Wednesday, January 18, 2012

And the award goes to…overkill or can’t get enough?

Awards season is well underway. With the People’s Choice Awards, the Critics Choice Awards, the Golden Globe Awards, and several other awards’ events already in the bag, there’ve been no shortage of red carpets and acceptance speeches, and there’s still more to come. I know people who despise this time in film because award shows dominate the airwaves at the start of the year, and can become redundant, predictable and boring. Some, like the People’s Choice Awards, are viewed as bubble gum awards. I’ve heard some say that the focus on fashion detracts from the focus on film. And others argue that it’s more about politics than the films, filmmakers and actors. It becomes an exercise in which studio campaigns the hardest to amplify the attention surrounding its film. There are major marketing pushes, lavish cocktail parties and luncheons, and publicists racing to get their contenders out in front of the impressionable, vote-casting industry masses. The awards season is a veritable circus where great lengths are reached in order to win because winning amounts to money, acclaim and, well, winning. Still, for all the strikes against it, I quite enjoy the awards-giving time of year.

Awards season is a time when the industry is abuzz about film with a heightened sense of fervor and excitement. It’s a time when movies are lauded and when little known indies are shown more love and appreciation than major studio films. It’s a time when those behind the scenes, like writers, get well-deserved recognition, and when films that have been showing in limited release garner a lot of attention on the biggest stage of all. This is the main reason why I enjoy this time of year in film. Awards season can give small films and unknown actors a major boost and make little and fantastic films known to wider audiences. I think about The Wrestler, The Visitor and Boys Don’t Cry, three great indies that generated serious buzz from awards season and got audiences of all kinds – not just cinephiles – curious, interested and clamouring to see them. When an indie film gets attention, its acting talent usually does too, and I just love comeback stories like that of Mickey Rourke who, with The Wrestler, re-emerged from the has-been forest to deliver a stellar performance for Darren Aronofsky in an incredible film.

For unknown actors who’ve been working in relative anonymity for years, the impact is even greater. With one Golden Globe or Oscar nominated role, they and their work can be seen by millions. The exposure that awards season gives to little films and lesser known actors is remarkable. Unfortunately, awards season is exclusive in recognizing only a select group of films to the exclusion of many others. The same films usually remain in the rotation and are nominated repeatedly throughout awards season (although a one-off nomination has been known to happen), but when an indie film or an unknown actor grabs the gold, I think it’s a triumph for independent cinema as a whole. It’s a reminder that great cinema doesn’t just exist on a mainstream level backed by huge studios, padded by large budgets and casted with big names. It proves that modest filmmaking, marketed by word-of-mouth, featuring great up and coming talent is happening out there and the results are good films deserving of our time and attention.

Another aspect that I appreciate about awards season is that it gets people talking about all things film. The debates, the analyses, the articles, the blogs - it all amps up with a unique kind of passion and interest and, whether you love or despise awards season, it's difficult to not have an opinion either way about it. So with that said, tell me, how do you feel about awards season?

12 comments:

  1. The only awards I pay attention to are the Golden Globes and the Oscars. I completely agree that there is much too much emphasis on what clothes the women are wearing, and I could especially do without all the character assassinations of those people who do not sufficiently suck up to the critics on the red carpet.

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  2. I love awards season! I love every part of it - the red carpet, the acceptance speeches the actual awards-giving. I love that it allows us to celebrate good film, since the box office paints such a depressing picture of movie-watching culture today. Until the Oscars decide to open up the voting to the public, I fully support them all the way. I can accept even the less acclaimed films like "The Blind Side" and "Crash" any day (rather than Twilight, Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers...did you see those People's Choice nominees?!). Without the prospect of awards glory, many great indie films would not get any distribution.

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  3. I like the awards season, but not necessarily from a film-loving stand-point. I love looking at the different participants in the races, see how their momentum and buzz shift and swing, and trying to suss out who the dark horses are.

    But that's very separated from my love of the movies themselves. For me, awards season is for the brain, not for the heart. I don't care a whole lot if a film I love isn't nominated for this or doesn't win that. I already know I like the film, and it doesn't bother me if the Academy members don't share my opinion.

    The good thing about the season, as you said in your post, is that it provides attention to smaller films and makes more people see them. For instance: Winter's Bone didn't set the box office on fire, but it would have been an extremely slim percentage of people who'd be aware of the movie if it wasn't for its Best Picture nomination. And this year we have The Artist, a black and white silent film from France. That would never have gone anywhere if it wasn't for the Oscars and other ceremonies. But now, tons of people are talking about it.

    More people who know of a film equals more people who'll see it. Which means more profit for production companies, which means more chances being taken with non-blockbusters in the years to come. So there is value in the season.

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  4. A film winning or not winning an award has never affected my appreciation (or lack thereof) of that film. For me, it's a big "meh."

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  5. I think my attitude is similar to Emil's. I follow it, I care about it to a degree, but I try not to get too caught up in it because in the end it only means so much, really. I read a column in the LA Times yesterday about how certain segments of the Academy feel like the movies in contention this year, while good, aren't especially Oscar-worthy, and the point was made that if they paid less attention to obvious Oscar-bait films and more attention to quality films in different genres, maybe even from different countries, they'd get a much more stimulating selection, and I agree with that completely.

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  6. I'm not even sure about how effective the exposure indie films receive is via award season. First, it depends on what community one is a part of. As far as you, I and everyone who visits film blogs or writes about film are concerned, a film like 'The Wrestler' didn't require better exposure back in '08. We knew when it was coming, who made it and who starred and a vast majority of us liked it.

    A similar example, maybe even a better one, is 'Winter's Bone.' Who in the film critic or blog community didn't know what 'Winter's Bone' was or who John Hawks or Jennifer Laurence were in '10? Now, it's difficult to quantify things like what I'm about to say, but from what I gather and from a bit of personal experience, till this day not a lot of people outside those communities know what the hell 'Winter's Bone' is, this despite that it had some serious nominations at the Oscars that year. Not to mention that even combined, those communities are tiny compared to everybody else who goes to the movies not necessarily looking for something completely different (actually, most other people are in all likelihood not in the hunt for a 'Winter's Bone'). That's why Transformers and Green Lantern make the money they do.

    I'm not trying to spoil your article or anything (I visit your blog regularly because I think it's great), only that I hear and read about the 'exposure for indie films' argument every now and then and I've always had a difficult time getting behind it.

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  7. Sorry, I realized I haven't actually responded to the question asked.

    I don't pay much attention to awards season. It's a lot of hoopla for not much at the end of the day. The film itself is what matters most, not how many trophies it garners. In fact, my disinterest is so pronounced that (and I don't want to be intentionally mean to anyone by writing this, but here goes...) I'm actually a little flabbergasted at the really, really passionate responses some of these shows get.

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  8. I really enjoy awards season, with the proviso that, of course, it's all very silly and arbitrary and largely pointless. The thing is, discussions are fun, lists are fun, predictions are fun, harbouring a sense of righteous indignation is also fun and the sense of occasion, particularly around the Oscars, really does add to the proverbial gaiety of nations.

    And it is good when a 'smaller' but deserving or unlikely actor/movie/artist wins something; also from a UK perspective I quite enjoy the naive delight of my fellow Brits when one of our lot wins something. Its quite charming how desperately we strive to impress the Yanks.

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  9. I've always loved the Oscars.

    But that's about it.

    After covering The Golden Globes this past weekend, I have a certain disdain for most award shows.

    Nice piece JBT.

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  10. @Chip Lary – The Globes and the Oscars are my award shows of choice too. There is definitely a huge emphasis on fashion, hobnobbing and political sway; an inevitable part of the seaons that you can mostly steer clear of by just tuning into the show and ignoring all the coverage that precedes them; something I generally do.

    @Squasher88 – I like awards season too, and a celebration of film is a great way to describe it. I think it helps get people interested in seeing movies (apart from movie fans and bloggers who make a point of doing so no matter what time of year it is.) Sure, nominations and awards are given to films that perhaps aren’t the best films, but many really good movies have rightfully been awarded over the years. For those who don’t invest a lot of time keeping up with the film industry apart from seeing films during the peak seasons (summer and Christmastime), I think award shows do highlight for that type of film-goer, indie films they may not hear about otherwise.

    @Enmil – great comment, thanks. A lot of the enjoyment for me also comes from watching the races, making predictions and seeing how it all shakes out. The office Oscar pool has added a fun component in the last few years as well. I don’t place much emphasis on what films win or lose either. I like the films I like and dislike the films I dislike regardless of which films win awards. I think awards season does help expose mainstream audiences who mostly see mainstream films to smaller indies. It’s great to see what’s happening with The Artist. I think the Oscar’s did help raise the profile of Winter’s Bone, which should be seen by larger audiences.

    @SJHoneywell – I concur. Which films win awards has never impacted my opinion of them either. I don’t think it should, though it’s not a bad thing when a film that I think is really great is awarded.

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  11. @Rich – well said, and I feel as you do about awards shows. They’re entertaining and that’s why I follow them. Having a variety of films represented and recognized is great. The Oscars does it to a decent degree by awarding documentaries, short films, animated shorts and foreign films. And then there are other awards groups, like the Independent Spirit Awards, that include categories like “Best First Feature” and “Best First Screenplay” to recognize novice filmmakers who’ve done great work.

    @edgarchaput - Thanks for the great comment. Agreed, if you’re part of a film community and are actively involved in knowing about what’s going on at all levels of the industry (independent, big budget, foreign, documentary) as you and I and other film fans invested in the community are, then we know about films like ‘The Wrestler’ and ‘Winter’s Bone’ because we follow the goings-on in film more than the average person. For fans of more mainstream movies who aren’t as invested and don’t spend the same time following film and make their film choices based on what films are heavily promoted and playing in wide release, I think awards shows can expose them to films they wouldn’t hear about through their usual film-going habits. They may only hear about films like ‘The Wrestler’ or ‘Winter’s Bone’ because Oscar attention can result in indie films being widely re-released in theaters.

    It’s definitely hard to quantify the impact that awards nominations/wins have on film exposure. Thinking that every indie film that gets nominated is therefore better exposed is a generalization for sure. There are definitely films that are nominated for Oscars and still go unseen by wider audiences, as with your example, ‘Winter’s Bone.’ Still, I do think that many indie films nominated for Oscars benefit from wider viewership thanks to awards season success. Of course, this is just personal opinion. I remember going into video stores after the Oscars and seeing several shelves or even entire walls devoted to smaller indie films like ‘Monster,’ ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’ ‘The Constant Gardener,’ ‘Sideways,’ etc., shelved in greater quantities due to greater demand because they’d been promoted in-store as Oscar nominees and winners.
    Of course, I’ve no proof that there’s any correlation between awards and indie film exposure, but I think it’s fair to say that at least some indies have benefited from it.

    You’re not spoiling my article at all; quite the contrary. Inciting discussion is what blogging is all about and this post has resulted in great commentary, so thanks for that. What I appreciate most about the film community is that things are never black and white and there’s no right or wrong opinion about things – the discussion is what matters. I’m glad you visit our blog regularly and enjoy what we have to say.

    I understand why it’s not for everyone and why some people feel a strong disdain for awards shows. For some, the number of awards a film wins is a measure of its quality, and the movie industry at the studio level certainly doesn’t do anything to dissuade that thinking. Some movie fans are inevitably influenced by that. I’m for whatever gets people watching different movies and talking about film, and I think awards shows, at the very least, do that.

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  12. @Multiplex Slut – Right on. Your summation is great. Awards season is fun if you enjoy what comes out of it – discussions, friendly competitions, rooting for your favourite films and actors, etc. It’s become tradition for me to watch them, so the sense of occasion continues to be fun. The American market does seem to be what other nations measure film success against.

    @Sam Fragoso – I’ve loved the Oscars for as long as I can remember, too, and it’s not for the movies per se, but because there’s a sense of tradition attached to it. For many years, my friends and I would come together as a group to watch the show, and in recent years, there’ve been Oscar pools at work which add a healthy, fun and competitive component to the whole thing. And seeing films you really like get awarded is nice even though it doesn’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things.

    Thanks – I’m glad you enjoyed it!

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