Friday, February 29, 2008

Losing Would Suck and Winning Would be Really Scary.

What magnificence lies in a nine pound, 13 1/2 inch tall sculpture cast by the hundreds and distributed to more than 2600 people since 1929 that hundreds don dresses and jewels each equaling more than my annual salary; hundreds upon thousands covet the little figure and millions around the world wait and watch to see who gets one?

It is the ultimate gold star. It is the honor roll that goes down in history, not just on the black board. It is one of the greatest resume boosters a person could have short of Messiah. And it will end every "My dad is better than your dad" competition with a hands down win.

They call him Oscar, but it is truly the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Award of Merit. Oscar is catchier...but Award of Merit is what strikes at the core of our egos and our dreams.

My title is part of a quote by Ben Affleck who said of the experience: "Losing would suck and winning would be really scary. It was really, really scary."

Yet for whatever fear Affleck was feeling when he and best friend, Matt Damon won their Oscars for Best Original Screenplay in 1998 for 'Good Will Hunting,' it did not show. In all the years I have watched the Academy Awards, their acceptance has struck me as the most incredibly genuine, the most true and heart felt, and brings tears of joy and empathy to my eyes every time I see it just knowing that would be me; that is how I would feel. So excited and flattered that I was giddy with laughter, teary eyed and jumping up and down all at once.

But to save face as an artist, let's just say it doesn't really matter- the awards are about politics and have no real bearing on your career. Sure, but when you are that one person standing before millions to be honored with an award that could have gone to thousands of others, I imagine it feels pretty fucking sweet. And scary. Really, really scary.

As a perpetual student of film and a *coughmumble*unemployedscreenwriter*mumblecough*, I can tell you that from the very first Oscars that I can remember seeing in 1984 when 'Amadeus' was the winner for Best Picture, I dreamed of walking that red carpet and being handed that little gold man. I wanted to be Sally Field when she won for "Places in the Heart" that year, a movie I hadn't even been old enough to watch yet, and she declared her now infamous line (more often misquoted than not):
"I haven't had an orthodox career, and I've wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn't feel it, but this time I feel it, and I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!"
I was never a fashion conscious girl. Dirty jeans and a tank top are my favorite ensemble, often accessorized by ratty sneakers or ass-kicker boots. My long hair is never coiffed in more than a 'keep it the hell out of my face' plastic clip or elastic tie. However, the organza and satin, silks and chiffons that billowed and sashayed down that red carpet year after year dazzled my eyes like a hypnotic spell beckoning me to pretty up and flash that "oh my God I can't believe it" smile. For years it seemed to be only about that. I think for many it always is and will be, although I want to think there are a great number of film artists who reach a point when it is about the work. They want to know that their work is appreciated and celebrated.

There are so many ways to see this. Box-office cash rolls are one way, sure, but many artists like myself look at that as a sad representation. So many excellent films LOSE money, and then others which I wouldn't wipe my ass on the scripts if there were no other paper around for miles make SO MUCH money as to leave me questioning the sanity, intelligence and good taste of the average person. Another way is if you stick around long enough to have schools like NYU, UCLA, USC and the Vancouver Film School teach classes about your films. 'Cus you know...that happens. Werner Herzog has accumulated more than 28 awards internationally, is the subject of numerous film course studies and yet....has never won an Oscar. Yet few film people would argue that he is a legend of the industry.

So that said, what's the big deal?

It is the film industry's grown up version of picking teams for dodgeball in elementary school. These are your peers, your classmates that make these nominations and ultimately decide who has earned that merit. So, yeah, of course it is very subjective. People are people and they pick their friends or their heroes, they do favors or just select what they liked not necessarily what was best. Politics plays into things, certain people get snubbed repeatedly for not playing by the industry accepted protocols (like Orson Wells, Martin Scorsese, or Johnny Depp).

This isn't to say these awards lack any merit of their own. Far from it. The Academy Awards do so much to benefit Film as an art form. It drives people to watch films they may not have considered before hearing it won an Oscar for....whatever. It bolsters the careers of lesser known people who might be lost in the cracks otherwise, like the recent winner Diablo Cody, a former-stripper and a first time screenwriter who won. That is every filmmaker, actor and screenwriters dream- to win on your first try. Plus to those living a less glamorous life, such as myself, there is no greater triumph than that; to see the most unlikely angel get their wings.

The Oscars also bring attention to incredible achievements, be they life-long or ground-breaking changes in the way film is done. Sometimes these achievements are overlooked, or left unrecognized until the valued person has passed on. The Academy is peopled of humans and we are fallible and at times a little thick-headed. This is one reason why so many other groups have stepped up to fill in the gaps. The Independent Spirit Awards focus solely on Independent film, and rightly so. It is a group of filmmakers who have stayed true to the origins of film, that guerrilla style of filmmaking that existed long before the studios were formed. Groups like MTV and People's Choice award films that are not 'lofty' enough for the Oscars, the comedies and action films that cathartically help us survive our daily lives; films that deserve just as much attention. Everyone thinks back on films that helped to shape and define their lives and many of them are not on an "artistic" enough level to catch the Academy's attention. Then, however, there is AFI who tend to recognize films solely on their artistic merit, and their historical impact on culture.

Normally at this time of year, I would have rolled out my critiques on who was nominated and who has won, what films deserved the attention. Unfortunately, for the first time in many, many years, I can only claim to having seen ONE of the films nominated for ANYTHING this year.

YES, that is what I said....ONE film nominated for ANYTHING. And that was Sweeney Todd.

My husband couldn't wait for me and ran off to see No Country for Old Men on his own and I've been otherwise too poor and/or busy to catch anything else. Plus, I must add the ridiculous difficulty in finding theatres near me which will play films such as Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Even our local "art house" theatre is playing Juno, instead. It is a surreal experience for me to guess my way through the awards ceremony armed with no more than media and press editorials and opinions. Of the twenty-Five currently awarded categories, I was able to only predict ten correctly. Not bad for someone who hasn't seen any of them. Most of those predictions were based on what I know of the Academy's habits, and others just on the industry trends.

I wish I could say I were confident enough in my own craft that I do not need the approval of my peers in a show filled with enough pomp and ceremony to rival the Royal Family of England, but I know myself well enough to promise you it would bring me tears and laughter and an unbelievable wave of emotion. I do not have the poise of Grace Kelly, or the eloquence of Sidney Poitier, and few manage to truly move us. Therefore, I must echo Ben Affleck's sentiment on such a nomination and only dare to dream of ever winning.

Losing would suck, and winning would be really, really scary.