Oscars 2023, 1

Lots of items in the news media today about the Oscars, of course. Here’s a typical article about them, followed by some of my reactions, to the awards, and (tomorrow) to some of the individual films.

Salon, Melanie McFarland, 13 Mar 2023: How the Academy Awards managed to be both uplifting and disappointing – everything, all at once, subtitled “Historic wins for Michelle Yeoh and ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ are balanced by dismay at who was left out”

I stopped posting movie reviews on Facebook; I don’t post much there anymore except sunset pics and details of our hikes. Of course we haven’t seen as many movies as usual the past three years, so there’s not been as many opportunities to comment about current movies.

Rather it’s become our (my) pattern to read the “best of the year” lists as the year nears end and compile those films that look most interesting, then track them down on one or another streaming channel. Once the Oscar nominees themselves are released, we usually make an extra effort to see the last few Best Picture nominees that we haven’t already seen. This year we didn’t quite make it; I had no interest in watching another Avatar movie, and we didn’t get to Women Talking.

2022 was an interesting year because as the year went on, very little struck me (just from reviews and social media buzz) as a must-see movies that were bound to be Oscar contenders. We hadn’t seen any of them by the time the best-of-year lists started appearing; then we saw Tar, and Banshees, and Fabelmans. Come to think of it, we saw Glass Onion shortly after it came out, because we’d liked Knives Out a couple years before, but that didn’t turn out to be an Oscar contender. We saw a bunch more films as they won early awards or became Oscar finalists in January and February and all the way up to the weekend of the awards, when we finally saw The Whale.

I have lots of thoughts about awards, their meaning, how they’re done, the influences that go into their results, since I’ve compiled a database of science fiction awards for over 20 years. Different forms, same principles.

To generalize, I would say that most people read too much into what particular award results “mean.” It’s another example of seeing patterns where none exist, or detecting kinds of conspiracy theories.

For example, because a particular person doesn’t make a final ballot, or win, doesn’t constitute a “snub.” It just means something else got more votes. In a different year that person might easily have made the ballot given different competition. If all the Oscar nominees from 2021 and 2022 were mixed together and voted in a different set of two ballots, the winners would be different. (One of 2022’s other films might have beat Coda, for example.) What wins in any given year is due to competition and other random factors (campaigning being one).

That said, there are some identifiable trends that have plausible non-conspiratorial causes, just because an innate sense of ‘fairness’ is part of human nature. The main one being the “overdue” effect or the sense in which a particular win isn’t for a particular performance, but for a lifetime of work, the win representing overdue recognition, a kind of legacy award. Another obvious consideration — note quite the same — in how people vote is whether a nominee has won before or not, and if so maybe another nominee might be more deserving of attention. This year is was Cate Blanchett, who easily could have won for Tar but who has two previous Oscars, and Michelle Yeoh, both for her lifetime of work and starring role in a popular film, and who had never been so much as nominated before. These are how awards work; no one thinks they’re objective measures of absolute quality.

Next post: a rundown of the major films that we saw, with brief reviews. For now: my favorite score. For All Quiet on the Western Front. Which actually won. By Volker Bertelmann. (Can I mention that it really irritates me when news sources list winners of awards like these only by film title? Without mentioning the persons who actually received the awards? A subject for another time.)

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