Rob Edelman: Oscar Hype

Jan 20, 2014

Each day, it seems, a new film critics group or other such organization announces its Best Film and Best Actor and Best Actress choices for the just-concluded year. Then we have the Golden Globe awards which, let’s face it, is the equivalent of a Triple-A championship baseball game. Now we have the Academy Awards which, as Ed Sullivan used to say, is the “Really Big Show” that is the motion picture industry’s equivalent of the World Series or Super Bowl.

What is so unusual is that, in 2013, so many films and so many film scripts and so many performances are genuinely Oscar-worthy. Many of these films are tremendously entertaining, or deal with real-world issues and true emotion. But once the Oscar hype begins, well, the content and quality of each film is obscured by their publicity campaigns and an overdose of in-your-face puffery. On the Red Carpet show that preceded the recent Golden Globes ceremony, everyone was “beautiful.” Every gown was “gorgeous.” Every performance was “amazing.” Every film was “wonderful.”

At the Golden Globes, Woody Allen was honored with a special award, the Cecil B. DeMille award. Unsurprisingly, he was not present to pick up his prize. Diane Keaton did so for him. The Golden Globes were handed out in Los Angeles and, certainly, if you are familiar with ANNIE HALL, which was released way back in 1976, you will know how Woody Allen feels about Los Angeles. And really, who can blame him?

Each year, you will find “For Your Consideration” ads popping up in the movie industry trade publications. These ads solicit Oscar nominations from the Academy Award voters, and they also put forth the notion that we are seeing beautiful and amazing and wonderful films en masse. In the ads, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is lauded for being “a phenomenal film.” Tom Hanks is described as “a national treasure.” INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is “enthralling,” and features a “succession of lustrous images.” HER is “magical,” “breathtaking, “alive with images.” MUD is “a newly minted American classic.” GRAVITY is a “marvel of organic storytelling” and “an extraordinary force to be reckoned with.” ALL IS LOST is “dazzling,” and “cinema at its purest.” NEBRASKA is “breathtaking, a heartfelt odyssey, and damn near perfect.” And so on.

All of these films are worth seeing. Each and every one of them. And I understand the need to sell them to the masses. Certainly, one way to increase viewership is to win some nominations and Oscars, but all this shameless hype does seem more than a bit much. Right now, in relation to these films, we are in Academy Award mode. But will all-- or, for that matter, any-- of them be fondly recalled ten years from now? Are any of them the equivalent of a CASABLANCA, say, or an ON THE WATERFRONT, THE THIRD MAN, CITIZEN KANE, SOME LIKE IT HOT, THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE?

And doesn’t this hype go a wee-but overboard and do little more than massage egos when you have a “For Your Consideration” ad for MAN OF STEEL for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay? None of this is new. A year ago, such less-than-award-caliber films as JOHN CARTER was hyped for Best Actor-- that would be Taylor Kitsch-- Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay; ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER was advertised as being “for your consideration, in all categories”; JACKASS 3 was pushed for Best Picture, Directing, Art Direction, Costume Design; and so on.

Speaking of a year ago: Quick, can anyone tell me: Which film was the 2012 Best Picture Oscar winner? Who won for Best Actor? How about Best Actress?

Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.

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