Best Picture: What does it mean? How is it relevant? We know it’s a big deal because…well because…I don’t really know why it’s a big deal. But it takes away a night of new television and replaces it with a variety show interspersed with people gushing about how awesome they are and how their friends are lucky to know someone so awesome or some humbler sounding variation thereof. I mean they’re saying humble things, but we can sometimes see the megalomania in their eyes and we begin to wonder if maybe they deserve an Oscar for their acceptance speech.
Okay, to be fair, some of those awards recipients are sincere. Also to be fair, I haven’t watched an awards show on purpose in a really long time.
Why do I feel compelled to watch these Oscar winners? Why do I feel stupid when I realize that the movie sucked and I just wasted several hours of my life? And why do these snooze fests tend to be so much longer than the fun movies?
The Oscars are awards given by an elitist members-only society of 6000 Hollywood big-names. To be a member you have to be invited. So why do these 6000 people get to decide what the Best Picture of the Year is? The simple answer is “They don’t.” They get to say which movie the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences think the best picture is. These people are not watching movies like 99.99% of the people that watch movies watch movies.
I go to the movie theatre to be emotionally moved, preferably by last ditch attempts at heroism with lots of big explosions and action that is almost too fast to follow interspersed with witty dialogue. Box Office receipts, for as long as I can remember, tell me that most people go to the movies for the same thing. These are the best movies. I would argue that box office receipts are the single most important factors in determining how good a movie is, but there are too many other factors around that number such as advertising budgets and calendar dates that make that too variable to be reliable. Still, it’s generally a much better gauge than the opinions of 6000 insiders.
Of the last ten winners for best picture only three would qualify if my criteria were used:
Gladiator was a good, almost realistic history movie.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the epitome of what should make a Best Picture: Popular, well executed and proven by box office receipts.
The Departed: A rough gritty look at twisted allegiances in a Scorsese mob world. Probably the best movie on this list.
The other movies didn’t all suck. But I have to point to Million Dollar Baby as the worst of the lot. It was sold as a boxing movie but turned out to be some tear-fest about a woman dying of brain cancer. Where’s the fun in that. Why would I spend my money to intentionally allow someone to depress me?
I can only imagine that film makers view films the way writers read. We tend to read critically, with an eye for technical correctness in writing. This doesn’t mean we look for spelling and grammar errors, but more about how the characters are presented and how the conflict is encountered. We look for solid, relatable characters, a consistent setting, and proper presentation in terms of maintaining a proper narrative voice. Knowing that most stories are variations of a limited number of plots, we look for creative ways to approach the traditional. To most writers, J.K. Rowling was viewed for years as an amateur hack and Stephanie Meyers writes unoriginal tripe, but as I said nothing is 100% original. Since some of the only books that compete with the sales figures of these women are the holy books of the world’s religions, it makes me wonder if maybe writers are a little out of touch.
So that’s my opinion of the Academy. They’re out of touch. They’re looking for either artistic merit, when they wouldn’t recognize artistic merit if it bit their ass off, or they’re looking to reward their buddies. I think when making a movie, we should always ask, can this be performed on a stage and any depth of feeling. If the answer is yes, it’s not a good movie. It’s a play that’s been filmed. Giving movies like that a Best Picture award is like granting a Best Photograph award to a postcard of the Mona Lisa.
I know there is far more to directing a movie, having to handle camera angles and such that make a screenplay different from a stage play. But still, if it could be performed on stage, it cannot be the pinnacle of filmmaking art. To reach that height, a movie must be a story being told in the best possible medium, if not the only suitable medium.
A far better gauge for the merits of movies is the People’s Choice awards. The winners are chosen by public polling, though we have to keep in mind that the people most familiar with movies are the students with disposable income. This is why Stephanie Meyer’s tripe made into a crappy waste of virtual celluloid won, but it earned the win. It meets all the criteria I set out as being the standards of a good movie. I just can’t get into teen vampires and werewoofs; I take my vampires too seriously to allow for sparkling in sunlight
I couldn’t make it through the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone. I only know the Twilight series second hand. My opinions on these are not well founded, though I still hold to them.