What’s so special about the Academy Awards?

When I say to someone that I have a special interest in the Academy Awards, I often catch a glimpse of poorly concealed derision. “Oh, one of those Walk of Fame groupies,” they think, “who chases celebrities with an autograph book and swoons in the presence of this week’s hot personality no one has ever heard of.” They stifle the urge to pat me on the head like an immature adolescent.

The Academy Awards are special to me, but not for the reasons many might expect. So, what’s so special?

The Red Carpet?

Well, it’s certainly not the stars on the red carpet. One would think that with the amount of time to prepare for an awards show that interviewers could come up with a better repertoire of questions than “Who are you wearing?” (I cannot get rid of the mental picture of a Reader’s Digest cartoon: a starlet on the red carpet, who has a limp body slung over one shoulder, says to the interviewer, “I’m wearing Donna Karan.”) Seldom has one of these interviews ever yielded a factoid worth listening to. In addition, the cost of the clothes and jewels on a typical Oscar night runway would be sufficient to feed the population of a small third-world country, or at least finance a half dozen large scale films. It adds nothing to the enjoyment of films and seems so entirely unnecessary. The glitz and glamour is definitely not what’s special about the Academy Awards for me.

The Stars?

In fact, it’s not the stars either, particularly the interminable coverage of their every off-screen activity. It eludes me why what restaurant some luminary attends or how many times he or she visits Starbucks is at all important or relevant. In a film I’d rather see an unknown actor or actress, who can deliver a convincing and believable performance, than have to spend time tuning out the distracting baggage an over-publicized celebrity brings into a film role. For this reason, I will go out of my way to avoid the films of two stars whose off-screen personality cannot be left there.

The Awards Show?

And what’s so special is not the awards show inside. In recent years, in an attempt to reach a younger audience, show producers have chosen young presenters who have little, if any, connection to the film industry. Many are so enthralled with their own fledgling importance that they forget their purpose (as well as their lines). And the show’s overblown musical numbers (particularly in years when there are no musical films produced) rarely relate to the music of the year’s films. Even when the nominated songs are performed, the rendition is seldom as the song was presented in the film. Generally speaking, Broadway’s Tony Awards are better entertainment, because they are hosted and presented by individuals who make their living performing before live audiences.

The “Oscar”?

Even the Oscar award itself does not make the Academy Awards special. Although it has achieved iconic status, it is not a particularly attractive sculpture. Television’s Emmy is more anatomically correct, and the Tony is more innovative with its spinning disk on top.

The Winners?

Surprisingly, I don’t even think who wins is particularly important. The rules for balloting specify that the nominations are determined by members from within the same Academy branch—that is, actors nominate actors, cinematographers nominate cinematographers, etc. Therefore, the nominees are selected by those individuals who best know what makes an outstanding achievement in a given category. However, once the nominations are determined, everyone in the Academy votes to determine the final winners. Actors vote for sound mixing, and writers vote for costume design. This results in selecting a winner that is not necessarily the best in a given category, but rather the one that was most flamboyant or conspicuous among the nominated achievements. Like everyone, I often disagree with the eventual winners. Even the Academy realizes occasional mistakes and oversights by awarding special or honorary awards at some later date.

The Acceptance Speeches?

And, of course, it’s not the speeches that make the Academy Awards special. Not one of the millions of viewers cares who the winner feels he or she must thank (with the possible exception of the person who was left off the list). It is a remarkable show if two out of the two dozen awards yields a memorable speech. Again, a cue should be taken from the Tony award winners who have a better command of the language and have taken advantage of the two months since nominations were announced to give some consideration to what might be appropriate, meaningful words.

The Movies

So what’s so special about the Academy Awards? Quite simply, it’s the movies—the magic moments in the dark where day-to-day tedium is replaced with a world that is more vivid, more heroic, more exciting than what we face every day. It’s not just the winners; what’s special is the entire collection of films nominated for the year. The fact that the nominations in each category are determined by the craftspeople who know the category best, ensures that the top achievements in each category are represented. This collection usually runs the gamut from the popular “popcorn” flicks (often nominated in the technical categories) to the edgy independent films to the truly magical characterizations that echo in our memories for months to come. Sure, the Academy’s choices may overlook a great film once in a while. Any selection that is limited to an arbitrary number may have to bypass some close “runners-up.” But, by and large, the entire list of nominees for Academy Awards reflects the cream of the movie-going experiences for the year.

That’s what’s so special about the Academy Awards. Long after the ceremony, long after the rented jewels are returned to their rightful owners, long after the interviewers’ mundane questions have thankfully vaporized into the atmosphere, and long after the stars have left the last party in the wee hours of the morning, we still have the movies. From the clutter of everything that is produced by the film industry each year there emerge a few gems that will last. For years to come, we can re-experience the magic of a world captured forever on film. This is how we saw the world this year; this is what we were thinking about. Some may be forgotten over time, but a few magical films will continue to captivate audiences for years to come. In that distant future, after seeing one of today’s nominees, we will inevitably say “Why don’t they make them like that anymore?”