Posted by: Chris | February 7, 2010

Oscars and Fighting the Last War

Last year, the rap against the Oscars was that, in the Best Picture category, their nominations favored mediocre award-bait movies over superlative mainstream flicks like the Dark Knight and WALL-E.  This was a quite valid complaint and the Academy, in response, decided to simply double the number of awards, so that they could nominate both their mediocre award-bait and the cream of the mainstream.dThe same movie (superlative award-bait) would win either way, so it shouldn’t really matter, right?

Flashforward to this year’s nominees.  As Chris Orr notes, 2009 didn’t turn out quite like 2008.  The big mainstream movie this year is not something along the lines of the Dark Knight or even Pixar’s entry Up (which thankfully got a spot on the list), but the utter shit that is Avatar.  Its too big and techy to be ignored, whatever the merits of the movie parts, so it is basically guarranteed one of the ten spots.  But now that its there, it may well be unstoppable.  Judges, chastened by the critiques and the low ratings of the previous years festival, are favorably inclined.  And the new ten movie list makes finding a single movie for the dominant pro-quality-movie bloc to coalesce around nigh impossible.  And so, the Avatar win likely win an Oscar for Best Picture despite being transparently bad, because everyone was too invested in fighting the last war and assumed this year would play out much the same.

It reminds me of the Democrats in Massachussets, who, in anticipation of a President John Kerry, forced a change in election rules so that Republican Mitt Romney could not appoint his replacement to the Senate, only for history to not go as planned and to be undone by that very change five years later when Ted Kennedy’s death and Scott Brown’s special election victory to replace him led to at least a potential defeat of their primary political objective.  Or how the Democrats again changed their presidential primaries in the eighties so that they would be more democratic and less divisive, only for, twenty years later in the first competitive primary since, have those exact rules lead to a never-ending and bitter struggle where the eventual winner got fewer votes and had to pushed over the top by the party super delegates themselves.

There is something deeply amusing to me nestled into people being hung by their own fiddling, as revolting as the idea of Avatar winning the Oscar is to me.

BTW, this is the first Super Bowl I’ve missed in memory.  Yay, no cable!



  1. The Hurt Locker just took Best Picture. The NYTimes article on it notes…

    “For most of the night the ceremony put in sharp relief a split between the 5,777 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who in many categories continued a recent tradition of honoring small, independent-style movies, and their own broadcast, which played heavily into the big movies.”

    It looks like if their goal was to add a sop to popular sentiment without affecting the results of their insular survey, they succeeded admirably with their changes.

  2. I did not see the Oscars (see the final comment in the original post), but this is good news in the end. I think the glee I would have gotten from watching people pwn themselves is outweighed by the relief I feel right now that Avatar only won awards in the special effects deptartment (which were well deserved).

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