After browsing some of my standard Oscar blogs this week and reading many fascinatingly unhinged comments, I'm starting to wonder what sort of effect this prolonged awards season has on the human brain. It seems that the longer we have to wait for the Oscars (according to the crazy man in the corner clutching his knees and rocking back and forth, it's only 10 more days), the more people seem to be filling their time with issues fundamentally unrelated to the value of good movies.
People acting bizarrely about awards, you say? I know. In December I argued the top-ten list is inherently superior to the awards ceremony; the baseline reason for this is that a single critic can put forward a list of great movies and point viewers in a direction they might not have gone before; the top-ten then gives way to debates about what was on it, what was not, and why. But any sort of award – if conferred by a group of people (or even a single person) for whom publicity, advertising, and industry influence can be a factor in any respect – is by its very nature political. And when you're talking politics, you're talking about the emotional sector of our brain that filters our thoughts as if it is operating permanently under the influence of seven glasses of cabernet sauvignon.
For the Oscars to succeed (or, inversely, to succeed at the Oscars), it has to be a race. Film A or film B, actress A or actress B, studio A or studio B. That's how you generate momentum. Critics can be smote for neglecting to include a certain film once a top-ten list is published, but there is never any heated public debate before a critic's publication about film A and film B in a neck-and-neck race for spot #10.
The ongoing Oscar discussions have all the grace and eloquence of the Internet during the darkest days of a presidential campaign, and the fact that the discussions are on blogs make the issue even more entertaining. I love blogs (if I didn't, why would I have one?) and I think blogs can be the source of tremendous and rigorous intellectual thought and discussion. It's just that – well, all coins have two sides. Alan Jacobs at The American Scene had this say recently:
Blogs just don't do complexity and nuance — which, I think, is why they’re so popular. As everyone knows, the less complex and nuanced the positions on a blog are, the more comments it gets. This is an Iron-Clad Law of the Internet. Blog posts are just too short to deal with the Big Issues, and too likely to be fired off in short order, with minimal reflection and no pre-post feedback from wiser and cooler heads. ... And of course comments are usually even worse than posts in these respects. Some wonderful conversations happen in blog comment threads, but they happen in spite of the architecture, not because of it. The architecture is fighting thoughtfulness with all its might.
With just a week and a half left before the ceremony, I know there are people who have been hesitant to dip into the Oscar fray. But trust me: you won't find a more intellectually rewarding experience than discussing the same point about the same film in a different thread every day of the week. In order to faciliate your transition, I've decided to come up with a surefire list of 25 do's and don'ts when it comes to debating on Oscar blogs:
• DO use any of the following phrases: "Nazi porn," "comic book movie," "just a cartoon," "poverty exploitation," "another biopic."
• DON'T be afraid to cut through the thick of a spirited debate. Be bold and inform people they didn't like a movie because they just "didn't get it." This is the strongest argument you have in your arsenal. Of all the principal tenets surrounding art, these two are the most important: 1) art cannot be subjective; and 2) the human brain is not capable of at once understanding an artist's goal and still thinking the ultimate product is poorly made.
• DO mention Harvey Weinstein's name as often as possible. Context is unimportant; the words "Harvey" and "Weinstein," whether published together or separately, have been scientifically proven to provoke knee-jerk tirades from anyone on an Oscar blog.
• DON'T write more than twelve words because people don't get past the
• DO accuse people on the forum and in the media who have something critical to say about your favorite film, director, or actor as perpetrators of a negative publicity conspiracy. This is Oscar season, after all, and we all know that means serious criticism and discussion of a movie's merits ended at 8:34 a.m. EST January 22 and will promptly resume at 11:08 p.m. EST on February 22.
• DON'T spell words correctly. Correct spelling is a sure sign that your thoughts are premeditated.
• DO pick a side, e.g.:
–Meryl Streep either: a) is a 15-time nominee with two Oscars who doesn't need anymore; or b) is a 12-time loser overdue for her next honor.
–Milk either: a) will win Best Picture because the gay leftie pinko "Hollywood types" are upset about Proposition 8 and are looking to apologize for denying Brokeback Mountain; or b) won't win because the intolerant, stodgy, conservative Academy voters who rejected Brokeback Mountain won't vote for it.
–Kate Winslet either: a) is the most brilliant acting mind of her generation and deserves an Oscar; or b) is the most brilliant acting mind of her generation and deserves an Oscar, just not for The Reader.
• DON'T mention The Dark Knight! Please! C'mon, man! We were just getting over it! Why'd you have to bring it up again?! Sigh. Okay. Well, since you brought it up...
• DO call anyone who liked the film a "fanboy," even Manohla Dargis. Call anyone who didn't like the film a "hater" who is going to regret his words 50 years from now because you know without a shred of doubt that the film is going to "stand the test of time."
• DON'T forget to show your exuberance over a nominee you love far too much, e.g.: "PENÉLOPE CRUZ=BAFTA WINNER YAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYY :)))))))))))"
• DO threaten never to watch the show again if the Academy won't reward your particular favorite, just so the rest of the people on a year-long movie award speculation site know how you feel about movie awards.
• DON'T shy away from commenting on movies you haven't seen. You've probably seen the trailer, which is pretty much all you need and stuff.
• DO debate the unknowable, such as whether Heath Ledger would have won an Oscar had he not died.
• DON'T worry: 99.8% of the movie-going public is never going to read this (and that's a conservative estimate).
• DO know that there are still illuminating critiques out there. For example, did you know The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was nearly three hours long and has many similarities with Forrest Gump? I just found out, too.
• DON'T get in the way of Slumdog Millionaire, or the moderators will cut you.
• DO participate in inferential appeals to authority, or argumenta ad verecundiam, whereby a fallacious statement is made according to the pretext that critic X, of whom there is something inherently positive in circles of film criticism, makes a general claim about film Y, which is controversial in many circles of film criticism; ergo, film Y must be as good as critic X. In other words: Really Important Critic Agrees with Me and You Suck!!!
• DON'T feel bad for Kate Winslet. Feel bad for Roger Deakins.
• DO exculpate the flaws in a film you love as merely the elements of a fairy tale. But dig in deep and never allow anyone to get away with enjoying a film you didn't like because of its numerous flaws and fairy tale elements. (Bonus: This works in either direction with both Slumdog Millionaire and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button!)
• DON'T stay on topic. Discussions of Milk should automatically branch into whether homosexuality is a choice; discussions of The Reader should automatically branch into the merits of sex with Kate Winslet as a 15-year-old male teenager; discussions of David Fincher's directing abilities should automatically branch into discussions of Zodiac, which, if it these discussions occur frequently enough, might prompt the Academy to go back in time and amend last year's nominees to include Zodiac.
• DO speculate which 2009 releases are front-runners for next year's Oscars without having seen a single moment of footage.
• DON'T think that such predictions say anything about you. It obviously says more about the Oscars, doesn't it?
• DO flamboyantly denounce the childish tenor of a debate by posting something totally-not-petulant-at-all, something like: "Everyone is being SO petulant! I'll be back when you all grow up!"
• DON'T spend your time trying to figure out which actor gave the best performance. That sort of thinking doesn't fit the narrative. Instead...
• DO ask yourself this: Isn't it going to be great when Mickey Rourke drops the f-bomb on national television?