So what’s the difference between these pre-Oscar hype-fests, relentlessly focused on the movie business, and the cozy movie-lovers’ enclaves Ebert described a decade and a half ago? Far be it from this Internet film writer to point fingers, but, well, you know. The Oscars have, for a good long while, functioned less as an actual barometer for quality in cinema than as an organizing principle for the movie-going calendar and its subsequent awards season. But for the Movie Internet™, it has become the hook that never fades. It’s an automatic traffic driver, a sure bet for curiosity clicks, and a cottage industry has boomed around it online — from the serious film sites to the aforementioned year-round Oscar blogs to, yes, general culture sites like this one. (But we’re trying to keep it under control, for whatever that’s worth.)
And what’s genuinely gross about that industry is its utter reductiveness. Year after year, it boils film culture down to a horse race, treating movies as competitors riding “momentum” or battling a “backlash” or overcoming a “snub,” rather than as what they (or at least the best of them) are: art. Yet what’s particularly odd about Oscar obsession is its built-in cognitive dissonance — every year we drool and fume and predict, as though it is all Very Important Work, while simultaneously acknowledging that nobody actually takes the judgments of Oscar voters very seriously, because they are so wrong, so very often.
If you’ll pardon the graphic imagery, the Oscar Industry has become a giant circle-jerk, and perhaps the film press assembling at fall festivals could put their junk away and just watch some movies. Viewing every single high-profile, high-prestige fall film through the diminutive prism of what awards it could win at the industry’s spring dog-and-pony show cheapens the art, and it cheapens the writer. And more than that, it cheapens the festivals, which would (in a perfect world) be the one safe haven where enthusiastic moviegoers — professional and civilian alike — could just see a new film with something resembling fresh eyes, and a view unencumbered by months of predictions, strategizing, and general bullshit.