Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The 84th Academy Awards: Trenchant Analysis From A Non-Viewer

It's been years since I last bothered to watch the Academy Awards, but why should that stop me from reading and contributing my own day-after commentary?

If there was a common note struck by viewers of this year's awards, it was how dismal and shabby it all was. I'll take their word for it. Two appended observations struck me rather forcefully, though. The first was that this year's Best Picture award embodied the “Least Objectionable Viewing” theory that television execs typically run with: i.e., the fella holding the remote control will settle on the program that bothers the fewest people in the room. So in the Academy's case, if the choice boils down to an arty kid's movie and a pleasant but toothless French movie marketed to adults, the French movie gets the vote.

It's a shame, really. I enjoyed the kid's movie — twice — but was rooting for Tree Of Life, a movie I've only seen 10 minutes of. I haven't finished it (yet) because in a house with two teenage daughters Mallick's movie qualifies as the most objectionable viewing. In a sane world, that alone would place it head and shoulders above would-be contenders.

Another commentator said the Academy Awards Show was Hollywood's equivalent of the State Of The Union Address. If this analogy holds true (and I think it does) then the American film industry's fixation on two nostalgic movies about movies suggests a collective mood that swings from denial to depression, and back again.

This theory would also explain why awards shows that include television series have been so much jollier in tone. It's difficult to recoup the blockbuster budgets for series like Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men, but a gazillion PVR hits can't be wrong: this stuff is the destination viewing (more TV-speak) of today's maturing aesthete. When series writers are doing their job right, we get complex story-lines and subtle character development over considerably more hours than we'll ever spend in a theatre. And, as a special bonus, the seats are comfortable, the bathrooms clean, and we don't get bombarded with sound bleed-over from the action flick in the adjoining theatre. Movie critics who pointedly ignore these shows are doing themselves a double disservice: not only do they miss out on some supremely satisfying viewing, they actively pursue their own irrelevancy.

And speaking of arty television series, I finally deliver a few irrelevant critical thoughts pertaining to Carniv├ále — tomorrow!

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