Monday, February 26, 2007

The 79th Annual Academy Awards: What Does it Mean to the Rest of Us?



Did you watch the Oscars last night? I did. In fact, I watch every year. While some may deride Hollywood’s yearly back-patting ceremony as pompous and elitist (which it is in some ways), it is also important to every filmmaker. It is one reason we all want to make movies, presenting a goal that we wouldn’t mind placing on our mantle someday.

Every year, no matter how well or poorly the show is produced, one thing remains constant: it’s inspiring. There is usually at least one montage of great films, that just makes you want to make your own stellar movie. This year the Academy paid tribute to foreign filmmaking, and while I recognized a few of the titles (like Rashomon and La Strada), there were many I did not know and wanted to seek out. Their imagery was as powerful as any of their American counterparts, reaffirming that the language of the visual is universal.

What age were we when we saw our first film? I’m guessing it was when we were very young, and we went to see a studio film with our parents. It wasn’t an indie flick, and it wasn’t on a tiny screen. It was big and loud and I don’t care what it was, it was incredible. Even if you didn’t want to be a filmmaker then, when you did, those first films left such an impression that you never forgot, and will probably pay tribute to them in your own work if you haven’t already.

For me, the next best thing to seeing a great film, is seeing great filmmakers get their just rewards. The whole process is very hard, can take forever, and is often ignored by the public. I feel totally consumed on a microbudget short film, and can only imagine what these folks go through for a huge production with millions of dollars on the line. The Oscar can be the icing on a fruitful career, or the continuation of a blossoming one.

Granted, the Academy is a big high school, and the winners are those voted “most popular” by their classmates, so travesties often occur. Scorsese finally won on his sixth try (which I did predict), but Alfred Hitchcock was nominated the same number of times and never won (he did get a consolation Irving J. Thalberg Award in 1968, however). My pick for the best movie of 2006 (Children of Men) wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture, and was 0-3 in other categories. It’s too bad sometimes, but that’s democracy.

The show can also be just plain fun. Who could resist Ellen DeGeneres asking Steven Spielberg to take a picture with her next to Clint Eastwood? And then, upon seeing Spielberg’s shot, telling him “can you center our heads better”? What about the Broadway-inspired musical number with Will Ferrell and Jack Black? Or the shadow dancing troupe, Pilobolus? Or Jerry Seinfeld introducing the documentaries as “these five depressing movies”? There are always good moments worth waiting for.

Keep inspiring, Oscar, and I’ll keep watching...

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