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The 2014 Oscars and Having a Civil Conversation

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“The 2014 Oscars and having a civil conversation.”

“What are two things that inexplicably can’t go hand in hand, Alex?”

It’s sad that it’s September, and I’m writing this post. (I managed to hold out until January last season before calling for Oscar-related civility.) But Twitter and some of my favorite movie websites have become insufferable places right in the middle of the Toronto International Film Festival. And that’s a shame.

Now, I’m normally one to rail (politely, I hope) against those who take the Oscars too personally—those who wished physical and emotional ill will upon Tom Hooper last year because he had the audacity to, I don’t know, be recognized by his peers while arguably employing a few too many Dutch angles in Les Mis?

The pendulum has swung in the opposite direction in 2013, and I find myself drowning in anti-Oscar sentiments. And I get it to a certain degree. It’s a tad irritating when a rush of movie journos hit Twitter simultaneously without anything to say about 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, Rush, or some other 2013 prestige picture besides “guaranteed Oscar contender,” or something similar. It’s a) foolish and b) not particularly indicative of the film’s merits.

But this is not killing cinema or movie criticism, and frankly, we don’t need you to save either, automatically-better-than-me writer who hates the Oscars.

See, some of us like to have fun. Some of us actually like movies and like to see movies celebrated. Weird, right? While the Oscars are far from perfect and rarely recognize the best in cinema (whatever the hell that means), we need them. The movies need the Oscars to get seen. Directors and actors can hang their hats on Oscars because a win (or even just a nomination) gives them a wider audience and more creative freedom. Without getting too political, the Oscars are kind of like government. Is it perfect? Not even close. But the answer isn’t killing them completely. The answer is to continue to advocate (civilly, of course) for quality cinema, and that might mean throwing out superlatives toward something like 12 Years a Slave, which always faced an uphill battle for mainstream recognition. Like it or not, the easiest way to get mom and dad to see the new Steve McQueen movie is to label it a Best Picture nominee.

The biggest problem I have with the anti-Oscar crowd, though, is its typically reductive attitude toward the awards. They don’t like Oscar talk because it reduces a film to good or bad based on how many gold trophies its won. And I hear that loudly and clearly. But their method for getting their message out is to reduce the Oscars down to one, two, or three hindsight-is-always-clearer Oscar “mistakes”. We should never take any body that would give Gigi an award over Vertigo seriously. Nevermind all the years the Oscars did the film world right (No Country for Old Men, The Hurt Locker, The Godfather, etc.), nor every time an actor or actress has emerged from obscurity to stardom on the back of hard work and, yes, an Oscar (Melissa Leo and Jacki Weaver, among so many others).

I know, I know, John, you just don’t have a sense of humor about these things. I like to think no one is being as dismissive toward his/her peers as he/she seems, but that’s not the tone I’m reading, and I feel compelled to say something. There’s nothing wrong with talking about the Oscars in June, July, September, December, or whatever. There is a right way and a wrong way to talk about the Oscars, just as there’s a right way and a wrong way to talk about how you don’t like the Oscars. There’s simply no need to dismiss a particular movie, movie reviewer/journalist, or style of writing about movies as thoughtlessly as some have been over the past week or so. Please keep that with you through the season.

And in the spirit of defending the Oscars and not letting the hate silence my love for these conversations and this time of year, I went ahead and updated my 2014 Oscar predictions. Not many new additions, subtractions from last week, but I’ve added my 2014 Best Foreign Language Feature predictions, and next week, I’ll have final thoughts on the TIFF movies and where we are at the close of festival season.

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