The Purinton Primer is supposed to be a column about theatre, but I’m afraid we’re going to have to take a diversion to the land of film this week. Sorry. The Oscars were this past Sunday and I am still abuzz with excitement. You see, I love the Oscars. At my home away from Kenyon, my parents and I always have an Oscar party where there’s lots of delicious food and good friends. We all fill out a ballot where we guess the winners in all of the categories and whoever guesses the most correctly wins one of my old Little League trophies.
More on Oscar-related thoughts after the jump.
Now, my love of the Oscars does not mean that they are perfect. For example, many of the nominations and awards are based on politics in addition to talent. A film with an aggressive and influential production team behind it certainly has an advantage over smaller independent films. Often times, nominations and even wins can be predicted before any of the films in the Oscar race have even been released, because the subject matter and production team is clearly marketing it to appeal to the Academy.
This bias leads to other, more troubling problems. As recently reported, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (after whom the Academy Awards are named) is 94% Caucasian and 77% male, and 86% over the age of 50. So, old white men.
I could keep going on about this, but I won’t. For one thing, my responses to these problems are general justified outrage, and a lot has been said on the subject by people with far more insight than myself. Although this is an important issue and I encourage people to discuss it more, I personally don’t want to try and encompass the nuances of such a pertinent issue in a short blog post.
But now that I’ve all too briefly discussed these topical issues, I will return to the original point of this post. Despite its many problems, I cannot help but like the Oscars because I think it’s a beautiful idea. We have one night dedicated to celebrating excellence in film. Whether the Academy gets it right or wrong, the fact that the country takes several hours to pay attention to arts is refreshing — especially during a time when arts programs are being cut in schools across the country. That’s why I’m upset when people just don’t seem to care about the Oscars — even if you haven’t seen or didn’t particularly enjoy the nominated films, the sentiment itself is incredible. Especially because these awards ceremonies are unabashedly showy. They’re truly spectacular and lavish, sparing no expense to show that the arts matter.
The Oscars give voice to the little guy. Many people complained about how The Artist was the clear favorite to win the top award this year. This lack of suspense and anticipation bored most people. The fact, however, that a nearly silent film starring two actors who are completely unknown to American audiences managed to gain popular acclaim in the year 2012 is pretty wonderful. Maybe it’ll inspire a new trend. If not, we could all just watch movies on mute and pretend they’re silent films. It’ll probably improve anything made by Michael Bay.
Many of you reading this probably disagree with me and may believe me incredibly naïve. To you, I say “You’re right, but hear me out.” My favorite acceptance speech of all time was when a man named Ari Sandel accepted the award for Best Live Action Short for his film West Bank Story, a musical comedy satire of West Side Story about Israel and Palestine that takes place between two rival falafel stands. Try to watch it if you can — I highly recommend it.
Now, Mr. Sandel is obviously not a household name and these short films are almost never seen. Because they’re not big names, people often tune out during the speeches for these awards, and if you do, then you are missing out. These people are truly honored to be here — they are earnestly happy just to be nominated, and you can tell that winning an Oscar could be the best moment of their lives. The speeches are heartfelt and often the most moving of the night.
Mr. Sandel’s is no exception. In his speech, he exemplified what the Oscars should really be: a celebration of outstanding work in the arts. That is why, every year for the Oscars, I gather around the television and try to win back my Little League trophies.
P.S. Because there’s no way I can go through an entire post about the Oscars and not say this, I did not understand the appeal of The Descendants. I don’t know how it was so acclaimed, and I also felt Hugo was not nearly as clever or cute as it clearly was thought to be. Although I’m glad that Christopher Plummer won for Beginners, that movie deserved more nominations than it got. Finally, Meryl Streep is wonderful and to quote Modern Family, I think that she could play Batman and it would be the right choice.