not working,” N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott declared this morning among several “Memos to Hollywood” (which are co-authored by Manohla Dargis). “The Academy Awards broadcast, with its mixture of snark and high-mindedness; the pool of pseudoserious, faux-prestigious specialty-division B-pictures; the long, dreary slog of the awards season. You’re losing touch with the mass audience on one side and the tradition of popular art on the other. Take some risks, rejigger the formula, expand the membership pool. Do something!” And then he says disregard and just “kill the Oscars” altogether.
Rejigger and rejuvenate by all means, obviously, but never kill the Oscars. Never. Not because the show itself is anything magnificent (although we all derive fleeting emotional charges each and every year), but because every Oscar season is like a great spiritual Olympics. Because each and every film of any merit and our reactions to them are opportunities for assessing the whole magillah. Because the Oscars, of course, are only nominally about the competing films. They’re really about how we feel and think about these films, and what we’re looking or hoping for each time we enter a theatre and submit to the dark. In short, they’re about us.
Each year the Oscar race allows — demands — that we assess who we are, what we need and want, what defines artistic greatness or at least distinction, and the kinds of spells that films need to provide. Every day I’m looking to understand and sometimes redefine who I am and what I want, but we all do this en masse during Oscar season. It’s a stirring, at times joyously argumentative process. (I loved trashing Chicago and praising The Pianist in ’02 — it was all to the good.) For me, the October-to-February argument is all, or certainly 95% of the game. The show is maybe 5% of it — the end, the crescendo, the cherry on top, whatever. And through all of it the distributors of the films in the arena, the ones that each year compete and strive and receive the constant attention, clearly benefit.