February 16, 2007

Oscars Anonymous

A terrifying epiphany forces one film lover into Academy Awards detox

By Lewis Beale

(Photo illustration: S.T. VanAirsdale)

My name is Lewis, and I am an Academy Awards addict.

God help me, but it's only February and I'm already thinking about the 2007 Oscars. I just saw The Hoax, Lasse Hallstrom's film about the 1970s scandal involving author Clifford Irving, who claimed he had written Howard Hughes' "autobiography." Opening in April, the movie is a fun (if overlong) ride, but as the charming and utterly amoral Irving, Richard Gere gives a performance that, as I told one of my editors at another publication, is "Oscar-worthy."

Someone, please -- organize an intervention. Is there some sort of Academy Awards 12-step program, or perhaps a Betty Ford Clinic for Oscar junkies?

Full disclosure: About a month ago on this very site, I wrote a piece about actors and films that were not getting enough Oscar attention. It was a plea to members of the Academy to pay attention to certain performances and films come nomination time, and I meant every word of it. But this recent Gere/Oscar thing makes me realize that I am the movie equivalent of a substance abuser, and I want to 'fess up.

Plus I want to apportion some blame. Fact is, I don't really care all that much about the Oscars. Sure, I've been watching the show since I was a kid, and I have always paid attention to who's been nominated, but deep down inside I've always felt it was kind of a seasonal amusement -- something to pay attention to early in the year and then forget about for months on end. And that's pretty much how most of America felt in those days long before the ubiquity of blogs, cable TV and gossipy celebrity magazines. Now, of course, any attempt to avoid Oscar 24/7 is virtually impossible. You could go off the grid entirely, or move to Vanuatu, where maybe Internet reception isn't the best. But if you're a sentient human being and at all plugged into the media, you're likely to be overwhelmed with Oscar yada-yada.

And what this says about our culture isn't exactly a good thing. First, it's the obvious: Instead of dealing with issues like Darfur, global warming and whether or not Iran is really a threat to world peace, we're literally obsessing over the respective merits of Best Supporting Actor front-runners Eddie Murphy and Alan Arkin. No wonder the world is in such a state. Second, while the proliferation of media certainly has had a democratizing effect, it has also provided the ultimate validation of that old saw that opinions are like assholes: Everybody has one. Except that unlike in days past, when Oscar insiders were really insiders -- industry journalists, film columnists, etc. -- some "experts" are laying Oscar odds from their parents' basement in Dubuque. It's kind of nice that the electronic media have expanded the number and range of voices out there, but honestly, folks, don't you wish that about two-thirds of them would just shut the fuck up right about now? (Say what you want about me, but I already acknowledged I'm looking forward to Oscar detox.)

The logical extension of all this awards blathering, however, is that prognosticating has become a compulsion that's become increasingly harder to avoid. Honestly, I'm more interested in the brackets for the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament than I am in Oscar crystal-balling. And even though I'm the kind of guy who will watch Weber State vs. Valparaiso on ESPN at midnight, I don't pretend to be an expert on college hoops. Yet when it comes to the annual film awards season, I'm practically forced to render an opinion which I don't particularly care about or want to give. And I have to be prepared to share it, defend it and obsess over it -- especially as a professional journalist covering the film industry. If I don't, then people tend to think, "What's wrong with that guy?"

Well, I know what's wrong with me: I'm on the spike, as real junkies would say -- a victim of Oscars fixation. I know it's not good for my mental health, but I simply can't help myself. Maybe, like recovering addicts are supposed to do, I should stay away from the things that made me a doper in the first place; that means no more Oscar blogs, and so long to magazine and newspaper stories. It probably means leaving the room or avoiding the question if the dreaded issue comesup. Maybe I should move to Vanuatu. In any event, Richard Gere will have to campaign next year without me -- it's time to get clean.

Lewis Beale writes about the entertainment industry for a number of national publications including The New York Times, Newsday and USA Weekend.

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