Award shows are the anti-art
Is it the amount of time and effort a director pours into his project, evidenced by lost weight and grey hair?
Is it the level of research a designer does into a time period and the amount of fine detail?
Is it the complete transformation an actor makes into her role?
Is it critical acclaim, the amount of enthusiasm with which thumbs were raised?
Or is it the bottom line: box-office receipts?
Well, it's Oscar season, and my fellow performing artists are going to be staying up past their bedtimes tonight, giddy with anticipation and wondering which of this year's uber-politically-correct-films-that-most-Americans-didn't-see will win. As for me, I'll be sleeping when Brokeback Mountain wins its big award, or possibly reading old issues of Thunderbolts while listening to Dream Theater.
Why all this vitriol, or at least disinterest? Because artistic award shows offend me as an artist. That's right, I said "offend," a word I don't use very often, but which I throw down here with no hesitation.
Art is not sports. There's no "winner." In fact, it's pretty obnoxious to say someone's art is "better" or "worse" than someone else's at all, much less claiming their work to be "the best." (For the record, Pat's the best.™) Different artists make different choices, they have different agendas, and they have different tools to work with. Is the The Garden of Delights better than the Last Supper? Is Rodin's Burghers of Calais superior to Michaelengelo's David? They're all trying to accomplish different ends through different means, and presuming to deduce which is the "best" is absurd at best and profoundly arrogant at worst. Every artistic endeavor is inherently different from every other one, and there is precious little objective "quality" to be described.
Even if there was an objective standard by which individual art could be defined, it would be impossible to separate performances from their context. Every effective acting performance I've ever seen has been the result of an ensemble of other committed actors, most have been made possible by a sophisticated script, all have been profoundly influenced by a strong director's crafting, and most have been assisted by the environment of setting, costume, and makeup. I'm looking at you, Sean Astin in Return of the King. At least the SAG Awards have a "Best Ensemble" award. Contrarily, how many fine actors (Natalie Portman) have been hung out to dry by directors for whom the acting is a low storytelling priority (George Lucas)? The Golden Globes and Academy Awards seem to think you can take the elements of filmmaking and separate them from each other like a scientist dissecting a dead rat to see what killed it. "And the Oscar for Best Spleen goes to..." Every performing-artistic endeavor is the result of collaboration and environment, and cannot be separated from its context for individual judgment.
This is all, of course, ignoring the biggest problem with the Oscars, and with almost all awards shows: the means by which awards are given. Who are the members of the Academy to be determining whether or not someone's art is successful, much less superior? The film wasn't made for them, it was made for the audience. All art is made for the audience, and only the audience has a right to judge its merits. Did the funny movie make you laugh? Did the tragic movie make you cry? Did the musical make you leave the cinema humming? Did the sci-fi-extravaganza make your kid beg for action figures and playsets? Then it was a success. At least the People's Choice Awards have the right people voting, and use the word "Favorite" on their honors.
The Oscars are unbelievably disingenuous: artists voting on which artists are the best, then charging millions of dollars for corporations to advertise in the middle of this mass-back-patting intellectual superiority festival while hyping it up for millions of audience members to watch. Hey, at least the audience got a little taste of the transaction at the back end there.
This year's Oscars are among the worst in recent memory. Not a single film up for Best Picture of the Year is even sniffing the upper eschelon of box office receipts for the year. Many of this year's nominees only played in large markets, where the most intellectually enlightened urbanites half-filled the art houses where they were screened. Not that this is easy to discover; the studios are very close-vested about releasing the numbers for several of these films. Hollywood doesn't want anyone knowing that Brokeback Mountain isn't the massive commercial crossover hit the Today show makes you think it is.
As a final note, how much money was spent on that dress? How many people could that money have fed today? Can we please take all this Entertainment Tonight / People Magazine attention and put it someplace that actually benefits someone who isn't already a millionaire?
Here are the movies from the past couple years that really moved me, that made me smile and feel warm, that made me cry, that made me angry, that lifted my heart: The Lord of the Rings, Napoleon Dynamite, Amelie, Spider-Man 2, The Road to Perdition, Sin City, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Phantom of the Opera, The New World, Garden State, The Incredibles, Seabiscuit. Of these, my current favorites are probably Amelie, which made me laugh and cry with delight, Spider-Man 2, which was the most moving film I saw in all of 2004, Napoleon Dynamite, which restored my faith in youth, and The Lord of the Rings, which is without a doubt my favorite movie ever.
Yes, I know The Return of the King won 11 Oscars. But I wasn't watching. And I won't be watching this year.