The 2013 film awards season is now officially underway. The Golden Globe nominations were out a few weeks ago, with the ceremony tonight, and this past week the Academy Awards, the largest awards ceremony (at least as far as public awareness is concerned) released their nominees. Their shadow archetype, the Golden Raspberries, have also been released.
I haven’t seen a lot of the films up for contention on either; there may come a year in which I’ve seen several of the likely candidates, but 2012 wasn’t it. Still, I do have a few thoughts on the nominees, which I’ll get to in a moment. But it’s fairly likely that this year I’m just going to read the results in the paper instead of watching them live.
Part of that is simply due to a lack of personal investment in the films this year — as I said, I haven’t seen most of them. Though I have to say that this year, at least, most of the nominees under Best Picture are films that I’m at least interested in seeing. But I don’t really have anything to root for. There’s little in any of the fields that I’ve seen (my box office tickets were strictly low-brow this year), so I don’t know what films are “the best” in my eyes, or what actors and actresses and directors are most deserving of an award for their performances this year. I would mostly be watching for the trivia, and the vague hope that since they actually had five songs nominated for Best Original Song this year (as opposed to last year’s dismal two), that they might liven up the show by going back to having the songs performed in full, as opposed to doing more pointless Cirque du Soleil stuff.
A lot of times, the fact that I haven’t seen most of the films wouldn’t stop me from watching the Oscars; not by itself. Often I’ll watch just because I enjoy the ceremonies and like watching the host do his schtick. But this year, the Academy has made perhaps the most questionable choice of MCs in its history, selecting Seth MacFarlane to host the awards. I have a rather intense dislike of everything of his I’ve seen, and I think his style of humor is neither tasteful nor skillful. MacFarlane is one of those who seems to think being outrageous is the same as being funny; for contrast, look at Mel Brooks, who often built humor out of offensive situations but never relied on the offense itself being the sole catalyst. MacFarlane’s the antithesis of funny to me, and I fully expect him to be an even worse host than David Letterman was. I did have some small hope that he might try to tone down the intentional offense, but the nomination announcement clip dashed those. As he reached the nomination for Amour, he commented “the last time Austria and Germany co-produced something, it was Hitler; this is much better.”
Now, as Hitler jokes go, there are much worse… but just the fact that I have to type “as Hitler jokes go” suggests that something has gone rather askew. It’s not something that should come up in the context of the Oscars, I feel. At best we’re talking some deep discomfort for people here and polite “uh, are we allowed to just ignore that?” laughter. In theory, anything can be funny in the right hands; in practice, the perpetrator of one of the worst wars in history and an infamous act of genocide is something that only somebody with the deftness of Mel Brooks can pull off, and even then only in carefully constructed situations. Seth MacFarlane is no Mel Brooks, and this was not one of those situations. Last year, Brett Ratner was fired as producer for saying “rehearsals are for fags”; this year, the host is cracking wise about a guy who wanted to exterminate entire groups of people. It’s a strange development. And the joke itself is offensive on a few different levels; even if we overlook the insensitivity to Jews, it’s also playing off the “all Germans are Nazis” stereotype to a degree. Even giving MacFarlane the greatest benefit of the doubt possible, it’s a very tacky joke and not one that’s likely to play well to most of the audience. And I fully expect that MacFarlane’s jokes during the show, if not of that particular stripe, will also be his usual schtick of going for the offense and pretending it’s humor.
In short, I won’t be watching the 2013 Academy Awards because I expect the ceremony itself will be a very pitiful disaster.
Moving onto somewhat lighter things I’m not following, I’ll be ignoring the Razzies as well. They’re not televised, I think, but I probably won’t even look at the results in the paper, and probably not just for this year. I was interested in the Razzies when I first heard of them several years ago — I like mocking bad movies as much as the next film fan. But the Razzies never seemed to deliver on their promise… rather than being about the bad movies, in the way the Oscars are (theoretically) about the good movies, the Razzies seem to be more about the ability to make weak punchlines about the bad movies.
No year exemplified this so much as last year, when Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill took every single Razzie Award. Now, I have no doubt that was a truly wretched movie. But I doubt very much that it won every category for any reason other than the ability to point out a movie as having won every single category. It was a landslide orchestrated purely for its own sake rather than the film’s actual lack of merits. Sure, it deserved some Razzies, but was it really worse than every other movie in every single category? Most of the people I know who have seen both Jack and Jill and Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star have said the latter movie is considerably worse. But it wasn’t as high-profile a film (it opened in 2000 fewer theatres), so it wouldn’t make as big a headline as “Jack and Jill sweeps the Razzies”. Really, this happens with any “worst of” lists — they’re almost inherently a “worst of the biggest”, because the stuff that’s really wretched flies under too many peoples’ radars. The theatres are smart enough that a bad film needs a big push behind it to get a wide release; my own choice for 2012’s worst film, Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, only made it to 33 theatres.
But even if it weren’t for the “worst of the biggest” aspect, there’s still a lot that makes the Razzies feel more like a poor joke than a true celebration of bad cinema. Actors and actresses get nominated for every role they’ve had in a year — for example, this year Nicolas Cage is up for both Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and Seeking Justice. One nomination, two films; arguably he’s automatically “twice as bad” as Eddie Murphy, who is only nominated for A Thousand Words. Note how the Academy Awards handles it differently; it’s treated as a nomination per role, so if an actor puts in great performances in two separate movies they can theoretically take up two nomination spots. You’d have to go back to 1930 to find the last time someone actually competed against themselves in the same category, but that year had both Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer nominated twice for Best Actress. I realize the Razzies are separate and play by their own rules… but they set themselves up as a mirror to the Academy Awards, and it feels a lot more honest to nominate Actor A for his performance in Bad Movie B, rather than for Bad Movie B and C and D.
And then there’s just the obvious gimmick nominating. One of those awards Jack and Jill took home last year? Worst Actress. For Adam Sandler. Who, you might notice if you’re a little aware of film actors, is a man. Even in drag, a man is still a man, and is not an actress. There are only two possible reasons Adam Sandler was nominated in that category, and why Tyler Perry was as well (including this year). One is to allow for the sweep that Jack and Jill had last year, which means the integrity of the whole thing is in question. The other is if the Razzie committee finds it amusing to pretend men are women, which is exactly the same joke that they’re blasting Sandler and Perry for, and also casts doubt on the whole premise. Either way, it makes it feel like they’re not really going for what’s worst, but what they can make the best joke out of… which renders the whole thing rather pointless to me (especially as the joke isn’t all that good.)
Finally, a few predictions and comments on the Oscars for anybody who has made it through the ranting. While I haven’t seen most of the films, I can still hazard a few guesses and make a few comments. I don’t feel that any of the films I have seen were snubbed. I’ve seen a lot of people say they were surprised that The Dark Knight Rises didn’t take home a single nomination, but while I rated that film highly, I honestly can’t think of any Oscar category where I think it stands out. There’s no snub there. The Avengers was nominated for Best Visual Effects, but somehow I doubt it’ll win; though good, it’s up against some steep and more Academy-favored competition in The Hobbit and Life of Pi (my money is on the latter, but not firmly).
I expect Lincoln will take most of the awards it’s up for. It’s a critical darling, and even if the film weren’t very good, it’s the sort of film the Academy loves. I would expect Les Misérables to pick up most of the ones Lincoln leaves behind. However, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Robert De Niro pick up the win for Best Supporting Actor — the Academy is made up of actors and other filmmakers, and they like De Niro, he’s getting old, and he hasn’t had an award since 1980. I don’t know if he really did a fantastic job in Silver Linings Playbook or not, but I could easily see the Academy giving one of their familiar “unofficial lifetime achievement” awards to him. I don’t like that practice — I think a person should only get the award if they truly deserve it for that year’s performance — but it’s been pretty obvious in the past that it sometimes happens, and I could easily see it happening here.
The one category where I feel I have a solid knowledge of is Best Animated Feature, where I’ve seen three of the five nominated films. The nominees there are Brave, Wreck-It Ralph, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Frankenweenie and ParaNorman. I’ve seen all but the last two. I’m glad to see Wreck-It Ralph there, as it would be my choice; I’m also glad to see Brave. Those are probably the front-runners for the Oscar, with Ralph having the edge on story and Brave having the edge on visual appeal. Frankenweenie could be a strong dark horse candidate, however; it got a lot of critical acclaim, and is a very “different” film visually. I’m rather surprised to see ParaNorman included; it has similar themes to Frankenweenie and I expected that to work against it; though it came out earlier, it was overshadowed by the Burton film. I still suspect that similarity will work against it for the actual award. I was very surprised to see The Pirates! make the list; while I enjoyed the film, its dry sense of humor is certainly not for everyone, and it seemed unlikely to get the Academy’s attention. I’m glad to see it here, but I’d say it’s a long shot at best.
I’ll be reading the paper the day after to see how things worked out, and possibly adding a few new films to my watchlist if something that wasn’t there already earns a significant award. But somehow things have worked out so my biggest interest is in the animated feature category.