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Political games behind the Academy Awards

Political games behind the Academy Awards

Jake: Well, here we are. The final discussion before the Academy Awards next Sunday.

We've talked a bit about how our choices for the Oscars differ from whom we think will actually win. We've also mentioned a few people and movies we felt should have won but didn't.

Do you think there's a problem with that? I mean, is there something fundamentally wrong with the Academy Awards?

Movie TalkLloyd: Well, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the Oscars. It has certainly seemed to have evolved from being more of an inside industry awards show to being more about the audience (minus some recent years when films like The Hurt Locker and The Artist won).

My main problem is when it turns political. I’m of the opinion that art shouldn’t be political. Recent examples of this are when Mickey Rourke lost for The Wrestler, Eddie Murphy lost for Dreamgirls, and when Brokeback Mountain lost. Mickey Rourke and Eddie Murphy both won virtually every major award before the Oscars, yet lost the Oscar. Brokeback Mountain is perhaps the most universally acclaimed film by critics over the last 13 years, and yet somehow lost to...Crash?!

Since you can basically buy a Golden Globe, I’ve always put the Oscars above other awards. But omissions, both among nominees and winners, slowly chip away at the Academy’s credibility. I will say it again, explain to me how The Master is not a far superior film than Life of Pi or Les Mis?

Jake: My feeling is that the Academy Awards are sort of like professional wrestling. Ultimately, it's just entertainment, at least from the public's perspective. Who wins or loses doesn't really have an effective on anybody's lives. But it does matter to people.

When we talk about one actor against another, it sort of reminds me of wrestling fans talking about The Rock versus Stone Cold Steve Austin. (And if you don't know anything about wrestling, just pretend I'm talking about two generic wrestlers.) Discussing who's "better" can be so subjective, and in the case of the Academy Awards, sometimes it doesn't determine who wins. Sometimes, the good guy wins at WrestleMania. Sometimes, the bad guy wins. Similarly, sometimes, The Hurt Locker wins at the Oscars. Sometimes, Crash wins.

Of course, in wrestling, everybody knows who's the good guy. In movies, there isn't usually a clear "best movie." That's what builds up the drama. At some point, wrestling fans start watching to enjoy the matches, knowing that the outcome frequently has little to do with who is the better wrestler or the stronger character. In the end, the outcome isn't that significant.

I'm sort of moving toward that kind of attitude with the Academy Awards. I don't really care that much who wins. I could feel so strongly that a certain movie should win, and that would make the buildup exciting. Then, when that movie loses, I'm not going to feel disillusioned about the process. In other years, it might have won. Years later, people usually know what the right choice would have been.

Then again, I suppose the determinations about who is "best" does have an effect on what kinds of movies are made in the future. I also read that actors who win Oscars tend to live longer than those who don't. So they do mean something!

Lloyd: Jake, I was a big wrestling fan as a kid, and would have rather seen you put The Undertaker in place of The Rock.

I think I might completely disagree with your wrestling analogy. It seems in wrestling, the outcome is predetermined by a few people, whereas the Oscars is voted on by an academy.

It’s like a piece of legislation. If you’re a congressman with clout, and can rally people around certain bills, you can get some things passed and kill other things. The same is true in Hollywood with awards shows. Look at what’s happening to Zero Dark Thirty.

This is speculation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Rourke and Murphy both lost because many Academy members felt (or pushed to believe) they were less “sophisticated” than Sean Penn and Alan Arkin, respectively. Even Penn and Arkin suggested this. Remember Arkin placed his Oscar on the floor (unprecedented I believe), before he gave his acceptance speech.

Even when The Hurt Locker won against Avatar—that could be seen as political.

When I see someone like Rourke lose to Penn, I become ever more disillusioned. I told myself that if The Master didn’t win best picture, I would become completely disillusioned—it wasn’t even nominated (you can imagine how I felt).

If Argo wins, I guess Ben Affleck will get more money to make his good, but not “like Orson Welles” good movies. What an incredibly boring world that will be.

Jake: Well, I think I might completely disagree with your face.

(That's not true. How could anybody disagree with your face?)

It seems like you're stuck in a bad position here, Lloyd. On one hand, you disagree with the public's choices for movie preferences. I sort of do, too, but I don't think I take it so hard. What I was saying with my wrestling analogy was that, whether The Rock or Stone Cold (or the Undertaker, or Andre the Giant, or whoever) won, I was probably going to be okay. I predict that Lincoln will win Best Picture this year. When it does, that'll sort of be like when The Rock beat my favorite wrestler, C.M. Punk, at the Royal Rumble last month. I'll think it's sort of stupid, and I'll be grumpy, and I'll wish it would've turned out differently.

But the fact that it won't turn out differently isn't going to kill me. I'm not going to be all that disillusioned if Lincoln wins. That's a fine movie. If Avengers won, I'd be disillusioned.

I agree that the thing is very political, but I think that just adds to the drama of it all. It's fun. I like my television to be dramatic. I also don't know how you get rid of the politics. You said that the Academy Awards are becoming less of an industry insider awards ceremony. But, are the movie choices changing? And, is that bad or good?

You loved The Hurt Locker. If it had been about the public's preference, Avatar would have won. But then, if it's all about self-aggrandizement, why does the public watch? Which option is better: self-aggrandizement or pandering to the public? I'll take the former, knowing that politics will be a big part of it.

Lloyd: I think I understand your point about the wrestling. It’s more about how you feel personally than about some greater analogy. Okay, then I don’t completely disagree.

So I take it hard. I take it harder now than I did before because I’ve grown even more disillusioned. Now, every time the Academy makes some stupid choice that feels like they don’t appreciate, or can’t recognize quality work, it gets worse. The same is true when Katy Perry wins anything, and when Frank Ocean loses to say, Mumford & Sons.

I’m being very subjective here, and this is personal. I’m not going to die if Argo wins on Sunday, or even if Lincoln wins. But I will grow more weary of the Academy.

The solution for me is to not care about an awards show, but I can’t. I must watch, I must follow it, I must think deeply about it. This is because I care. If you’re going to bestow an honor on art, at least do your best to honor the best. And Lincoln, Argo, and most of the lot, aren’t the best.

I don’t like this choice between self-aggrandizement and pandering to the public. I don’t like that description. I think there exists a world where we can come together and recognize quality work that doesn’t pander to the public or self-aggrandize the film industry. Of course, this would require all parties to change. Perhaps I am an idealist.

Jake: I don't know. The more I read about the Academy Awards, the more I realize that momentum builds behind nominees like it might for political candidates. Certain markers are predictors of future success, not just because they indicate the quality of the performance but also because people see that certain actresses or actors or movies are winning.

But let's talk about the idea of politicization of the voting as it applies to this year's choices. Zero Dark Thirty is obviously the movie that is getting framed for its controversial content rather than just for its quality. Do you feel like Jessica Chastain's chances are hurt because of the movie's subject matter? Kyle Buchanan of the Vulture argued last week, "[W]hile the film has been a big hit with audiences and critics, it's a controversial subject for some voters thanks to its ambiguous torture scenes. Some may wait to reward Chastain for her next nomination, which feels like an inevitability."

You said last week that you felt like Chastain deserved it over Jennifer Lawrence. If Lawrence wins, do you think the politics of it will have a role in that?

Lloyd: I honestly don’t think Chastain will be punished for this. I think Bigelow and Boal, and the producers will, but not Chastain. I would also say that I don’t think politics would be the reason why Lawrence wins. She’s just fantastic.

I think it’s about time to get to business. Who will win: Picture, Director, Screenplay (adapted and original), Original Score, and the acting categories (leading and supporting)?

Jake: I'm glad you asked, Lloyd. But I'm afraid our readers (all seven of them) are going to have to wait until later in the week for the big Academy Awards Predictions post, which is going to feature a breakdown of the most important categories at the Oscars. You game for some predictions later this week?

Lloyd: I'm always game for Oscar predictions.

Check back later in the week for our Oscar predictions post, complete with a full preview of the night.

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