Why Film Fans Should Worry About the Awards-Industrial Complex


Look, The Wolf of Wall Street is probably great. It’s Scorsese in rapid-fire GoodFellas mode, after all, with Leo DiCaprio sleeze-charming it up, Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, and Kyle Chandler in support and a screenplay by Sopranos scribe and Boardwalk Empire mastermind Terence Winter, working from a true story of financial corruption. Sounds amazing! It’ll probably get nominated for and/or win a bunch of awards! At least, that’s what the third-tier International Press Academy seems to have decided when they nominated it for five of their Satellite Awards, in spite of the fact that they appear to have not actually screened the movie. It’s an embarrassing moment for the organization, and their attempts to explain away the nomination aren’t going that well either. But the little kerfuffle speaks to a bigger problem within what shall be heretofore referred to as the Awards-Industrial Complex.

You see, there are many, many, many of these awards. Between the guilds, the critics societies, the indie awards (the Gothams, the Spirits, etc.), the Golden Globes, and the big kahuna of the Academy Awards, the sheer volume of year-end movie award-bestowing is enough to make your head spin — and for the lot of these smaller awards to dissolve in a noisy din of pre-Oscar “buzz.” A few years back, it seemed like every day revealed three or four more slates of winners from the Major Market Film Critics Society or the American Gaffer’s Guild, and since so many of them were pinpointing the same movies anyway, few seemed to care.

And then the solution arrived — and it was the awards-season equivalent of that annoying commenter who shouts “FIRST!” on your favorite blog. If we’re all going to award the same movies, the logic seemed to go, then let’s at least see who can start awarding them first. And thus, the Gotham Independent Film Awards were given out last night (let’s be clear: that’s December 2) and the New York Film Critics Circle vote on and announce their awards today, while their Los Angeles counterpart will manage to keep their awards in their pants all the way until Sunday.

Here’s the problem with this scenario, which the dumb Satellite Awards story serves to remind us: when you have to give out your awards at the beginning of December, you’re making proclamations about an incomplete year, and all the movies haven’t come out yet. Some accommodations are made for the big organizations; as Gold Derby points out, Paramount has allowed Golden Globe, New York Film Critics Circle, and National Board of Review voters to see The Wolf of Wall Street in advance of its first critics screening on December 6. But everyone else is shit outta luck — for example, I’m a member of the Online Film Critics Society, which this year decided to bump up its final ballot deadline from January 6 to December 14. Our nominations are announced Monday, so there’s a good chance we won’t be nominating Wolf of Wall Street, because so many of us haven’t seen it yet.

But here’s what’s even more important than whether voters are seeing all the movies they should: they don’t have the time to consider all the movies they should. The hustle-bustle bullshit of the Awards-Industrial Complex has nothing to do with film and everything to do with business — the business of “awards blogging” (I’ve lost track of the sites that exist solely for the year-round purpose of predicting and odds-making) and film promotion (nothing like having a bunch of critics’ society laurels to spruce up the ads for your studio’s Christmas week release) and raising the profile of your awards-giving society. It’s all clatter; none of it actually matters, or has anything to do with an honest assessment of the year’s finest achievements in film.

Awards and recognition should not drive film culture, but every year, the tail wags the dog a little more: citations creep a little bit earlier, the November/December calendar gets a little more crowded, the rest of the year gets a little more barren for adult audiences looking for movies that don’t treat them like morons, and the country that lies between the coasts has to wait a little bit longer to see the movies they’ve been hearing critics crow about for months. And viewed through that lens, the Satellite Awards story actually seems less like a horrifying breach of etiquette and more like the natural extension of an awards-season landscape where the last thing that matters is whether anyone has actually seen the fucking movie.