I’m again pleading with the Oscar Punditocracy to pay a little less attention to what the Oscar nomination preferences of the guilds and the Academy might be, and to man up and embrace the eternal by emphasizing more of what’s in their own hearts and minds and dreams. To play it more like me, in short.
Some attention has to be paid to the Oscar campaigns, of course. Okay, vigilant attention. I obviously do that. My ad income is all about this attention. I’m a realist. But the lifeblood of columnists, commentators and reporters who annually eyeball the award season should first and foremost be exuberant, straight-from-the-heart celebrations of films that do “it” rather than “that.”
We all know what it feels like when a film that we’re seeing for the first time is doing “it.” There’s some kind of special alchemy thing that kicks in. Some kind of exceptional fast-river-current delivery and rarified emotional pollen mixed in with a universal energy field. We all know when we’re seeing and feeling “it”….a movie that’s happening, alive, crackling, expanding….flooding into our systems, doing something extra, turning our heads and saying “we’ve baked a cake with a little bit extra in the way of flavor or ingredients!”
It may be just a pear cake, okay, but it’s done in such a way that your taste buds are feeling a very special and particular excitement that you’ve never quite experienced in precisely the same way. And that makes it an “it” rather than a “that.”
I could name a 2012 “it” film and a lot of people would go “oh, God…again!” and put me down so here are a few others: Holy Motors, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Master, Amour, Anna Karenina, Bernie, No.
A “that” film is one that is following or echoing a certain form or genre or relaxation, and in a way that makes you say to yourself “okay, this is doing that” rather than “wow, this is doing it!” A “that” film could be, let’s say, an exceptionally bright and well-modelled historical-political spin on a caper film. Or an expertly and very passionately composed adaptation of a hugely popular musical play from the ’80s. Or a dirge-like historical procedural about a Very Important Man trying to bring about a Very Important Thing. I understand the comforts of a “that” movie. It feels nice to have “that” in your head. But the ones that last over the years and the decades are the “it” flicks.
How often are “it” flicks recognized as the best of the year? Now and then. But a lot of times movies that SCREAM “that” at the top of their lungs, movies like The Artist and Chicago, are the ones that win in the end. And that’s depressing. That’s awful. The spirit dies. Taste of ashes. Jump off a bridge.
We all have to play the game, but the emphasis should be on the current and the exaltation that comes from scrupuloulsy ignoring what the less-hip crowd (i.e., less hip than people like us) thinks or likes. Eff those people. We know better! We are the champions, not them!
I wrote the following 15 months ago, or on 8.24.11: “Every year I ask what could be more worthless or contemptible in the eyes of any fim lover with the slightest trickle of blood in his or her veins than a group of online journos saying, ‘What we might personally think or feel about the year’s finest films is not our charge. We are here to read and evaluate the feelings and judgments of that crowd of people standing around in that other room….see them? Those older, nice-looking, well-dressed ones standing around and sipping wine and munching on tomato-and mozzarella bruschetta? Watching them is what we do. We sniff around, sense the mood, follow their lead, and totally pivot on their every word or derisive snort or burst of applause at Academy screenings.’
“If I could clap my hands three times and banish the concept of Gurus of Gold and Gold Derby Oscarologists from the minds of my online colleagues and competitors, I would clap my hands three times. (Even though I love Tom O’Neil and am a regular Gold Derby contributor.) For it is the task of Movie Catholics (which includes all monks and priests and followers of the faith) to stand up and lead at all costs.
And it is bad personal karma to put aside what every fibre of your being tells you is the ‘right’ thing to do in order to proclaim (and therefore help to semi-validate and cast a favorable light upon) the occasionally questionable sentiments and allegiances of others.
“And I mean especially if these temperature-gauging, tea-leaf readings contribute to a snowball mentality or growing assumption that a certain Best Picture contender has the heat. There is no question in my mind that to some extent the Gurus of Gold and the Gold Derby gang contributed to 2010’s and 2011’s Best Picture win by The King’s Speech by advancing the notion each and every week that it would probably take the prize.
“And that, if you don’t mind me saying so, is a terrible thing to live with. A stain upon our souls.
“How would you feel if you were 92 years old, let’s say, and on your death bed and looking back upon your professional Hollywood life and saying to yourself, ‘In my own small but possibly significant way, I probably helped to create a perception of groundswell momentum and inevitability that led to the Best Picture triumphs of The Greatest Show on Earth, Around The World in Eighty Days and Driving Miss Daisy“? How would you feel about that? Good?
“True Catholics are players on the field, not watchers from the stands. They need to convey their own passions as personally, ardently and persuasively as possible, and to give as little credence as possible to the alleged preferences of a politically-motivated, comfort-seeking, sentimentally-inclined and recently suspect industry group.”
It’s been pointed out time and again that the Academy had a reasonable, fair-minded history in their Best Picture preferences from the mid aughts to ’10 but then ldid an about-face in ’11 and, in a startling cave-in to British kowtowing and comforting gutty-wut sentiment, gave the Oscar to an admirable-but-far-from-good-enough contender. And the The Artist won last year. For the sake of our souls, capitulations of this sort must never happen again.