I love the Oscars. Always have, always will. I love staring dumbfounded at the random montages. I love rolling my eyes at the lame jokes. I love the giddy anticipation right before the show begins (in my movie-freaked world, the final countdown to the Oscar telecast is infinitely more thrilling than watching the ball drop every New Year’s Eve.) But you know what I love most? That inexplicable joy as I watch a completely astonished, newly victorious Oscar winner take the stage to collect their award. An award that no one saw coming.
|Cate Blanchett, a well deserved but painfully early lock|
That’s what’s been missing from the Oscars these past few years – that unique thrill. And the bitch of it is, it’s (mostly) my fault. Sure, I can blame the internet. I can say that social media and film blogs that are edited by people who get paid (up to six figures) to predict Oscar winners have ruined any sense of awards spontaneity. And while the market for Oscar predictors has grown humorously oversaturated, no one forces me to read those blogs. No one forces me to scan my Twitter timeline, eyeing that Tweet from that Oscar insider who says so and so is a lock for Best Supporting Actress. No one forces me, but it’s worth noting that it didn’t always used to be this way. Before Twitter, before blogs, before the internet was as much a part of every second of every day as it is now, there was a time when the Oscars could stun me.
Jump back to early 2003. My internet usage consisted of flirting with girls on AIM, updating my Netflix queue (they sent me DVDs… in the actual mail!), scanning SparkNotes for explanations as to what the hell “Animal Farm” was all about, flirting with girls on AIM, trying to find an animated film version of Animal Farm to add to my Netflix queue. No social media. No movie blogs. By the time Oscar night rolled around, the only predications I had to go on are previous awards given out that year (Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, BAFTAs), historical statistics, Entertainment Weekly’s predications from two weeks earlier, and my own intuition.
As the night went on, my family and I eagerly guessed which veteran actor was about to win Best Actor. Would Jack Nicholson become the first man in history to win three Best Actor Oscars (for his performance in About Schmidt), or would Daniel Day-Lewis’ work in Gangs of New York win out? Halle Berry opened the envelope, smiled, took a long pause, and read Adrien Brody’s name. The people sitting in my small living room went as nuts as the attendees in the Kodak Theater. Shock. Surprise. Thrill. Moments later, Eminem won an Oscar (which I still can’t believe), Ronald Harwood’s script for The Pianist beat the heavily favored scripts for Chicago and The Hours, Roman Polanski upset Martin Scorsese. More shocks. More surprises. More thrills.
|The thrill of victory, as experienced by Adrien Brody|
Perhaps that year’s Oscars is a poor example, simply because it was so damn shocking. But my point is, that level of surprise rarely happens on Oscar night anymore, because those who want to pay attention almost always see it coming. Again, I am fully aware that it is my fault for seeking these predications out, but at this point, I’ve immersed my internet consumption so deeply in movie related material that it would be impossible to fully remove myself from Oscar chatter. Pundits start predicting Oscars winners as early as September, and to assume I can avoid the internet for five months is simply unrealistic.
But I’m not mad. Having the Oscars be a foregone conclusion doesn’t anger me, it just takes some of the fun out of it. Let’s go back a mere two days, to the evening of the Film Independent Spirit Awards. That telecast rarely attracts a wide audience, so allow me to list off some of the winners: 12 Years a Slave, Cate Blanchett, Matthew McConaughey, Lupita Nyong’o, Jared Leto, 20 Feet From Stardom. Notice any similarities? And this is not to fault the Spirit Awards. (Although those awards used to highlight independent films that never really had a shot at an Oscar, and now act as a practice session for the following evening’s future Oscar winners. But that’s cause for another essay.) The Spirit Awards were simply the last leg of yet another tirelessly predictable Oscar season.
|Jared Leto accepts his Spirit Award 24 hours before his Oscar win|
Perhaps the most entertaining part of this Oscar year was watching many of those six figure-pulling Oscar bloggers exclaim that this was, “One of the closest Oscar races in years!” Was it? Really? Blanchett, McConaughey, and Leto were inevitable conclusions months ago. As was Alfonso Cuarón for director. Best Picture was a race between two (of nine) films, I wrote the Screenplay awards off in early January, and so on. The only real exciting moment last night was Best Supporting Actress, but even Lupita Nyong’o was one of two (not five) women vying for the win.
What’s important to note here is that, for the first time in a long, long time, I actually loved every film and performance that won a major award last night. Truly. Some of them weren’t my personal choices to win, yet I genuinely enjoyed them all. But, despite my appreciation for those eventual winners, wouldn’t it have been great to see a surprise thrown in there? I’m not talking about a Shakespeare in Love or Crash-style shock (i.e. ones that feel bought or wildly unearned), I’m talking about an Adrien Brody. A Marion Cotillard. A Geoffrey Fletcher. A Hilary Swank (circa 1999). Whether I’m blaming myself, or the internet, or the voters who so diligently feed into our expectations, the point is that if the Oscars manage to throw in just one surprise, then the night is forever remembered as something thrilling. As good as Jared Leto was, the game would’ve literally been changed if Barkhad Abdi won last night. Think about that.