If you listen close, you'll hear me alternately clapping and sobbing over the tag-team job Noel Murray and Scott Tobias lay on Oscar prognosticators over at The A.V. Club. In deconstructing the mythos of the Academy Awards' mass appeal, the authors evoke the same sober outrage that I've been nurturing myself since my first awards-season trial last year -- something like helplessness, but with... momentum:
TOBIAS: Taste dictates these assessments to a certain degree, but when a film gets deemed "Oscar-worthy," it's the furthest thing from critical advocacy. All it means is that a particular film has qualities that Oscar voters traditionally find attractive -- a middlebrow sense of grandeur, a message that seems risky without actually being provocative, name stars emoting like crazy, and the potential for at least modest success at the box office. If the OPs have any effect on the process, it's really to enforce (rather than challenge) the status quo: Instead of doing something good for humanity, like asking voters to consider some movie or performance that really moved them, they're filtering everything they see for the same "Oscar-worthy" qualities that have made the awards such a useless barometer for cinematic excellence throughout history. ...
MURRAY: Anyway, there's a distressing unanimity to what the OPs write about. Eventually, it all narrows down to the same dozen or so films, judged not so much on what they mean to the writer, but on what they might mean to a group of people not even in the screening room. And the only question in film criticism more pernicious than "Will audiences like it?" is "What will the Academy think?"
Indeed, we face an accountability vacuum that is destroying cinema and must be seriously addressed. So that's it -- as if this site weren't out-of-control enough, I'm adding a new feature: From here on out, The Reeler is watching the watchers. Working title: Shredding the Envelope. "But what does this have to do with New York cinema," you ask? Good question at face value, but think of it this way: Who else is going to do it? We can just outrun Academy fever with a 3,000-mile head start, and we've got the best concentration of film and media critical minds on the planet. Not that we're necessarily anti-Oscar or anything; we're just anti-Oscar's dick in our mouths. I mean, the time you spend reading Tom O'Neil and David Poland would be so much better spent catching up on the masterpiece you might be missing around the corner (to paraphrase Reid Rosefelt), don't you think?
So look for that -- eventually. Send tips, hints and suggestions, and we'll get right to business.
Posted at November 17, 2006 12:00 PM
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