My family loves film. It’s integral to who we are. My mom acts. My dad works in box office data. I’ve worked at a movie theater on and off throughout college. To no one’s surprise, we take the Academy Awards very seriously. And the Smith family father-daughter Oscar pool is no exception.
With that star-studded, glamorous day looming, my dad and I have started sh-t talking each other. He began, “Bring it. I took $11 from Nelkane (a family friend who lost a Super Bowl bet). You’re next!” I responded with, “Talk is cheap.” As reigning champion — two years and counting — I didn’t need to say much (take that, Dad).
Clearly, I love the Oscars. I love the dresses. I love trying to guess who will win. I love discussing the films at hand. I love the competition. I find it all thrilling and terribly exciting. But, lately, this tiny voice lingering in the back of my mind has been whispering, quite convincingly, that the Oscars are arbitrary — and none of it really matters.
Before I continue, I should point out that I will most definitely be watching the Oscars this year. The pool is alive and well. We even have a new addition to the group (you’re going down, Matt). I love a little friendly competition. Still, I keep questioning the point of it all, wondering why we hold this tiny gold man to such esteem.
To me, there really are only a handful of films every year that are truly moving, innovative and engaging. It’s an impressive feat to pull that off, I don’t deny that in the slightest. I do, however, think that most films are worthy in their own right.
I loved Fast & Furious 6 — it’s a guilty pleasure of mine and I will not apologize for it — and I got something out of it. It’s an incredibly fun, entertaining film. My dad and I have made a father-daughter tradition out of watching the Fast series together as well. I got something out of this film and enjoyed it for the mindless action-adventure that it is. But, context truly is everything.
I would not go so far as to compare Fast 6 to the other films I loved this year: 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyers Club, Fruitvale Station , Gravity, Her, Short Term 12 and The Wolf of Wall Street.
It might seem ridiculous to think of Fast & Furious 6 in relation to the aforementioned — but that’s exactly my point. Fast & Furious 6 is a thoughtless summer blockbuster while 12 Years a Slave is a poetic, expertly acted, amazingly thought-provoking cinematic masterpiece (and I don’t use that word lightly). I fully realize why the Academy would distinguish the Vin Diesels from the Chiwetel Ejiofors of the film world. In that sense, the awards make sense.
But, part of me feels that when you get to that level of excellence, what is the point of recognizing one film, director, actor, actress, etc. above another? Everything is subjective. Even when you look to the opinions of the most qualified people (directors, actors, producers, film critics) to decide what the “best” in film means, opinions will vary.
For different reasons, I found Spike Jonze’s Her to be just as beautiful and mesmerizing as 12 Years a Slave. They’re two films that I simply can’t stop thinking about even months later. If 12 Years a Slave were to beat out Her, or vice versa, I would still find them equally compelling as would many others — I have no doubts about that. Again, if they’re on the same level of excellence — equally powerful, artistic and important — what is the point of saying one is better than the other?
Then there’s Academy misses and snubs to consider.
I still have my doubts about Sandra Bullock’s best actress win for The Blind Side. Loved the movie and I love my dear Sandra — Miss Congeniality, enough said — but in my mind, and many others I’m sure, the Academy got it wrong. Need I remind everyone that she was up against Meryl Streep for her portrayal as Julia Child in Julie & Julia?
And don’t even get me started on Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas best director miss in 1990. The man is one of the greatest auteurs of our time and he was robbed.
Even worse than misses are nomination snubs. Fruitvale Station and Short Term 12 stood apart as prime examples this year.
Michael B. Jordan played a sympathetic character grounded in reality who captured the shocking, heartbreaking nature of racism today. Snub. Brie Larson moved audiences in her devastating turn as a staff member at a troubled youth facility. Snub. Both films matched the stellar nature of their lead performers. Snub. Snub.
The Academy expanded Best Picture nominees to 10 films, so why are some of the best films of the year still going unnoticed?
I realize that I might sound a bit hypocritical in all of this. I’m criticizing a system that chooses the best, and yet I’m claiming Streep was better than Bullock, Scorsese better than Costner. By no means am I an expert — I’m just a film lover — but my point is that it is a flawed system because these awards are so subjective by nature.
All of this leads me to ultimately ask: What does Academy validation really mean? Why do we have to single out one film, performance or other cinematic achievement as the best?
The Academy’s stamp of approval acts as a marker of status. People are going to like what they’re going to like, accolades aside. With the months of talk and speculation leading up to the awards, and the hoopla surrounding the event, it all feels like a big, unnecessary spectacle that only a select portion of society really appreciates. And in that sense, with all the Academy misses and snubs and unnecessary grandeur, the awards feel arbitrary and unimportant.
I will watch the Academy Awards this year, but I will do so begrudgingly.
C. Molly Smith is a senior majoring in communication. Her column, “Art Garfunkel,” runs every other Friday.
For more commentary check out Molly’s podcast at dailytrojan.com