Podiums, politics and parties: On loving and hating awards season

Awards season is upon us once again! In my continuing quest to reform my cynical ways, here are five reasons to love the whole thing. After this first bit.

5 Reasons to Hate Awards Season

  • It’s a stark reminder of the depressing lack of diversity in Hollywood.
Image credit: The Telegraph
Image credit: The Telegraph

Oscar night! Or, as I like to call it, ‘old white men give other old white men prizes, no surprises’ night. If you’re someone who cares even remotely about diversity and inclusion behind and in front of the camera, this time of year can mean a depressing parade of everything that’s wrong with the industry. From Seth McFarlane’s horrifyingly sexist hosting stint to the ‘whitest ever Oscars’ in 2015 and the just-as-white Oscars in 2016, from the treatment of actresses on the red carpet to Ricky Gervais’s bullying idea of what constitutes humour, awards season can feel like Hollywood’s most privileged players closing ranks with a sneer.

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Credit: Hollywood Reporter
  • Ranking art sort of misses the entire point of art.

You know why art is more interesting than sport? Because art isn’t a competition. Art isn’t binary. Art contains multitudes. Works of art are not designed to be lined up on a podium in order of their awesomeness: they are designed to be absorbed holistically, by multifaceted individuals and communities who will appreciate them in so many different ways.

Human beings as a species seem to derive an insane amount of pleasure from designating things the ‘best!’, even if that means comparing apples and oranges. Of course there’s value in making certain kinds of critical judgments: but the crude language of winners and losers is an insanely reductive way to talk about films. We lose out when we set too much store by it.

  • The factors that determine who wins have so little to do with merit.

Crash

Awards season is a farce, blah blah blah. Winners are generally determined by how much money studios fork out for campaigns; by the frankly terrifying machinations of Harvey Weinstein; by internal industry politics; and by the tastes of a very non-representative group of voters.  The winner of Best Picture will generally not be the best film released that year: it will be a film with a certain kind of not-too-challenging worthiness which has struck a chord at the right cultural moment.  It seems such a cynical thing to go on about, and I don’t want to be that person. But, um… awards season is a farce.

  • It’s all so insincere.

I can’t be the only one who finds those little presenters’ speeches almost impossible to watch: you know, when the professional actors handing out awards in the so-called technical categories can’t summon up a convincing performance as they intone, ‘There has been so much sensational sound editing in cinemas this year…’

Then there are the gracious loser faces, and of course, those rambling acceptance speeches. There are undoubtedly real human emotions at play, but they’re pretty well hidden beneath all the air-kissing pretension.

  • We’re not invited to the parties.

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The most valid reason to be grumpy about awards season is probably the knowledge that the world’s richest, most beautiful and most talented people are all partying together, and we’re not invited. Look how much fun they’re having without us. Look at those ridiculous gift bags. It’s all such a disgustingly extravagant, meaningless farce, and I, for one, really want to be there.

 

5 Reasons to Love Awards Season

  • It’s a welcome reminder of some great films.

Who doesn’t enjoy being reminded of the great films we’ve experienced over the past year? Awards season offers an opportunity to pause and take stock. Best of all, they always cut together those awesome montages of all the nominees, which make me remember even the middling films as being better than they were. I am such a sucker for those montages.

  • It’s an insight into the zeitgeist.

As noted above, the films and performances which are winning things aren’t necessarily winning because they’re the best, or anything close. But the reasons why judging panels – and the public – fall in love with particular films and stars at particular times are genuinely fascinating. Perhaps we’re looking for a redemption story, or a bit of nostalgia, or that most slippery of qualities: authenticity. To look at a list of awards winners is to take the temperature of the culture.

Image credit: Daily Mail
Image credit: Daily Mail
  • It’s a celebration of lots of hardworking creative people.

As problematic as Hollywood is in so many ways, the people who work there are real people, and they have real talent, and they work hard. Leo DiCaprio ate raw liver for our entertainment this year, for goodness’ sake. And it’s not just the actors – in fact, one of the most rewarding parts of any film awards ceremony is seeing those don’t have a public profile get their moment in the spotlight. The day-to-day business of film-making isn’t remotely glamorous, and good work in any industry deserves recognition.

  • Occasionally, they get it right.

Sometimes, just sometimes, the stars align and we get a deserving winner. An underdog will triumph or some beautiful little indie will make the shortlist. Awards have the power to point us towards hidden gems, or to launch a whole career on the back of a single fierce performance from an unknown name. If we’re going to have them at all, this is what awards should be for.

Lupita Nyong'o Win

  • We’re not invited to the parties.

What could be more fun than partying with the stars? Well – enjoying it all vicariously from the comfort of home. Being honest with myself, if you put me in a room with J-Law or Leo or Lupita, I’d probably just babble and fall over. But from my sofa, in my slippers, I can imagine that we’d all be best friends. Awards season allows us glimpses into the impossible fantasy that is Hollywood, and by feeling close to the actors, we feel closer to the stories they tell. We can keep believing.

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Sophie Lister

Damaris resources bring films to new audiences, start conversations, and enrich lives. Find out more at www.damarismedia.com Here at the Damaris Film Blog, we publish regular discussion guides to help you make the most of the latest cinema releases.

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