Film writers are contractually obligated to weigh in on the Academy Awards. So, what did we learn from today's nominations?
The 85th Academy Award nominations were announced this morning, with co-announcers Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone rattling off names and movie titles to the gathered film journalists -- some inspiring gasps, some inspiring applause, some requiring a momentary wait to realize who wasn't included.
Longtime followers will be well-acquainted by now with my love/hate relationship with Oscar. On the one hand, it must be evaluated on the basis of what it is: an industry's congratulations to itself. They're chosen by people voting for those they work with regularly, so simple personality politics come into play. And they're chosen by people often thinking about what their votes say to the rest of the world about the film industry. That makes it somewhat less startling that Kathryn Bigelow was not nominated as Best Director for the widely praised Zero Dark Thirty, perhaps as Academy voters worried about editorials that painted the film as too ambiguous in its approach to torture.
On the other hand, Oscar season is when the general moviegoing public starts to pay attention to the idea of cinema as an art form, to entertain (however briefly) the notion that movies aren't just what's on a screen while you're eating your popcorn and texting your buddy. As such, the awards give hardcore cinephiles a platform for talking about the films, performances and other achievements they consider exceptional -- and folks even pay attention a little.
This year, partisans on a variety of sides got a little of what they were hoping for. Les Miserables may have received a Best Picture nomination, but its director, Tom Hooper -- blasted by many critics, including yours truly, for his botching of the material -- was left out. I was sure the spring release The Pirates! Band of Misfits would have been long forgotten, but it found a place among the Best Animated Feature nominees. And ask Salt Lake Tribune film critic Sean Means if he's fired up about the multiple awards for Beasts of the Southern Wild.
But again, that's what can make paying attention to the Oscars a worthwhile exercise -- not because they tell us anything definitive about what should be considered quality work in movies, but because they give us an excuse to talk about it and champion what we love in the process. The ceremony of actually handing out those gold statuettes is almost incidental.