Oscar nominations for 2013 were announced Thursday. According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, one of nine specific films is the actual best picture of 2013, and there will now be debate about which one is the actual best film of last year.
It reminds me of a conversation with Roger Ebert many years ago at the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder. Ebert was asked if “such and such" really was the best film of last year.
“Why would I think that?” replied Ebert.
“Well, it won the Oscar for best picture,” said the questioner.
Ebert looked back and said, “That just means it won the Oscar, not that it was the best picture of the year.”
When "American Hustle" won the Golden Globe for “Best Picture - Musical or Comedy” a few days ago, all it meant in the great wide world was that it won the award.
Who determines the best film of 2013? If the president or the Dalai Lama say it’s "Captain Phillips," all it means is that they said it.
The awards are the results of voting, but more like a consumer poll than the election of the next prime minister of Sweden. If you want to keep it all in perspective, think back to your high school popularity contest, when that creep you saw cheating on the biology test sophomore year was voted most likely to succeed.
Why do people give awards?
The Golden Globes come from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a group of maybe a hundred journalists who live in California and write about American entertainment.
Since 1944, they’ve managed to turn their minor event into a huge one, and make themselves look important.
Comedian Chelsea Handler says it’s a terrific night to dress up and get wrecked. But if you listen carefully to what the winners say about their Globes, no one equates the Hollywood Foreign Press Association with the Nobel committee.
The Oscars have a comparably higher level of legitimacy.
Academy voters actually work in the movies. While all members vote in the final round for the Oscars, the nominees are chosen by their colleagues – cinematographers nominate cinematographers, actors name actors and so on.
I have friends in the Academy, who take voting seriously and try to make good choices. That’s an improvement. Back when the studios were mighty, if you worked at Warner’s, you voted Warner’s.
But it’s still a group of people celebrating themselves while millions watch, wonder and adore.
The screen is getting smaller and the royals of the movie world look less and less perfect. But the screen still demands our attention; we focus on it. Other realities fade away, and the idealized life on the screen becomes better than what actual life has to offer.
I used to hate the Oscars, but it’s useless. They are what they are.
Mere mortals get to cheer their favorites and grumble when the wrong actor wins. People can go to parties and make bets and yell at the TV.
My favorite human beings on the planet evaluate the clothes and the celebrity hounds on the red carpet trying to get Ben Affleck or a former starlet with three names to talk for a minute.
But just as I start to feel superior, I remember my own silly obsession. I can’t wait to see Peyton Manning throw a misshapen ball to Demaryius Thomas. Now that’s important!
So hooray for Barkhad Abdi, the Somali supporting actor in "Captain Phillips," and too bad "Blue Is the Warmest Color" is not listed for Best Foreign Language Picture.
And if the timid Academy hands an Oscar to the blood-curdling documentary "The Act of Killing," I’ll eat my hat.
Howie Movshovitz has been reviewing films for Colorado Public Radio for many years, and he teaches film at the University of Colorado Denver.