Quick, name the most useless awards show on the planet!
If you answered "all of them", you're too snarky for your own good. If you answered the People's Choice Awards, I'm not here to argue. If you answered the Golden Globe Awards
, you're being unkind. Like the Oscars
, they've made choices both splendid and stinky over the years. But if you hear "People's Choice" and "Golden Globe" and suddenly wonder, "What's the difference?" you must have watched the Golden Globes this past Sunday night.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association
, the giver of the Globes, has weathered many credibility issues in its 67 years. Will the HFPA’s latest "embrace the box office!" credo be seen as blunder or boon? Their "Best!" [see full list of winners]
proclamations for the 2009 film year look like a box office chart rather than the mix of critical acclaim, prestige elements and general (if unspectacular) success that such "Best!" pronouncements usually resemble. Best Picture (Drama): Avatar
Best Picture (Comedy): The Hangover
Best Picture (Animated): Up
Together, those Best Pictures average a jaw dropping $358 million domestic gross. To put it into perspective, that = more popular than any Harry Potter
film. In the buzz aftermath following Hollywood's most notorious awards party, there will be griping about the immaturity and star-lust of the Globes. It's true that the voters are easily distracted by the shiniest offerings on the table: note their preference for glittery musicals (nearly every year but this one) and their annual tradition of filling out that often-hotly-contested 5th slot in acting categories—the "I'm just glad to be nominated!" slot—with big stars rather than truly acclaimed performances.
If you add in the other top Globe categories, the average gross drops considerably, but the winners list still reinforces this idea of blind devotion to massive success. Best Actress (Drama): Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Best Actress (Comedy): Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Best Actor (Drama): Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Best Actor (Comedy): Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Best Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, Precious
Best Director: James Cameron, AvatarBest Screenplay: Sheldon Turner and Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
In a full half of those cases, the winner came from the highest-grossing film in its category (usually over $100 million), and in the other half (with the exception of Jeff Bridges
in Crazy Heart
), the second-highest grosser. So why was Bridges exempt from this trending towards receipts? That's easy. There's a certain amount of annual awards oxygen that's allotted to "most overdue," and Jeff Bridges has (rightfully) sucked it all in. He's been doing great work steadily since 1971's Best Picture nominee The Last Picture Show
, and nearly 30 years later the most he had to show for it (until now) was an Indie Spirit
win for the little seen American Heart
But back to the Globes and how they might influence the bigger show. Oscar has been raked across the coals in the press for a number of years now, due to declining ratings and declining grosses on their Best Picture nominees. But those media pundits who've loudly proclaimed the Oscar voting body “elitist” and "out of touch" probably wouldn't prefer the alternative they're unwittingly arguing for: an annual awards season where only superheroes and action flicks are considered worthy. Box Office is certainly a measure of worth, but it is its own measure; it’s also its own reward.
As the very wise and currently snubbed filmmaker Jane Campion
) said when Oscar first made the decision to widen the Best Picture field to ten nominees
: "I’ve heard it’s because of the major studios. None of their movies are being chosen. [But] it’s not a popularity contest. That is box office. We have that. The Oscars should be something else."
Should they or shouldn’t they? Well, the Oscars are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they embrace the box office receipts as fully as the Globes just did—and the press continually expects them to—people will complain. Watch and see. A strong segment of this year's blockbusters are good films, but that isn't always the case. If "Best" at awards shows is to become an automatic reflection of box office, we don’t need awards shows. They're irrelevant if there's not some sort of intangible qualitative measure over which we can wring our hands in discussions of film art. Otherwise, we can just read the box office charts to answer the eternal “What’s hot?” question.
But if we're to have a reactionary year where only box office success should equal trophies, so be it. But let it be a short-lived "corrective" to an overstated problem, lest only GI Joe
sequels win Hollywood's top honor in future years. Box office should be and is its own reward. Let's face it: Sandra Bullock
does not really need the preface “Academy Award Winner” before her name. She's not without talent and she's adorable. But she's already won the biggest award for being so: massive popularity and untold riches. Shouldn't the acting statues go to the people who really push the craft of acting? How often do they get the rewards that have already come Bullock’s way?
But at this point in any awards season, the performances and films become abstractions. Few people, whether they vote on these famous contests or watch from home, are really still debating the intricacies of merit. They’re thinking about the way they feel when the stars win, what they wore to the shows, what cause or larger topic a movie or star chooses to align with. Awards have always been both a popularity contest and
a record of the moment.
For all that it’s worth, here’s hoping we'll get balance and perspective in each annual parade of honorees. The Oscars (and the Globes) shouldn't be embarrassed to reward blockbusters anymore than they should be embarrassed to reward films that only fifty people have seen. Commercial appeal deserves money and great art deserves “best” citations. When they happen simultaneously, let it be a happy coincidence rather than a redundant mandate.
More in this series:
The Oscar Combination
Oscars: The Best of... Everything?
Sundance: The Oscar Connection
blogs on The Film Experience
. He is also a bit of an Oscar savant