To This Woman, I Give a “Sissy Spacek in ‘The Help’ Face”

It’s the most refreshing feeling in the world knowing that you’re a part of something…anything, for that matter. The desire to fulfill needs of self worth and importance are none more apparent than such feelings which seep into the minds (and inflated egos) of cinephiles like myself. I’ve come across scores of like-minded individuals as I’ve studied the medium of cinema for the past two years. Some are pretentious hipsters who fancy themselves contemporary Gertrude Steins of the film world, but of course there are those who take the craft seriously and understand that we’re not exactly curing cancer here.

I fully understand that I can sometimes fall in to both categories. But even at the moments when I’m most “seriously” handling the study of film, I’m able to recognize that what I’m doing isn’t, in a broad sense and scope of the world, truly “important” (for lack of a better word). Now enter passion into the equation, because film is something I’ve grown up with, studied, written about, and enveloped myself in for as long as I can remember. It becomes more than just “important” for me, it becomes my way of life. Something I’ve come to understand after investing my time and effort in the process.

A friend recently felt the need to text me in a “film buff panic,” forwarding to me a screen grab of a “normal” person’s (i.e.; someone who hasn’t studied film and probably has no idea what AMPAS stands for) Twitter response to something he’d posted earlier. This friend (for privacy’s sake, we’ll call him “Anfrani”) tweeted something  about his love for the upcoming Oscars. Anfrani received a response from one of his followers which was no doubt crafted in a very strenuous bout of 10 seconds of intense pondering on the respondent’s part, with her exclaiming;

“I have never been a fan [of the Oscars]! The movies that seem to win are usualky [sic] movies people really never heard of!”

The intensity of the look of digust on my face then (and now again, as I recount this tragedy) trumps the side eye thrown to Sandra Bullock’s Best Actress win for “The Blind Side.” I can deal with one idiot. I really can. But the sad thing is that this isn’t the first time I’ve heard someone say something so stupid with such conviction.

For starters, let’s get one thing straight; while the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (note: not the “Academy of Nominating the Top Box Office Performances of Any Given Year”) arguably has an, um, “agendized” way of doing things every year (I’m looking at you, Weinstein), they’re still a respected and altogether relevant entity within the film community. Sure, there’s an element of needing to “appeal” that plays into the nominations each year (sympathy wins and nominations each year, to name a few) but, contrary to popular belief, a little something called “merit” is an essential part of the Oscar nomination process as well. Mind you, this often has nothing to do with pandering certain people with films they’ve “heard of ” or not (note; when you filled out your survey the AMPAS mails to every single household in America, did you check “I’ve heard of this one” or “I haven’t heard of this one” next to The Tree of Life? I’m sure your answer was essential to this year’s nomination process).

But, isn’t merit a hard word to define in relation to cinematic greatness? Do we value the popular appeal (note; “appeal” is different than “familiarity”) of a performance or picture (I’m thinking of Rooney Mara’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo  nomination this year as well as The Help‘s recognition in the Best Picture category), but to nominate based on general familiarity alone would essentially ruin the Academy’s credibility to those who really, well, “matter” in the film industry. Of course I’m not speaking of cinephile “pundits,” if you will, like critics or message board/blog enthusiasts like myself, but to the thousands of Academy members who vote on these things every year.

It’s important to remember that the Academy is not a single entity; it’s not a giant brain which functions as a singular decisive force and hands out awards based on a mutual “agreement” (decided by the Illuminati in a dark room somewhere underground, I’m sure) between its members in an attempt to piss off those who hold opposing viewpoints (i.e.; this girl who hasn’t “heard of” anything they nominate). It takes a collective vote to determine nominees and winners, a democratic process which showcases a voice of industry professionals.

But, I’m getting a bit off track here. What’s really at stake here seems to be the public’s perception of what the Academy’s true purpose is. I can assure you it’s certainly not to appease the (forgive me for using this completely loaded word, as I don’t mean it to sound like I’m “othering” here) “mainstream” (see, I told you) general audience entirely. I’m speaking of those who maybe see three to five movies a year (one of which will undoubtedly be the top-grossing film of its respective year). I’m talking about people whose only investment in the Oscars is (let’s give this a context by placing ourselves back in 2009, shall we?) seeing “Avatar” after nominations were announced, and wondering why on earth it didn’t win Best Picture despite its inclusion amongst the other nominess, but only learned that information after reading the headline on their browswer’s homepage (Yahoo!, Or Verizon maybe?) the day after the ceremony because they were too tired to stay up and watch the entire “boring” thing .

Bottom line, the Oscars are also a business; it’s important to attract a consumer and appeal to what is familiar to them, and “Avatar” coming from a somewhat respected director and becoming the top grossing film of 2009 certainly didn’t hurt in justifying its placement in the Best Picture category. So yes, to a certain degree, familiarity does play some sort of role in generating appeal for the Oscars telecast.

But, you see, there were also nine other films in the same category that year. And just because you didn’t take the time to see them, my dear, doesn’t derive them of the merit an institution such as the AMPAS has bestowed upon them with a nomination.

That seems to be the driving force behind such criticism of the Oscars. Let’s hate on the Academy because they didn’t cater to my tastes. I do it, too; but more on a level of disagreement than outright disrespect and hatred for not catering to my needs. I understand the AMPAS as a separate entity which represents thousands of industry professionals. I may not agree, but I certainly won’t demean their voice for not “catering” to myself. But, if you’re only going to take yourself out of the house to see the latest installment of “Transformers” or “Paranormal Activity” each year and give them glowing five-word empty descriptors (“Dude that was so good!”) as you walk out of the theater, what in the fuck are you doing paying attention to the Academy anyway? Movies clearly aren’t your bag. You wouldn’t slam a chef’s cooking as he sets it down on the table in front of you just because you’ve never tried the ingredients before, would you? So what do you do? You pick up your fork and you go to town. If you puke, sure, reject the next helping. But until you’ve placed a morsel in your mouth, you have no credibility to judge that which is placed before you.

So please, do the rest of us who actually care about this stuff a favor and don’t blame the Academy for your own irrelevancy to what they’re trying to do.

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