Do you recognize the fish? They are Oscars -- Golden Oscars, as it happens. They seem a suitable illustration for a piece about the nominations for the 78th Academy Awards. These Golden Oscars have nothing do do with movies and, for a large part of the moviegoing public neither do the other ones.
In Oscars and the New Hollywood Triviality on the conservative film blog Libertas Jason Apuzzo continues his argument that Oscar nominees are increasingly chosen for their politics and tend to be independent films that fewer and fewer people have actually seen.
I must confess that I am beginning to respond to speculation about Oscar-worthiness in a film review in much the same way I respond to claims that a breakfast cereal is healthy. A few claims that a cereal is "good for you" or a "nutritious part of a good breakfast" are to be expected -- but when the ad copy is mostly about how healthy a cereal is I begin to expect texturized pine fiber nuggets flavored with flax seed oil. Similarly, when all I hear about a film is how likely it is to win Oscars I expect it to provide more heavy-handed left-leaning political pummelling than lively entertainment. This is unfair in many cases -- many of the films nominated are fine films -- but it is fair in enough cases that I have trouble freeing myself of the predisposition.
To examine Mr. Apuzzo's theory that nobody ever sees the films that get nominated for Oscars these days I offer the following scientific survey of one person randomly chosen among those sitting in my chair right now. The nominees are here if you want to follow along.
Teleoscope: Can I ask you a few questions about this year's Oscan nominees?
BigLee: I'm kind of busy right now...
Teleoscope: No you're not. You are blogging.
BigLee: Wellll... OK.
Teleoscope: Of the films with Best Actor nominations how many have you seen?
BigLee: I've been meaning to see "Walk the Line".
Teleoscope: That's none, then.
BigLee: Yes, none.
Teleoscope: Best Actor supporting?
Teleoscope: Best Actress?
BigLee: I saw "Pride and Prejudice".
Teleoscope: One of the five, then. Best actress supporting?
BigLee: Um, no. Not actually.
Teleoscope: Best Animated Feature?
BigLee: Two of the three.
Teleoscope: Ahh. Art Direction?
BigLee: Three of five. King Kong deserves it but it won't win.
Teleoscope: Why not? I don't think of Art Direction as being that political.
BigLee: The thing is, members of the Academy vote in their own specialty. This award gives the Art Directors their big chance to show that they hate Republicans, too. I think "Good Night, and Good Luck" has a good shot at the Oscar.
BigLee: One of five.
Teleoscope: That would be the Batman film...?
BigLee: Yes, how'd you guess?
Teleoscope: I got lucky. Costume Design?
BigLee: Two of five.
Teleoscope: Best Director?
BigLee: Go fish.
BigLee: Surprisingly, I've seen one of them. March of the Penguins deserves the Oscar -- in spades. It's tragic really that they won't win. If the script had just mentioned the threat that "Global Warming" poses to the penguin's breeding grounds they'd have been a shoe-in, especially what their with being French and all...
Teleoscope: Ummm. Let's pick up the pace. Documentary Short? Editing? Foreign Language Film?
BigLee: Nope. Nope and nope.
Teleoscope: Best Picture?
Teleoscope: Animated Short? Live Action Short?
BigLee: None of them. Bit surprised I haven't seen the Pixar short.
Teleoscope: Sound Editing?
BigLee: Two out of three.
Teleoscope: Sound Mixing?
BigLee: Three of four.
Teleoscope: Visual Effects?
BigLee: All three of them. This is the only category where I have seen them all.
Teleoscope: I notice that you score higher in the more technical categories. How do you respond to the idea that you may just be a "special effects" geek?
BigLee: That could be, I suppose, but I don't think so, or at least not completely. Special effects are enablers. They allow the filmmaker to tell a story that would not have been possible to tell as well without them. C.S. Lewis wrote in a letter that he didn't think that live action films should be made from his Narnia books since the talking lion would appear silly and spoil the story. The new Narnia film is wonderful -- not because we get to see a talking lion but because "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is a fabulous story and it can finally be filmed. I don't think I am any more attracted to the films because of their special effects than the films are ignored by the Academy for being too busy telling stories to address "social issues".
Teleoscope: That was your longest answer yet. Pushed your buttons, did I?
Teleoscope: So let's finish up. Original Screenplay? Adapted Screenplay?
BigLee: Nada and zilch.
Teleoscope: So, by my rough count there are something like sixty different films represented. And of those you have seen...
Teleoscope: And in the big four awards -- Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Picture?
BigLee: I have seen only "Pride and Prejudice". One in eleven. There are several of them I have been planning to see... once they get to the second-run theaters. They tend to be films that I think I ought to see but am not that excited about... and now that they are nominated for Academy Awards it will be that much harder to work up any enthusiasm.