A Few Words Before Sunday, by Scott Nye
It is tempting, and in this cynical age advisable, to approach The Academy Awards with a heavy degree of snark or outright dismissal. To take such an event seriously would render one square, old-fashioned, and maybe worst of all, gullible. After all, who gets suckered in by all the bright lights and the glamour and the phony schmaltz? Don’t you know it’s all political and the real winners never get the recognition they deserve and who even remembers who won half of the awards last year so why do you care about this year? And besides, the great films, the great directors, quite often the great actors, never win and the Oscars have always played catch-up with the true cinema culture, trying to give them something before they die, dammit.
But that’s not why I love the Oscars. While the guy in me who loves a good horse race is as eager as anyone to see if the Academy has the stones to honor The Social Network, that isn’t what really gets me excited for the show each year. I love The Academy Awards because, for one night, we all sit down and watch an extravagant television program that celebrates the movies.
I started watching the program fourteen or fifteen years ago, or at least that’s as far back as I can remember, even though I hadn’t seen any of the movies and my parents made me close my eyes during the clip segments because they sometimes had a bit of violence, or at the very least some bad behavior. And I would ask them who some of the people are and through this simple, once-a-year activity, I had my first “in” with what cultural history meant; what a legacy was. I slowly got to know the faces and reputations of the people who built, or at the very least revolutionized, the art form I came to love so dearly.
It broke my heart when the Academy announced they would no longer hand out honorary awards during the main, televised event, but rather in a non-televised dinner to be held months before the big show. I’ve been as upset and pissed off at what the Academy gave its various awards to as any immature film fan, but it generally doesn’t bother me too much. But the Academy moving the honorary Oscar? I now have a yearly reminder that the most public organizational advocate for film as art and entertainment would sooner have music performed or hold a tribute to John Hughes or give time for a montage of horror movies than do anything in the public arena to honor the medium’s legacy and its too-often unsung heroes. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences was taking a side in a culture that would increasingly rather see their tastes confirmed than be enlightened to new experiences.
I still love the show, deeply, even if not as I once did. Pieces like Matt Zoller Seitz’s recent slide show of his favorite Oscar moments remind me why. Because as awkward and (unintentionally) hilarious and gaudy and embarrassing as the show can be year to year, it can also be inspirational, elating, and yes I’ll say it – deeply, deeply moving. For those of us for whom movies are our love affair that never gets old, never (truly) disappoints, the Oscars are our night to celebrate.
So yes, I’ll be cheering on David Fincher and The Social Network (and many others) come Sunday, because yes, I do love seeing artists I respect and look up to and who have given me wonderful, amazing experiences throughout the years get public recognition for their accomplishment. And who knows, maybe in the Academy’s abandonment of the medium’s history, they will continue their current trend of actually honoring some of its greatest modern accomplishments. Maybe the Academy’s mission will lie not in its hurry to catch up with cinema’s past, but to be on the vanguard of its future. Wouldn’t that be something?