Talking Point: Awards


It's that time of year again...
It’s that time of year again…

I started this blog in March last year, so just missed out on all the discussion that naturally revolves around the annual ritual of film industry awards ceremonies. Most prominent among these is of course the Hollywood-centric Academy Awards, but there are plenty of others that also naturally want to look back at this time of year — for example, the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the New York Film Critics’ Circle Awards, the list goes on almost interminably. Just to be clear right upfront, it is everyone’s right to enjoy and even be inspired by awards ceremonies should they wish; what I’ve written below is merely my own (grumpy) opinion.

It’s important for people in the industry to show support for one another, and to reward the achievements that they feel strongly about. It never hurts to get a bit of approval for work that you’re proud of. It’s just that as a viewer, none of this really means much to me. If I were the sort of person who generally loved the kinds of films that scoop the big awards in Hollywood (or indeed anywhere outside the big arty festivals like Cannes and Venice), then maybe I would, but by this point in my life I’ve found plenty of more meaningful sources for discovering great films. It’s a great time for everyone in the industry to show off to one another, but invariably they pick the wrong film to win. I might for example affect some surprise that Argo won over Zero Dark Thirty (or, to throw out a prediction, when American Hustle wins over 12 Years a Slave), but I’d be being disingenuous. The qualities that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (those people who award the Oscars®™) are looking for in a film are not generally ones that mean much to me, but each of us can make our own decisions with regards to that.

What this leaves me with as a spectator is a whole lot of self-congratulatory back-slapping and attendant sentimentality and mawkishness, and it’s all dreadfully dull on the whole. There’s a reason why the fashion gets more column inches than the awards, and I’ve increasingly found that I’m also happier scanning the red carpet photos not to mention the animated GIFs of, say, Jennifer Lawrence saying something funny, than persevering with the actual ceremonies. AMPAS, in particular, always parrots some astronomically ridiculous figure for the number of people who watch their awards, but I don’t even begin to believe it (not least because it’s so damned difficult to watch the thing live, certainly in the UK, without the right subscription to the right set of channels).

So, these ceremonies — whatever peculiar tediousness and unctuous platitudes may afflict them — are all very well. What bugs me about this time of year (though it seems to crop up fairly regularly all year round), is when someone enjoys a film, or a contribution to that film (particularly an actor’s performance), and considers it good, the terms of their approval are immediately framed as hoping it ‘gets the nod’ or is honoured at such-and-such a ceremony. Maybe it does, most often it doesn’t, but either way it always comes across to me as at best a back-handed compliment, given the way awards are distributed. I have no wish to deny the happiness of any given actor, director, cinematographer, editor, hair and makeup person, etc. etc., but how their industry rewards them is of vanishingly small interest to me. We can all think of examples where any given ceremony has made egregious oversights. There are so many examples over the past century, that to list them would be a tiresome and indeed impossible feat. Some of the best conversations to come out of this season are around who was overlooked, because at least that opens up the discussion to a wider range of achievement than that narrowly selected.

So instead, I prefer not to care about who wins the actual awards and have been trying, as the years go by, to wean myself off it. I will always enjoy the spectacle that accompanies it all, and I will continue to enjoy seeing attractive famous people looking attractive and being famous, for all the most superficial reasons. But I don’t much care if they win the award everyone had hoped for them. The greatest reward is what is seen on the screen, and if we were to restrict our choices to just what a bunch of elderly white conservative men think is worthwhile, then what’s on the screen would be nothing worth rewarding.

Do you like awards? Do you have any favourites? Who was regrettably passed over for consideration?

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7 thoughts on “Talking Point: Awards

  1. For someone who watches a lot of films and tries to write about films I’ve seen a pitifully small number of Best Picture winners. I think ‘Crash’ was the turning point. It was the last film I sought out just because it had won, it bored the pants off me and I was sat in the cinema thinking about how many previous winners had done likewise. Having said that, I think this year’s list of nominees is one of the most interesting for ages!

    1. It’s true, this is actually a very good year for the films in contention for awards. Every year throws up excellent films that don’t even get a sniff of recognition, and I wouldn’t be unhappy at most of those nominated winning. But as a rule, the Oscars (in particular) is never a great guide for what should be remembered throughout history. I’d have more fun trying to watch all the Palme d’Or winners I suspect, though some of those are gruelling in different ways.

      1. A couple of years ago I set myself the target of watching all of the Palme d’Or winners and gave up when I realised how hard some of them are to get hold of.

  2. I think the whole ‘competition’ thing is completely at odds with creativity, full stop*. That said I find it all interesting and get caught up in the fuss each year, but the idea that a comparison can be made between so many thousand films, performances, scripts etc. and a ‘winner’ declared at the end of it is patently ridiculous. 12 Years A Slave, Gravity and American Hustle are so different that comparing them is like saying ‘this banana is superior to this apple which in turn is superior to this pear’. Still, it generates a bit more publicity for movies that (generally) deserve it and most people in attendance benefit financially from that in one way or another, so I guess all the loud trumpeting is good for some.

    I do find the awards season useful in terms of highlighting performances that are probably worth checking in films I wouldn’t otherwise watch, or documentaries and foreign films** which generally don’t get as much press on release as typical Hollywood fare (as well as blogs I tend to rely on newspapers for info, and only buy Sight And Sound every three or four issues, so often the list of nominations is the first I hear of some documentaries).

    * I’ve been contemplating stopping ‘scoring’ on my blog as ranking vastly different types of films is starting to feel utterly pointless…but have decided to carry on for now, seeing as I’ve started.

    ** Hate this term but use it often. Aren’t all films foreign? The sooner they stop having separate awards for films that aren’t in English the better.

  3. I think awards are a good bit of fun but it doesn’t really bother me too much what does and doesn’t get nominated as there are always amazing films that miss out. It’s just the opinion of some people sat around a table at the end of the day.

    Most of the actors care though, and I think that’s what makes us care about them. They clearly really want to win, so it’s difficult to not take some notice of them.

  4. Great commentary, I think the awards ceremonies (especially the Oscars) have an important of bringing quality films to larger audiences. (How many thousands of people have decided to see Dallas Buyers Club or 12 Years A Slave because of all of the awards buzz?)

    But I do not think the ceremonies are or the sole way by which good film is judged. They always miss quality work (because there are usually too many worthy movies to recognize all of them). This year Wadjda, Stories We Tell and Tom Hanks could all question the Academy’s decisions, for instance, as could any number of other snubs.

  5. Bravo. I find the idea of self-congratulation obnoxious and undeserved from an industry that admits every year (about late October) “now we’re putting out the quality films in time for nominations.” Really? What was that you unloaded the rest of the year? (Not that the late year pickings aren’t beginning to resemble the earlier stuff.) To me the awards are so meaningless that even when I write an obituary, I don’t mention any nominations or wins the person might have collected as it’s not a reliable barometer (to say the least) on the true worth of an individual’s work.

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