Positive Cynicism – A cynical guide to awards season

Aaron Davis

Aaron R. Davis

The year-ending two month-long self-congratulatory circle jerk known as awards season is now upon us. The staples of the season have started to appear: self-serious critics’ lists, announcements of hosts and formats, those “for your consideration” ads groveling for nominations, an amazing number of screeners available all over the Internet for download and a media that thinks “people really loved Avatar” is a really important news story.

Yes, readers of this column probably won’t be surprised to discover that, as with so many things our pop culture deems Very Important, I’m cynical about entertainment awards. You can only disagree with so many Best Picture winners before you come to realize these things are total bullshit. Opinions and matters of taste are all subjective; these awards are merely the majority opinion of professionals that work in a tight-knit industry. They’re no more important than an insurance industry’s Salesperson of the Year award, it’s just that prettier people go and they’re on television, giving them the air of some sort of national event.

But far be it from me to dampen the spirits of anyone enjoying the masturbatory self-reverence of Hollywood, a community now taking an annual break from its intense self-interest to pat itself on the back for being so damn important.

In fact, just for you award hounds, I’ve created this calendar of events for the next couple of months.

People’s Choice Awards: These were held last week, and I have to say, I barely noticed that it happened. This is the Special Olympics of awards ceremonies. The only joy to be had with these is watching those few people (and I’ve known a few) who get genuinely hurt when movie stars act like these awards aren’t a big deal. And guess what? They aren’t. They’re Procter & Gamble’s advertising bonanza. I think the billion dollars people around the world have spent going to see Avatar gives James Cameron some indication that you liked it. He’s waiting to see if he gets the award from his fellow professionals. But thanks, you guys are cute.

The AVN Awards: These took place last Friday, which was, incidentally, my mother’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom! I only mention the awards for porno (excuse me, “adult entertainment”) because I think the entire concept is pretty silly. Sure, it sells out some space in Vegas when fourth-tier stand-up comics with failed TV shows come out to host something irreverent, but really anyone who watches is just hoping to see tits. Does anyone outside of the porn industry really care who had the best girl-on-girl scene of the year? This is the only awards ceremony for movies that anybody off the street could make with their college’s stolen AV equipment and a couple of people who really want to make some money. There’s a reason this industry is having a hard time keeping up with the flood of amateur scenes on the Internet: no one cares about porno movies anymore except for the self-serious porn industry. All you need is a scene or two, anyway. I can’t believe I’m going for this pun, but porn is best in spurts.

Golden Globes (January 17): Essentially a formal dinner with awards given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association – entertainment journalists affiliated with publications outside of the US – so that, for one night, the entertainment community they suck up to all year long can suck up to them for awards. One year, they gave an award to Pia Zadora as Best Actress in the terrible, universally-panned Butterfly, because her husband flew them out to Las Vegas on a junket. So, I guess there are some perks to the job. The most remarkable thing about the Golden Globes is that, because it’s a dinner and not an overstuffed ceremony, NBC can actually block out two hours of show time and the show will run for two hours. This year, though, the Golden Globes are being hosted by Ricky Gervais, the kind of comic whose total irreverence for this kind of bullshit is never, ever welcomed by the people involved. That might make them worth watching, actually.

Screen Actor’s Guild Awards (January 23): They actually televise these, though the, um, luster is diminished by the fact that they air on TNT instead of a real network. When Alec Baldwin’s acceptance speech is competing for air time against Law & Order reruns, it kind of takes the romance out of the whole thing. And who really cares? If you watch The Office, this is basically like the Dundies for real: a bunch of guys in the same office show up, get drunk, hand out some awards to each other and the rest of us ignore it.

Director’s Guild of America Awards (January 30): Let’s be honest, if you’re not a director, who cares?

Grammy Awards (January 31): I can’t follow these awards at all. First, if you want to see a music awards ceremony that seems to have absolutely no idea what’s happening in contemporary music, watch the Emmys. They’re worse than Rolling Stone magazine for being behind the times on music, and more laughable than the Onion AV Club for taking ridiculous pride in deliberately obscure pseudo-intellectualism. Second, the categories are so arcane that I don’t see how anyone not in the music business could care. It’s gotten to the point where I’m ready to see they’ve announced new categories like “Best Engineer on a Record Produced at Abbey Road Studios During the Second Half of the Year Under a Harvest Moon While Jupiter and Mars Were Aligned” or “Best Frank Sinatra Impression By Yet Another Faux-Hipster Who Thinks He’s Being Original.” Just talking about the Grammys gives me a migraine.

Writer’s Guild of America Awards (February 20): I have a lot of respect for writers. But I don’t care about these awards. No one does.

Independent Spirit Awards (March 5): The one day a year when the makers of the independent films – or at least the ones that get released by big Hollywood studios – get together to congratulate themselves for not being a part of the mainstream movie industry, before getting dressed up a couple of days later to congratulate themselves on being a part of the mainstream movie industry by going to the Oscars. These have been like a dress rehearsal for the Oscars for the last decade, as more and more people in Hollywood succumb to the need to seem hip by nominating more indies for Oscars, and more and more people in indies succumb to their need to make money by selling out to Hollywood. I could almost respect this mercenary endeavor, but there are two things holding me back. First, that the people who attend this show are way too caught up in their bullshit fantasy that getting nominated for these things makes them more genuine artists and more “real,” despite the fact that they will grovel for an Oscar given half the chance. And second, that holding the awards just before the Oscars in order to make a statement about which films really matter is ridiculously self-important.

Golden Raspberry Awards (March 6): I mention these awards because so many people think it’s funny that someone out there is taking time to “honor” the worst in film. I don’t know why they think this, since these awards are particularly gutless and hypocritical. This is another instance where something is supposed to be fun and irreverent, but really they’re just sucking up to the industry in order to get attention. Notice how they always pick safe targets and make fun of non-movies the critics have already heaped scorn on. They don’t have the courage to pick something phony like Crash as their Worst Picture, because it’s not an easy target. They would have to justify that, and that’s not what the “Razzies” are all about, are they? This isn’t criticism, this is bullshit. That they think of themselves as a legitimate and important awards show only adds to the stupidity.

Academy Awards (March 7): Formerly the most respected and biggest awards show devoted to film, they’ve had a troubled run in the last decade, making sweatier and more desperate attempts at populism. We all know the routine. Critics, bloggers, pundits, late night talk show hosts and “entertainment journalists” will complain about how long the ceremony is, but they’ll watch it, anyway. The host will joke about how long the ceremony is, and just keep making it longer. And the next day everyone will tear it apart, even though they all watched it because they’re all caught up in the seriousness of the whole thing.

Meanwhile, ABC sets them up for failure by blocking out three hours of programming instead of four, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that gives the Oscars a reputation of being “too long,” as if this thing is designed to be a TV show instead of an industry-supported awards ceremony. So, worried about ratings, they’ve tried to streamline the show. They’ve tried to shorten it. They pay anyone who isn’t an actor or director the disrespect of forcing their speeches to be shorter or, one year, accepting their awards from their seats. They claim to want irreverent hosts that won’t take the bullshit seriously, so we get a nervous Ellen DeGeneres or the supposedly hilarious Jon Stewart, who was so taken in by the bullshit of it that he couldn’t make the jokes people wanted.

This year, they’ve expanded the Best Picture nominees to 10 instead of five, a naked bid for populist acceptance that seems mainly to stem from complaints that the fatuous, overlong The Dark Knight didn’t get nominated for the award it didn’t deserve to get nominated for in the first place. It’s an open admission that the Oscars no longer care about which movies they think are the best, but instead are more concerned with what’s immediately popular, because they think that’s what people watching the show want to see.

In a sense, they’ve cheapened the prestige of the award to cave in to ratings. But in another sense, it’s all pointless anyway, because my favorite movie of the year is still my favorite movie of the year whether Hollywood endorses my opinion or not. And that’s why awards shows are nonsense to me. Unless Scarlett Johansson has a plunging neckline, what’s the point?

Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at samuraifrog@yahoo.com.

Comments (1)
  1. April D. Weimer January 12, 2010

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