The major film critic awards have been trickling out over the past few weeks, most of them honoring the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men and other semi-indie, art-house end of the year releases, prompting Time’s Richard Corliss to wonder “Do Film Critics Know Anything?”. Basically, he likes all the films that won, but thinks perhaps the film critics awards are an exercise in mutual affirmation of the type of films that film critics like, but that average moviegoers haven’t seen and don’t care about. And he’s afraid that the Golden Globes and Oscars are going to follow the film critics’ lead and nominate a bunch of stuff most people haven’t seen. (The Globe nominations came out last week, and he’s mostly right.)
But the Golden Globes and the Oscars, if they follow the critics’ lead, will have V.D.D. — viewer deficit disorder. Large numbers of people won’t watch shows paying tribute to movies they haven’t seen. In the old Golden Age days, most contenders for the top Oscars were popular movies that had a little art. Now they’re art films that have a little, very little, popularity. The serious movies Hollywood gives awards to in January and February are precisely the kind it avoids making for most of the year. The Oscars are largely an affirmative action program, where the industry scratches its niche. The show is a conscience soother, but not a crowd pleaser.
I guess my question is, first, so what? And second, um, so what? The Oscars have been accurate tests of cinematic quality since never; they used to be more populist, as he says, perhaps, but they’re always political. They’re always calculated. He does allow that the film critic groups should pick whatever they want to pick, but then bemoans the fact that *shocker* the rest of the awards might actually listen to critics? We might have fewer craptastic movies coming out of Hollywood if *shocker* the average moviegoer listened to critics. And if we had fewer craptastic movies coming out of Hollywood, maybe then they’d get more awards come award season. Just a thought. (He does mention critically-acclaimed popular films like Knocked Up and how they’ve gotten passed by so far this year…personally I disliked Knocked Up, so…)
Plus, I figure the more small, indie, artsy films that get honored at awards time, the more visibility they have, the more people will go see them, and then more people will learn what sort of cinematic treasures lurk outside the multiplex. (I’m being elitist. I’m sorry, I have to to counter Corliss’s rather odd populism…I like blockbusters too, but they don’t need awards–they get plenty of viewership without them.) It’s the small films that NEED critics to promote them, to bring them to a public consciousness that they won’t get from television and radio ads. And October-January (aka awards-preparation season) is the only time they get highlighted.
I don’t really understand why the Oscar show needs to be a crowd-pleaser. Is Corliss working for the network that’s airing them, trying to figure out how to get them more viewers? If people are only interested in watching the summer blockbusters they loved get awards, there are the People’s Choice Awards, the Blockbuster Awards, the Kid’s Choice Awards, and probably others. Let them watch those telecasts, and leave the Globes and the Oscars for those of us who WANT Julie Christie to win an award for so brilliantly portraying an Alzheimer’s patient (Away from Her), and who WANT the Coen brothers to finally win an Oscar for one of the most cinematically perfect films of the year (No Country for Old Men), and who WANT the innovative French animators who worked on Persepolis to win an Oscar over Pixar (who are awesome, don’t get me wrong, but they already have a bunch of little naked gold men), and who WANT festival fare to do well enough in awards season to get screentime in the areas where we live, since going to festivals isn’t what you might call feasible for a lot of us.
If you ask me, the problem isn’t that art-house films get too much attention at the end of the year awards, but that they don’t get enough attention during the rest of the year. It’s not that the awards aren’t populist enough, but that there’s such an unfortunate audience split between popular and art-house.