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Hollywood Needs an Anti-Oscars


Not an anti-Oscars, per se. But a different award show.

If journalism is the first draft of history, the Oscars are the sloppy, last-minute first draft of establishing a canon of great films. The Oscars tend only to celebrate a certain kind of movie. A “big” movie, if not in budget or ticket sales at least “big” in terms of themes and prestige. Crap movies like Out of Africa are routinely nominated for best picture (and often win), whereas the *real* best movies of any particular year are entirely overlooked as far as official recognition.

The real test of a movie– how well it’s crafted, how it succeeds in its intent, how it actually appeals to an audience (as opposed to how it’s *supposed* to appeal to an audience) — is replay value. What movies are bought on DVD, what movies people will watch again and again on cable, are the real best pictures in any year. Sure, there’s some dreck among such movies, too, and no one would say Porky’s should be acclaimed simply because people watched it a lot, but generally that’s the way to bet.

What’s actually a better movie — Midnight Run or Out of Africa? Dirty Rotten Scoundrels or Ordinary People? My Cousin Vinnie or Gladiator? Spinal Tap or Crash? In every case the “bigger,” supposedly more ambitious movie is stamped by the Academy as superior. In none of those three cases is it actually superior. It’s the slighter, less ambitious, better *executed* film that’s superior. But Hollywood never acknowledges these films.

And these films are often indeed works of real genius. Just because Spinal Tap is about dumb people doesn’t make the film itself dumb — indeed, it’s sublimely briliant. And yet any old movie by a major director about a smart guy like the schizo mathemetician in A Beautiful Mind will get Oscar talk — and likely a win. Smart subject = smart movie, supposedly; dumb subject = dumb movie. Very reductivist. Very dumb.

So what we need is something like a Hall of Fame for movies. Movies can be inducted into the canon no fewer than, say, five years after their release, just to make sure a proper critical perspective on them has matured sufficiently. After five years, a film’s true excellence begins to be appreciated, while films like Out of Africa are revealed as the lightweight fluff they really are (and always were; the Academy was too busy looking at how “big” they are to realize they were actually rather slight films).

I’m not a particular fan of Blade Runner, but it’s undeniable the film is one of the most influential of the past thirty years. A Hollywood Hall of Fame ceremony would induct a movie like that in its opening year, giving it the official recognition for visionary production design and special effects it deserves.

Keep the Oscars for the celebrity watchers — for the *real* movie-lovers, let’s begin a Hollywood Hall of Fame to recognize the true best pictures of each year, even if we have to wait five or more years to properly do so.

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