TV Review: The Academy Awards

TV Review: The Academy Awards

Looking at the winners and losers

By Mark HadleyMonday 4 Mar 2013TV and StreamingReading Time: 5 minutes

Mark Hadley gives us his post-Oscar entertainment observations

Rating: M
Distributor: Nine Network
Release Date: February 25 

The dust is slowly settling on the stage at the 85th Academy Awards, all the actors and actresses have presumably found their way home from the after-parties and marketers have begun the enormous task of adding ‘Oscar winner!’ to countless movie posters and DVD covers. So it’s a fair time to step back from the big event and ask what happened – why did some films claim a statuette while others went home empty handed?

In many respects the Academy Awards never change. There will always be copious commentary on the attire of all who attend – this year dresses with long trains were in for the ladies, and beards making a comeback amongst the men. There’s also bound to be a gentle roasting of the expectant audience by a sweet-heart host – my favourite line from The Family Guy’s Seth McFarlane was, 

“It’s Sunday … everyone’s dressed up. It’s like church – only with more people praying.”

Likewise there are predictable results. Epic films about near-universally acknowledged ideals – compassion for the oppressed, freedom for the enslaved and a conviction that there is a spiritual component to every life – received their just rewards. Consequently Anne Hathaway earned Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of a desperate mother in Les Misérables. Daniel Day-Lewis picked up Best Actor for bringing to life an American president who dedicated himself to freedom in Lincoln. And Life of Pi emerged the big winner with four major awards: Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects and, of course, Best Director for Ang Lee.  

But every now and then a surprising result displays the inner workings of the massive marketing machine sitting behind the award ceremony, and the hearts of the people who cast their votes. 2013 was also that year. For some unknown reason Academy members overlooked the rich prose of Lincoln when considering adaptations, but awarded Quentin Tarantino’s excesive blacksploitation-western mashup Django Unchained Best Original Screenplay. But the biggest mystery will always be Argo.

Few people understand the fundamental realities that sit behind Oscar voting. To begin with, naturally only the Academy’s 6,000 members get to vote on the results, which explains why The Avengers hardly got a look in even though it returned more than a billion dollars at the box office last year. Also only members who work in each category are allowed to vote for the award – only producers vote for Best Producer, actresses for Best Actress, make-up artists for Best Makeup etc. But everyone gets to vote for Best Film. Which leads us to the bizarre Argo result. It picked up Best Editing and Best Adapated Screenplay. However no director thought it had the best directing – it wasn’t even nominated. It was the same story for cinematography, lead actors and actresses. But apparently it was the best film. Why? The answers are marketing and misinformation.

It might further surprise you to know that the Academy doesn’t provide its members with the opportunity to see the films they are voting on; that is the responsibility of the films’ promoters. So the more money studios put into getting voters to see their films, the more likely they are to succeed. It also helps to have an ‘Oscar story’. Warner Bros helped pitch Ben Afleck as ‘the broken down actor risen to the top’, and when he didn’t make the category ‘the director snubbed by the Oscars’. This last one is credited with giving Argo the extra attention it needed in its life-and-death struggle with Lincoln. However Argo was fundamentally a more appealing story for Americans.

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‘What?’ you say, ‘More appealing than the end of slavery?’ Strangely so. Argo told the story of the brave officers of the CIA who created a mythical film to get six citizens stranded in a Canadian embassy out of Iran in the middle of a violent revolution when the rest of the world turned its back. And so this ‘true story’ came as a real affirmation to the ego, when I suspect that Lincoln reminded many of how bad the ‘Land of the free’ could be. The real pity is that Argo is more fiction than truth: there were no Hollywood producers involved; the real participants have admitted there was nowhere near as much danger or drama as the film suggested; and the bravery was largely on the side of the Canadians who kept them safe for several weeks. The CIA? They were only in Tehran for a day and a half. The rest of the world? Oh, and the British and New Zealanders accused of turning the fugitives away actually housed them and drove them to the airport. When Argo was released in Canada it created an international incident which led to the re-editing of the film. But America loved it… and who can blame them?

I’m not saying that Argo wasn’t a good film; I think it was a solid seven. But best film? It was certainly the most attractive even if it was fundamentally inaccurate because it put the voters in the seat of power. But that shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows their Bible. People have preferred feel-good lies over the truth since the days of the Garden of Eden. And so it continues today. But before I finish my rant about the Academy I should note that the same danger also exists in the church. Attractive, inaccurate ideas about God are just as dangerous to believers as unbelievers. The apostle Paul warned his protégé Timothy he also had to be on the look out for feel-good lies:

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 

Fiction is fine, so long as it’s clearly labeled as such. Truth is becoming so rare a commodity we need to ensure it remains 100% true, whether it comes from the pulpit or the projector.