Above: Victory leap: At a New York party in 1951, Jose Ferrer beams over his win for “Cyrano de Bergerac,” while Judy Holliday and Gloria Swanson whoop it up.
For decades, Oscars were the holy grail of film workers. Now, we live in a cynical age, when journalists like to put the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences under a harsh microscope, and film artists are too embarrassed to express interest.
But deep down, you know that Oscar still matters.
Here are 10 reasons why.
3 Oscars are like a huge neon arrow to good work. From caveman days through the 1950s, people had a few hours of entertainment a week, maybe. Now people in the 21st century are over-entertained. We can watch stuff 24/7, on a number of platforms (bigscreen, TV, mobile devices, tablets), choose between new works or roughly 100 years of product (from Chaplin silents to a TV episode that aired a half-hour ago) as well as user-generated content (pretty much anything on YouTube). So awards are a way of taking a breath and saying “Yeah, there’s a lot of crap out there, and there are a lot of interesting failures, but some work is pure gold.” Or worthy of gold.
4 Movies are the universal language. A legit work can travel the globe, with slight variations at each performance. But with film, people around the world see the same performance, with same music, and the same sound effects and the same edits, year after year. So when a film wins, people around the world have the same frame of reference.
5 It’s a legacy. For the rest of their life, a person will be “Academy Award nominee…”
6 Awards attention is the best revenge. Everyone suffered from schoolyard bullies. At one point or another, everyone has been told to get out of the business. The entertainment industry is tough, with a fickle public and execs who sour on talented people for silly reasons. Everyone worries that they’ll never be hired again. And everybody likes to be loved. So an award is a chance to say “To all of you who helped me, thanks. And to all of you who tormented me and ignored me and discouraged me — fuck you, I just won an Oscar.”
7 Oscars are magic. People in the industry see awards as business. And they are. But to the rest of the world, Oscars fill the need for glamour and escape from daily problems. Movies represent the dreams of the audience, and the audience want to see their dreams validated. And film workers want to see their dreams validated too.
8 It’s recognition by your peers. Yeah, that’s a cliche, but cliches are always based on truths. Decades ago, Irving Berlin was excited because he bought a boat and told his mother, “I’m a real sea captain!” She said, “To me and to you, you’re a sea captain. But to other sea captains…?” So an Oscar is saying aye-aye, captain, you ARE the real thing.
9 They are a Rohrschach test. After nominations are announced, friends will get into heated arguments: Tell me your favorite, and I will tell you who you are. This is the only election that won’t affect your income, your kids’ schooling or your pension fund, and yet it’s a cause of excitement and agitation.
10 Money and ego. Yes, I know we already mentioned these, but they’re worth repeating. “The King’s Speech” cost $14 million, and earned $414 million worldwide. Charlize Theron and Halle Berry each saw their payday rocket to $10 million after winning. “Million Dollar Baby” got overseas distribution in some countries that weren’t interested before it won. The word “Oscar” can increase the value of a film package. And ego boosts? Too many names to mention here.
So yes, it’s fun to be jaded and cynical in Hollywood. But Oscar still matters. n