For those of you who watched the Academy Awards this past Sunday night, did any of you catch the meaning of what Steven Spielberg said, just before he announced the winner of the “Best Film” of 2011? Here’s what he actually said. “One of these ten movies will join a list that includes ‘On The Waterfront,’ ‘Midnight Cowboy,’ ‘The Godfather,’ and ‘The Deer Hunter,’ the other nine will join a list that includes ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ ‘Citizen Kane,’ ‘The Graduate,’ and ‘Raging Bull.'” At this point the audience applauded thunderously. And then Mr. Spielberg continued. “Either way, congratulations, you’re all in very good company.”
I have not heard about this in the news, or read about it on the Net or seen any other blogs about it. What am I an uproar about? Here we had one of the most decorated man in this Industry, one how has in many ways helped to shape and define this Industry in this Century, saying, although possibly unconsciously, that what he is about to do, is “meaningless.” And nobody seem to catch it, although the audience in attendance agreed, possibly unconsciously.
But then again, so much of what we do is unconscious, so why should this be different? Why, because someone caught it. Me. And I’m raising up a red flag saying, wait, we don’t have to be unconscious anymore. In case you still don’t get it, let me spell it out for you. Mr. Spielberg, in essence said that all the films would be “winners,” and there would be no “losers.” The audience agreed, and it’s a beautiful thing. Yet, in the same breathe, moments later, he announced a “winner,” and by default, announced that the other nine films to be “losers.” Why?
Is it because of our need for a winner and a looser? Mr. Spielberg had just finished saying that among the past “winners” of the Oscar, were some of the greatest films of all time, and that among the “loosers” of the Oscar award were among the greatest films of all time. So why do we pick one “winner,” when in reality, it has very little meaning if they are all the greatest films of all time? I believe we do this because we have been conditioned all these years that there has to be a winner and there has to be a looser, no matter what. And it is interesting that the Academy still honors this archaic way of being, even though in many ways, it doesn’t.
For example all night during the event, every time an actor won the award, while they were walking up to the stage the announcer would say how many times the actor had been nominated for this award, and sometimes how many times they had won it. In other words, just the nomination is an honor in itself, and in a sense “winning.” In fact, when presenting themselves, or when advertising a film, the number of Oscar nominations is used as part of the promotion tag line, if you will, as is the wins. In fact, they are used quite often together, i.e. “nominated for six Academy Awards and winner of three.”
Though I still take a bit of issue with only awarding one person, at least when it comes to sports, as in singles Tennis, when two players are competing with each other at the US Open, for example, if one of them plays a better game or if one of them makes a mistake, there is a clear “winner.” though both good players, if one of them makes a mistake, the other becomes the clear winner. But in an Industry who’s product is so subjective, how can one really choose a winner. Of course, there is much bad acting, or acting that doesn’t move us, in film today, and we are not talking about those actors. But for the sake of argument, as great as Natalie Portman’s performance may have been, was it that much better than Annette Bennings, that would win Natalie the top award and not Annette. Is there a recommendation that the Academy can give Annette, like take a few more acting classes, and maybe next year she can be the best actress like Natalie? Do we really need to praise Natalie over Annette, or any of the other actresses for that matter, that obviously did such a great job and got the attention of the Academy and captured the imaginations of the audiences, and who did their job well, better than the hundreds of other actresses this year? Can we just not praise all of them, after all there are hundreds of actresses and we are only talking about five of them.
Could it be that the Academy is acquiescing to it’s audience’s need for blood, like in the days of the Roman Empire and the fights in the Colosseum? We want our heros, and we want to see the loosers eaten by the lions. Or does the Academy have other reasons for keeping this tradition. Is this a way that the Academy manipulates the actors, producers, directors…? Of course, this is a fine way of bring much attention to their Industry, getting more mileage from the films in the theaters, more butts in the seats, and filling up the coffers of many. But that aside, is the awarding of the Oscar used as a carrot in some way?
Unwittingly, Sandra Bullock made a crack about that during the Academy Awards when she turned to Jeff Bridges, an “Academy Award Winner,” and a nominee that night, and said, (loosely paraphrasing), since you won this award last year, don’t you think you should give someone else a chance, wouldn’t that be nice? Though the remark was meant to be funny and said in fun, was she saying, again, possibly unconsciously, that these kinds of facts are taken into consideration when the awards are “bestowed?”
As I write this, I realize that I sound like I am saying that the Emperor has no clothes. Well then, so be it, the Emperor has no clothes. How do I know for sure? Let me ask you one question. Do any of you know Fredric March is? Let me ask you another question. Have any of you seen the film “The Best Years of Our Lives?” or better yet, have you even heard of it? I would venture to think that most of us have not. I certainly have not. But here are two more questions. Have any of you heard of James Stewart? Have any of you heard of, or seen the film, “It’s a Wonderful Life?” I suppose the more apropos question would be, how many times have you seen “It’s a Wonderful Life?”
The point is that “It’s a Wonderful Life,” was a looser. It lost the Oscar to “The Best Years of Our Lives.” James Stewart, and Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier, for that matter, lost the Oscar to Fredric March. Now maybe James Stewart and Laurence Olivier had better agents, or press agents and they got more parts or publicity, and that’s why we know of them. But, though I wasn’t around in 1946, I really have to wonder if “The Best Years of Our Lives,” was really that much a better film, again, realizing it is subjective, than “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which by the way went on to become a classic and is played over and over and over again, every year during the Holidays.
These are not isolated cases, there are many of these examples to be found. Even more laughable ones, where one might argue, “what was the Academy thinking?” The answer could be, maybe it wasn’t. I think it’s time for the Academy to “think again.” I think there is another way, yes, possibly a better way, or let’s not be judgmental, how about a new way. The today way, of doing this. Maybe the Academy doesn’t announce who the five winners are until the night of the main event. I know that defeats the purpose of getting people to go see the nominated films, but then let’s call it what it is, one big commercial that costs millions of dollars to produce and it sells millions and sometimes billions of dollars worth of tickets, for starters. If we don’t want to call it that, then I think the Academy can find a way to recognize it’s finest in away that has dignity for all.
Because much of this is also at the expense of the actors. Yes, the actors are getting paid for this and it’s all part of the business, but it really doesn’t have to be.
It’s part of a system that likes to use and abuse it’s employees publicly. Many people are called to appear in front of the world’s camera’s and one of those five, in each category is given an award and the cameras continue to point at all of the losers as well to get their reaction, and how they took the humiliation. (Back to the Colosseum). Happily, almost all of the actors take it well, maybe because they know the score, maybe because they want or need the publicity. But I think there’s another way, a more dignified way, a more fair way, a more elegant way. Hollywood has long been a leader in elegance, I hope and trust it can be that not just in fashion, but with how it treats is people, it’s product and us, the new wiser, hipper, more sophisticated, and more conscious audience.
Maybe someday Steven Spielberg can actually say, “And the Oscar goes to… all of you.”