Everybody loves the Hollywood awards season. It’s a magical time of year when all your favourite stars get dressed up to the nines to receive awards honouring them for all their hard work – and I’m sorry, it’s only the second sentence and already I want to throw up. The awards season is a cancer on the world of film – a self-promoting prostitution of everything that the movies should be about in a desperate attempt to get the tabloid press to pay attention to something that is technically an ‘art form’. It’s safe to say I’m not a fan.
For those few who are blissfully unaware, awards season grinds out over a few months and covers a whole range of awards ceremonies, from the UK’s BAFTAs and Australia’s much-maligned AACTAs to the various technical guilds in the USA. Recognising hard work is something no sane individual could object to, but these awards aren’t about that. The whole point of these lesser ceremonies is that they herald the coming of this month’s Academy Awards – the only coverage any of the other awards get is ‘what does this mean for the Academy Awards?’
If the groups handing out the awards cared about their individual awards, maybe they’d hold them after the Oscars. But just like the notoriously dubious Golden Globes – an event voted on by less than a hundred nobodies and designed entirely to promote ‘The Golden Globes’ by making sure the films nominated are a) already popular, and b) in the running for an Oscar – these awards are merely riding Oscars’ coattails down the red carpet. The Oscars are the Superbowl of film, the Grand Final of creativity in the art form.
The worst thing about awards season is…well, it’s not really possible to single out one ‘worst thing’ as there are so many elements competing for that dubious honour and ugh, see how easily the evil of awards-based competition takes hold? Even a simple declarative sentence is corrupted by the ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’ ideal that these awards symbolise. The arts should be free of this worship of competition, an area where your own individual response to the art in question is the only thing that matters. But history has taught us that your personal fondness for Fast and Furious 5 isn’t going to get 30 seconds of red carpet footage aired at the end of the nightly news.
The worst thing about awards season is that, at a time when we are supposedly celebrating the rise of the nerd and the knowledge-based egalitarian culture this archetype brings, movie awards continue to drag film in the opposite direction. Movie awards take art and turn it into a fight – with a fashion show bolted on. They take something for nerds, and turn it into something for jocks and cheerleaders. It’s not about enjoying the films on their merits: it’s about ‘teams’ and winning, dammit.
The Oscars are little more than a blood-free boxing match with the actresses on the red carpet playing the part of ring girls. It’s not like being crowned the winner means anything in a quality sense. While this year comparing Argo and Zero Dark Thirty sort of makes sense, as they’re both movies about the CIA saving the West from sinister Middle Eastern types, how do you compare them to Lincoln? To Silver Linings Playbook? To Beasts of the Southern Wild? Apart from the year of release and the English language, what do these films have in common that anyone can say makes one somehow ‘better’ than the rest? And if they can’t be compared, what are we talking about here?
Getting dressed up is fun, the ceremony can often be entertaining in itself and if you want to give yourselves awards I say go for it. Just don’t pretend those awards have anything to do with quality. Financial success is measured in box office returns; everything else is judged by history. Who remembers last year’s Academy Award winners, let alone those of a decade ago? In case you’ve forgotten, The Artist was 2012’s big winner, taking out Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor; not even 365 days later, does anyone really think that was the best film of that year?
No Sally, I really don’t.
Anthony Morris is a Killings columnist and has been reviewing films for almost 20 years for a variety of publications, many of which have closed down through no fault of his own. Though his insistence on reviewing every single Adam Sandler movie may have played a part.