It always amuses me to ride the wave of chatter about Oscar nominations. Behind every list of supposed snubs is a flawed premise: these trophies are due to individuals for a job well done. If that were true, there would be sunshine with every snowfall and chocolate would be ruled a food group. The Oscars are not about merit. Nobody got robbed of anything except maybe political clout. They are about campaigns for merit.
If that sounds like a political arena, then you’re getting there.
Joaquin Phoenix may have been a wizard of artistry in The Master but if he didn’t apologize for calling the Oscars the stupidest thing in the whole world he might well have ruined his chance of snagging a nomination. In a much buzzed about article in Interview magazine last fall, Phoenix called it all “total, utter bullshit” and went on to say “I don’t want to be a part of it”.
Except he does, apparently. Hollywood mega producer Harvey Weinstein bankrolled a typically massive campaign for The Master and Phoenix had his part to play. An apology of sorts was due and it arrived just in time. (via Vulture magazine):
“But I know that first of all, I wouldn’t have the career that I have if it weren’t for the Oscars. I haven’t been in a lot of movies that have made a lot of money … And getting nominated for a movie has probably helped my career tremendously. But in some ways it’s the antithesis of what you want to be as an actor. You’re always trying to free yourself of the artifice, which is really difficult. “
This morning, Phoenix was nominated for best actor. He may not show up to for the ceremony on Feb. 24th, but I hope he does. Unpredictable and quirky actors are what make the show worth watching.
And watch I will. I tune in every year to watch that magic moment when you see a life being changed. Winning an Oscar means your next project will get made. It may not be a meritocracy, but campaigns often get behind something truly remarkable. Art is meant to be seen. An Oscar means a bigger audience. Actors feed off one another because, at the very heart of it, filmmaking is collegial. For the community of actors, directors, editors, writers, make up artists, composers, costume designers, etc, Oscar is their political convention party. They know the secret too: run a good campaign. They like big ideas and often reflect what is happening in the culture at large. They are thrilled to find one of their peers snag a statue. If they can steal the spotlight for their own projects, or latest nose job, even better. For every one performance that gets Oscar gold, a hundred others miss out.
Watch for the one speech that shuts everyone down, the high fives from their peers as the winners gallop up to the stage, the very human face of surprise winners.
Still, the outcomes do not influence my viewing habits. I am now suspicious of campaigns that suggest we should like something. Lincoln may have the most nominations and Daniel Day Lewis is an acting god, but boring it is for at least the first third. Jennifer Lawrence is cute and feisty, but she has nowhere near the depth of Judi Dench who made Skyfall so much more than just another Bond flick. Javier Bardem made it harder for every actor after him to be a screen villain. Oscar didn’t notice. Skyfall was one of my favourites ( see full list here). So what-it wasn’t included in Best Picture nominations although the awards ceremony will include a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Bond film franchise. Veteran French star Emmanuelle Riva delivered a heart stopping performance in Amour but it was the actor playing her husband with such utter devotion, French star Jean-Louis Trintignant, who made me cry. She was nominated (the oldest nominee in her category in Academy history) and he was not. How does that compute? I had great fun seeing The Intouchables but no nods for that French gem…and so it goes.
In the coming weeks, I will be writing about the campaigns that worked: the nominated performances that I loved and there were many. I’ll leave you with a sexy acting giant who commands full attention every time he’s on screen. Asked how he felt last year about being snubbed, Michael Fassbender proves he’s just happy to be there.