How Much Do the Oscars Matter?

I watched the Oscars last night, and I enjoyed the show, as usual. (Though, sadly, I didn’t win this year’s Oscar hat. That honor went to another, though it was a nail biter, coming down to a last minute pivot from Three Billboards to Shape of Water to go big or go home.) But on Friday, I went to a great presentation at my university all about the politics of the Oscars, and the question came up multiple times: how much do the Oscars matter?

In one sense, this is a question that doesn’t really have any significance. The awards matter as much as they always have or will. I don’t hear most people asking if the Tony’s matter, for example. Mainly because while they’re an awards show watched by some, the number of people who follow musical theater closely just isn’t that large of a slice of the population. They matter to me personally, because I like to watch the show, and I occasionally go to Broadway. To the average person, however . . . not so much, I’d imagine.

Likewise, the Oscars matter to me, because I follow film fairly closely, and I’m interested to see who wins and who’s nominated each year. And we’re told the awards matter to others. The news talks a fair bit about them, and there are good discussions about inclusion and equality in the film industry because of them. Discussions I’m glad are happening.

But how much the awards really matter probably depends on the individual and the year. If you’ve seen many of the films and want your favorites to win, then the show takes on new meaning. (My agent does a wonderful liveblog each year for the Oscars, and it’s always fun to get his thoughts, since he’s actually seen most of the movies.) And obviously, the more engaged people become with the show, the more it begins to matter. I imagine it comes and goes in waves, in terms of importance. There are times when people care, and times when they just don’t.

Right now, it seems to me we’re probably entering a bit of a down trend for the Oscars importance, and for awards shows in general. The past several years, people have been looking behind the proverbial curtain of these awards, asking themselves how they’re given out, who votes for the winners, and questioning if they really represent “the best”. To me, much of that is arbitrary, because “Best” is such a relative thing. I’ve seen this happen in awards for fantasy and science fiction, as well.

And why do we have awards in the first place? To me, they’re at their best when they bring attention to works of art that might not have attention otherwise. After all, the public “votes” for their favorite films each week at the box office. If the Oscars were just a popularity contest, I wouldn’t really care about them at all. But there are many times when I watch a movie or hear about a performance through the Oscars that I would have missed otherwise. That’s a great service for me, and it’s useful to me to see what other people thought was “the best” in a particular year.

Have there been years when I think the better movie lost? Sure thing. But that’s okay, as long as you remember that the awards themselves are a product of their time just as the films are. It’s interesting to see what people of the time thought the best movie was, and sometimes “the time” means the week the vote actually happened.

I got 18/24 of my picks correct, which is a sign the Oscars went more or less according to plan. (Since I see so few of the movies ahead of time these days, I rely on The Experts when I’m filling out my picks. The more I get right, the more The Experts picked it right ahead of time.) Seeing The Shape of Water win Best Picture was the one real surprise, but even that wasn’t too surprising. It had been mentioned as one of the likeliest wins, right behind Three Billboards.

The ceremonies themselves were also pretty decent. I do wonder how lasting the various movements will prove to be. I hope they mark a permanent change, but only time will really tell. For now, it’s interesting to note most of the awards still went to white men. Some of that makes sense: they’re playing a game that’s been slanted in their favor for decades. When the examples of “what makes an Oscar worthy performance/film” are a slew of movies by white men, it shouldn’t be a big surprise when white men continue their dominance. It will take years of effort to counterbalance that, and I don’t really think it will ever be completely corrected. The history has already permanently affected the future.

I think Kimmel did a good job as a host again, in a very tricky situation. On the one hand, it’s an awards show. Many people tune in to watch awards, not to hear political speeches. On the other, with the huge #metoo movement and other current events, ignoring those completely would be a mistake, in my opinion. Product of our time. So he had to somehow balance between that, and I think he did that quite well.

I enjoyed the montages around the best acting awards and the 90th anniversary. Always interesting to see how easy it is to recognize a film based on a single one or two second clip. Really, I didn’t have too many complaints about the show, other than (as I said) it felt kind of predictable.

Next year I’d really like to watch more of the movies before the show, so I can have more of a personal stake in the game. Right now, it’s been like watching the Superbowl and not rooting for either team. The pomp and circumstance is entertaining, but you get more out of it when you really have opinions, I believe.

What did you think of the show?


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