In a back-and-forth N.Y. Times discussion piece about the Oscars, which are only ten days away as we speak, critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis avoid talking about likely winners and losers or any of that horse-race jazz. Obviously there’s nothing they can possibly add on that score. But I’ll tell you this and you can take it to the bank. The Oscar blogosphere is doing everything in its power to keep alive the notion that there’s still a neck-and-neck, up-for-grabs Best Picture competition between Boyhood and Birdman with American Sniper possibly in a position….naahh, too many lefties hate that Sniper vibe.
Why is the Oscar-blogging community still calling it a close one? Apart from the fact that it’s good for web traffic to keep the ball in the air? Because some of these guys and gals want their personal pony, Boyhood, to win despite the odds favoring Birdman. All because of the crazy BAFTAs having given their Best Picture award to Richard Linklater‘s film last weekend.
If the situation was reversed and Boyhood had so far won the SAG ensemble, PGA Daryl F. Zanuck and the top DGA award with the BAFTA guys having recently given Birdman its only triumph, some of the Oscar prognosticators would definitely be saying it’s all over but the shouting and that Boyhood pretty much has it in the bag…trust me.
I realize it’s been a weak, crazy-ass year and that it’s possible that Boyhood could take the big prize. But if that happens there will be “so great a cry across the land,” to quote a Charlton Heston line from Ben-Hur. A cry of joy, that is, from all the squares and fuddyfarts who’ve been naysaying Birdman all along, going back to that female Telluride resident who told a couple of visitors in a gondola ride up to the Chuck Jones Cinema that “whatever you do, don’t see Birdman!” Which prompted the guy sitting across from her to smile and say, “I financed Birdman.” (This story came from a Telluride-residing producer friend who got it straight from the woman.)
Back to Tony and Manohla: “To quote the film historian Tom Stempel, ‘Moviegoing in America is a blood sport.’ In other words, people take movies very seriously.
“Back in the 1940s, when more than half the country is thought to have gone to the pictures every week, a movie-lover went to a matinee, and then she came home — the film, meanwhile, stayed in the theater. The country was movie mad, but hardly anyone outside of Hollywood cared about the awards. Now, though, each new movie slides into an ever-expanding visual stream in which many become lost; at the same time, paradoxically, the Oscars are bigger than ever. It’s easy to pin this mania on the internet (feed me!), but I also think that the interest in the awards is directly related to our image-saturated world. The Oscars have, in their strange way, emerged as an increasingly important forum for public discourse — much of it trivial, some of it not.”
The Oscars are a more urgent and necessary cultural event than ever? Really? Does anyone in the HE community subscribe to this? Maybe Manohla’s right. But I’m asking.