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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Consensus vs. Merit: An Awards Season Rant

One of my biggest problems with the Oscars, even more than other similar awards, is that there seems to be more speculation of who will win than discussion of who should. What this leads to is the sort of mass consensus that prevents the awards (especially this years, where everything but Best Actor and possibly Supporting Actress are seemingly in the bag) from possessing any inherent drama and so thoroughly discourages fans of movies and performances that are widely seen as having "no shot" at the award. Pity the family and friends of Melissa Leo, who may never be nominated again and must be finding it awfully hard to envision a scenario in which she prevails over Kate Winslet.

Every columnist and blogger is predicting Slumdog Millionaire will win Best Picture and that it's director Danny Boyle will take home that prize as well. What is lacking in these efforts of prognostication is explanation. Why should Slumdog beat any of the other four films? Columns typically mention Slumdog's wins at the Golden Globes and other pre-Oscar ceremonies, but fail to mention superior acting, writing, or directing. Is it true that Slumdog was the best movie of 2008, or even the best of these five movies? I don't know if I could find one person who really thinks that, and yet here we are just a few days away and Slumdog is the prohibitive favorite.

In a way this reminds me of nothing so much as that scourge on the college football season known as the Heisman Trophy. Ever year sportswriters waste an inordinate amount of column space on predicting the winner of the award, which purports to name the best player in college football. However, the award is almost exclusively handed out to quarterbacks or running backs on top-ranked teams loaded with other extremely talented players.

When indulging their need to predict, Heisman-watchers often note a prospective winners resemblance to this template, while all too often ignoring statistics such as passing or rushing yards. In the same way, Hollywood star-gazers will refer to a movie's level of award-readiness, calling some films "Oscar bait" because they fit in to the Academy's pre-conceived notions of what makes an Oscar winner.

Maybe the problem with the Oscars is that not enough people have really seen enough of these films to pontificate on who really was the Best Actress of the year, but if so they should refrain from helping to create a hegemonic consensus which kills any interest in the debate that should be concomitant with the ceremony and renders it interesting only to those who care what dress Bjork shows up in.

And yes, if you were wondering, I am saying that Slumdog is this year's Troy Smith.

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