Oscar’s Dilemma: You Can’t See ‘em All

The annual Oscar telecast is Sunday night, and I have yet to see all the movies up for “Best Picture.” I bet you haven’t, either.

A few years ago, the Academy of Motion Picture Blah-blah-blah made an obvious money-grab move for the studios and upped the number of nominees for Best Picture from five to 9 or 10. It would be as if the NCAA increased the number of teams invited to its annual March Madness tourney from 64 to 128. Suddenly every boondock Division I basketball program except the most physically challenged (i.e., Nebraska) could find itself headed to The Big Show. Bad basketball, yes, but think of the ratings!

The 2009 Oscars was the last year that only five films were nominated, gypping movies like The Wrestler, Doubt and The Visitor from getting a nomination -- movies that certainly would have made the cut if the list had been 10 films long. Maybe that had something to do with the decision, but let’s not shit ourselves. We all know the increase in nominees was about commerce. An Oscar nomination is a marketing bonanza, a chance for studios to send movies back to the theaters for a second revenue life with an “Oscar-Nominated” moniker attached to the trailer.

The problem, of course, is that few of us have the time or the cash to see 10 movies in the theaters. I bet you don’t even know the names of this year’s nominated films. Here’s the list, via The Google (because I didn’t know): Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of PI, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty.

Of those nine, Teresa and I have seen only five and aren’t planning to see the other four -- a decision based solely on those films’ trailers.

Like a band’s name or a book’s cover, a film’s trailer makes a first impression that’s impossible to shake. There’s usually something in the trailer that either sells you or repels you. In fact, I have a rule that I avoid any film where its trailer includes a “joyful dance scene.” Just trust me on this one.

I remember watching the cheese-ball trailer for Beasts of the Southern Wild in the theater. As the screaming ball of hair -- Oscar nominee Quvenzhane Wallis -- did her “I’m the man” shtick I turned to Teresa and whispered “skip it.” She agreed with an eye-roll visible in the dark. We both hate precocious kid films.

On the other side of the spectrum was Amour’s bleak trailer, which was only matched by its bleaker description, that of an aging couple headed slowly downward in a death spiral after the wife suffers a medical catastrophe that leaves her partially paralyzed. I understand that great art doesn’t have to be entertaining. That doesn’t mean I have to pay money to see it.

I find as I get older that I have much less tolerance for these sorts of examinations of aging, suffering, madness and death. We go to the movies to escape and forget, not to be emotionally bludgeoned by watching other people’s agony. If I want to be morbidly depressed, all I need do is turn on the evening news.

Speaking of morbid depression, consider the trailer for Les Miserables, and the promise of watching Russell Crowe sing. I admit that Anne Hathaway’s performance (in the trailer) looked and sounded triumphant, however her public image has begun to bleach into how I perceive her films. I know that’s not fair -- one should separate the art from the artist’s life -- but there’s something about Hathaway that I find irritating. It’s for this same shallow reason that I haven’t seen a film featuring Mel Gibson (jew rage) or Zooey Deschanel (disastrous Top Chef appearance) in years. Add Hathaway’s phony award acceptance speeches and my total disdain for the French revolution and Lay Miz was a “lay miss.”

The only nominee I regret having missed in the theaters was Life of Pi. And the reason I skipped it was the most wussie reason of all: I couldn’t bear the idea of seeing that tiger die, no matter how fake he looked in all his CGI glory. I don’t even know if the tiger died at the end of the film -- but just the idea that the tiger could die was enough to keep me from seeing the movie. Sadly (strangely) I could care two shits if the humans die in the film, I only care about the animals, figuring it wasn’t their fault that they ended up shipwrecked.

As much as I worry about animals in films, Teresa is 10 times worse. If a dog dies in a film, that’s reason enough to leave the theater. I find myself whispering to her in movies, “Remember, that’s an actor dog, that’s not a real dog. That dog probably has its own trailer on the lot.” or “He’s not really dead, he’s just acting dead. Once the director yelled cut he jumped up and ate a Beggin’ Strip.”  Still not enough.

Needless to say, the trailers for the other five films were good enough to get me to the theater. Lincoln, Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty sold me not so much on their trailers as the promise of their cast and directors, and all were somewhat disappointing. Argo probably had the second best trailer, thanks to the Alan Arkin line, “If I’m gonna make a fake movie, I’m gonna make a fake hit.”

But if I were giving an Oscar for best trailer it would go to Silver Linings Playbook for the mere fact that I’d seen the trailer about 100 times before the film finally opened in Omaha -- and still wanted to see it. The trailer even had a dance sequence. Sometimes you have to break your own rules.

Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

posted at 03:10 pm
on Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

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