Geoff Pevere: Oscars; The Sunday Night Fright

For most of my life now, I’ve been developing strategies to ignore the Oscars. They haven’t worked. Each year, the event finds some way of negatively intruding upon my otherwise serene and peaceful existence. That’s why the question “Why do you hate the Oscars?” has always seemed to me to be beside the point. The real question is “Why does Oscar hate me?”

The latest infiltration took this form. There I was sitting at home, semi-employed, and doing my customary best to be utterly oblivious to the annual ritual which I had long (long) ago concluded had nothing do with the genuine appreciation of good movies. This was a conclusion I came to at the wise old age of twelve, when I realized – without seeing any of the movies inv0lved – that the Academy Awards were a sham because the Best Actor nod had gone to John Wayne – whom even I could imitate, so how good could he be? — for True Grit and not Dustin Hoffman or Jon Voight for Midnight Cowboy. This was clearly an outrage of the highest order, and I lay in bed staring at my Peter Fonda Easy Rider poster until I angrily dozed off.

So here it is, forty-two years later, and the phone rings. CBC radio is calling to see if I might pinch-hit for their regular movie reviewer. They’ve got a couple movies already lined up, and I happily sign on and run off in pursuit of screening information. A day later, the phone rings again. A mistake has been made, and the item I’m signed on for has changed. It’s now to be an Oscar picks preview.

I gulp. Can I get back to you on this? Absolutely. Running to the lists of nominations – to which, as usual, I’ve paid utterly no attention – my worst fears are confirmed in seconds. I haven’t seen most of the movies nominated in the major categories, and those that I have seen – like The War Horse and Extremely Loud and Dangerously Close, for an earlier CBC pinch-hitting gig – had somehow failed to alter the course of my life. Indeed, I couldn’t even get them straight in my head, and kept imagining a movie in which a talking horse gallops around New York in a state of high post 9/11 anxiety. This wasn’t going to be easy.

Because I am a fundamentally decent sort of guy, I decide to just fess up and admit to the producer that I’m happy to do the item, but I haven’t seen most of the movies. Would this be a problem? (I know what you’re thinking, but standards of journalistic integrity in the field of contemporary entertainment reporting aren’t exactly rigorous.)

As it turns out, it would be a problem, and within a couple of minutes I’ve been dropped as a commentator and lost the gig to someone else. That’s another few hundred bucks unearned by yours truly, and another perfect kick in the cubes scored by Oscar. Meanwhile, I’m all up to speed on who got nominated for what, and I don’t even care.

I leaned back to ponder this dark history. Back in my teen years, I’d alienate just about everyone around me by being the guy who was already notorious for being obsessed with movies but who didn’t give a shit about the Oscars. Which is to say weird.

Then, as a film student at university, I’d show up at the annual Academy Awards booze-up and rant about what a scam the whole thing was, only to be subsequently disinvited from the annual Academy Awards booze-up.

As my reviewing career gathered a modicum of momentum, I accepted the fact that Oscar was part of the devil’s handshake: if I wanted to work as movie critic, I had to pass through the Oscar tollbooth every year, kind of like a tax levied for the privilege of doing what I wanted to do. It seemed reasonable.

Besides, I could use the opportunity to make the case that Oscar really didn’t have anything to do with good movies, and was ultimately a big, fat, terminally overblown TV show in which Hollywood advertised itself to the world, unfailingly celebrated the earnest, middlebrow and dull, and was most deserving of our collective thanks as an opportunity to get together with friends on a work night, get drunk, and not miss anything as we talked our way through the interminable ceremony or excused ourself to stare grimly into the toilet bowl.

But this, understandably, grew a little thin. Although I’d continue to get calls from radio and TV shows to provide Oscar commentary, and although my rather late-in-the-game job as a movie critic with the Toronto Star ensured that I remained in the game even though I was very happy to be parked on the bench, I could tell people were getting less and less patient with my annual Oscar contrarian crabbiness. (My spiritual arrangement with myself was this: as long as somebody was paying me to pay attention, I’d pay attention.) To them, Oscar was not only fun but self-evidently important, and who wanted to hear some cranky oldish fart talking about what a elaborate mass-media boondoggle and boil on the face of art it all was? Jesus, not even I wanted to hear myself any more.

Editors grew increasingly disinterested in my obstreperousness, one even going to far as ordering me to pretend to think the Oscars were important because everybody else – especially, I presume, his bosses — thought so. (Incidentally, I mark this as a signal moment in the decline and fall of so-called entertainment journalism, or at least my involvement in it.) I’d receive increasingly ugly e-mails in increasingly larger number from readers who either just wanted me to shut up about the whole thing or thought there was absolutely no way I could possibly be considered a qualified commentator on the cinematic arts if I didn’t take the Oscars seriously. Essentially, no one wanted to hear.

And that’s cool. While I still choose to ignore the event and respectfully reserve the right to believe that it’s got nothing at all to do with what’s best, most vital and eternally transfixing about the most seductive art form ever created this side of music, I don’t take the Oscars personally any more. Unless they come into my home and mess with me on my own turf, which they did this year. Then I think I’ve got a right to rant.

So thank you all. And thank you Mom.

— 30 —

Geoff Pevere’s column appears every Friday.

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Geoff Pevere has been writing, broadcasting and teaching about movies, media and popular culture for over thirty years. He can’t help himself. His column appears every Friday.


4 Responses to “Geoff Pevere: Oscars; The Sunday Night Fright”

  1. Yes, Geoff it’s a Hollywood Juggernaut that we all must swallow or choke on!

    Thanks for standing up – I stopped watching and I’m a fashionista but even that is a yawn-fest these days!

  2. It’s all about the spectacle. Liquor helps .

  3. Geoff,
    I fully embrace your disinterest in the self-congratulatory pat on the ass of Hollywood. It’s not unique to entertainment. I have no interest in ANY award show unless it involves a train wreck (i.e. Nicki Minaj at the Grammys last week).

    My sister-in-law lives for awards show…it seems to be a process of affirmation in HER taste. Me, I don’t need a bunch of sniveling, bloated, ass-kissing incestuous business men with plenty to lose telling me whether I like a movie or not.

    As a rule, I will not see any movie that is in the Top10 at the Golden Globes…cause the critics have their taste up their ass [your own notwithstanding 🙂 ]

    To date I have fallen asleep while trying to watch “Out of Africa” (three times) and “Passage to India” (twice). And, my God, could Meryl Streep please choose an accent? Whatever it is that Oscar celebrates, it has absolutely no resemblance to what the public really likes. Except, of course, if they feel they’re missing something that their friends say they like. As with all awards shows, it’s a popularity contest…not a contest recognizing art.

  4. Substitute Grammy for Oscar and music for film and you have written my take on the self-importance of the music business. Thank the gods for the indies, eh?

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