By Ryan Schuurman Hess
Oscars Smoscars or: How I Learned to Have Fun and Love the Little Gold Man: A Post-Oscars Reflection.
The first Oscars I ever watched was back in 1992, I was 7. I don’t remember much about them except that Billy Crystal hosted and at one point he shared the stage with Hannibal Lecter, and it was terrifying. Aside from the nightmares this was a turning point in my life and the way I saw movies.
Prior to my introduction to The Oscars I never really understood what a good movie was. Certainly there were movies I loved to watch. But to me those films were good simply because I enjoyed them, not because it got two thumbs up, or was awarded with a little gold man. What was my favorite movie of 1991? Hook. It had Peter Pan, it was exciting, it had adventure, I spent my whole summer sword fighting on top of playhouses, it literally defined a year of my childhood. But despite Hook earning $300 million at the box office that year, it received mixed reviews and by Spielberg standards, was considered a flop. Now, speaking of the Oscars, Hook did get nominated for 5 awards, all-technical and production noms, but nominations none the less. If you are wondering how many it won, the answer is zero. So I’m sure you can understand my confused 7-year-old mind when my mother informed me the next morning that the scary Hannibal Lecter film (Silence of the Lambs) won best picture. Suddenly movies were no longer good just because I liked them; now I understood that good movies win Oscars. Or do they?
1941 was an important year; World War II was in full swing, but notably for film buffs, it was also the year Citizen Kane was released. For any self-respecting cinephile Citizen Kane has long been regarded as the greatest film of all time, and the film that put Orson Welles on the map. Welles was only 26 at the time, and as the writer, director, and star of the film it proved his utter genius. If you haven’t seen it, that’s okay, but I suggest you quit whatever you’re doing and go and watch it before you decide to reintegrate with society.
The film was ahead of its time in many ways; its non-linear story structure, superb acting, groundbreaking makeup, and advances in cinematography. Deep focus shot; do you know what that is? It’s a cinematographic technique whereby all images are in focus, foreground, background are all in sharp focus. The technique and the technology to film it was practically invented for Citizen Kane. So let this all sink in for a second. The greatest film of all time, a film that topped AFI’s 100 years 100 movies, and countless critics and filmmakers “Best Of” lists. So how many Oscars did it win? One. Nominated for nine Oscars, Citizen Kane won only one Oscar for best original screenplay. And what film won best picture that year? John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley, which was okay. The point is, The Oscars seem to have a track record of missing the mark. Presented with a groundbreaking film, a box office hit Citizen Kane was considered a sure thing for all the major awards. But here, not unlike the way it went with Hook when I was as a kid, The Oscars missed the mark horribly. Now, whether Kane’s snub was due to a lack of foresight, or the wrath of a vindictive tycoon, it still says a lot that the greatest movie of all time did not win Best Picture.
This is not to say that The Oscars are completely incompetent at picking worthy winners, I mean Shakespeare in Love? Or what about Ordinary People? …Crash? Okay so maybe they miss the mark…a lot. But for every misstep there have been some truly great films: Gone with the Wind, The Godfather, Casablanca, The Deer Hunter all won Best Picture and few would argue their greatness. Hindsight is 20/20, so it’s easy for us to look back and say the Academy messed up by not awarding Citizen Kane best picture, but we have the luxury of looking at this through the lens of time. People like to talk about how music from the past was better then today. But the truth is, we are seeing things from a skewed perspective, to paraphrase Marcellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction “that’s nostalgia fuckin’ with you”. We tend to forget all the terrible music, and instead only focus on the nice parts. We remember The Beatles and the Led Zeppelins of the past, but there were just as many terrible bands then as there are now. The greatest test for greatness is time. We never can truly know the impact of something until it has faced the test of time. As humans we try to ignore this fact and create artificial significance. Award ceremonies are like preemptive strikes in cultural significance. It’s a shortcut. We just can’t accept the fact that sometimes we have to wait for things.
So looking back at The Oscars, the question remains: Is there really a point to all this fanfare? The reality is that they will sometimes get it right, and sometimes get it wrong, but it doesn’t really matter. Citizen Kane already won the game of time, regardless of the lack of little gold men it earned. Time is its own reward. It will be remembered, revered, and respected for years to come. So we should probably just grow up and stop all this award nonsense? Well no, I’m not that cynical. I may be critical of the Academy, and curse them for never giving Jim Carrey a nomination. But like many people, I’m a big sucker for the glam and glitz. For a lot of us movie fans The Oscars are the closest thing we can get to a Super Bowl. We have our picks, or favorite teams/actors, and we get just as upset as any Cowboys fan when they don’t win. And at the end of the day The Oscars are fun, and that’s the perspective we should have. Over time, winners and losers don’t matter, if it’s truly a great movie it will be remembered, no amount of little gold men are going to change that. So to answer my 7 year old self, no, not all good movies win Oscars. But that’s okay, because you can love Hook all the same. Or maybe that’s just nostalgia fucking with me.