Saturday, December 9, 2023

Chasing The Gold: Let the Blockbuster Win

Streaming has killed television. Even before streaming, basic cable’s revolution in scripted series killed television. Even before that, premium cable channels outstripped anything on the big four networks. Television, as it once was, is dead and yet the largest, most revered film award show is desperate for people to watch its telecast on network television, in prime time.

Every year there are at least half a dozen articles before the Academy Awards that criticize and praise the ideas the newest batch of producers have to make the event a must watch broadcast. Every year, after the telecast, we all realize that the show wasn’t any shorter, the awfulness of the host wasn’t any less predictable, the montages were still ham-fisted, and actors should absolutely have a cutoff to their speeches.

We like the pageantry, the drama, the scale, the overwrought reverence for movies, and we tolerate the predictability that most of awards season has become. It’s so rare that we get to the final event of the film awards season and we don’t know with strong mathematical evidence which way each major category will go. It’s sort of boring when you really get to the nuts and bolts of it. The only people who are surprised are the people who have seen maybe one or two of the Best Picture nominees.

There’s nothing that depresses me more than a colleague, a stranger, or even a close friend bemoaning that nothing they’ve seen this year is up for anything major. They laugh out that, “What even are these movies? Did anyone even see them?” They complain that the Academy is elitist, snobby, and beholden to independent cinema. These same people skip anything that’s not familiar at the box office. The reason they didn’t see these films is because they chose not to, in many cases. In other cases, it’s because theater chains won’t take too much of a risk on one of their precious screens. Screens that are covered in the studio’s latest IP acquisition or reboot/remake/legacy sequel.

So toss it all out. Toss out the idea of an Oscar movie and focus on getting the viewers the Academy needs to keep their sponsors happy. The viewing public who, every week, is either destroying or saving movie theaters want their interests represented. The Academy wants those viewers and their respect.

Forget Everything Everywhere All At Once. Forget The Banshees of Inisherin, Tár, Triangle of Sadness, or even The Fabelmans. Give the people what they want. Award Top Gun: Maverick Best Picture.

The film is a proven winner as a box office powerhouse, an audience pleaser, and a surprising critical darling. Of the other blockbusters nominated, it’s got all the alchemy and charm where Elvis or Avatar: The Way of Water are missing one thing or the other. Top Gun: Maverick is a technical marvel and in a sea of legacy sequels. It’s a charmer, hitting notes that only a grizzled, more assured sequel story could. It’s not an impossible, improbable, or enraging thing to happen.

This is what the Academy needs to ensure their continued existence and to get the most people possible watching their telecast. They don’t need us. You and I, who seek out new movies by interesting filmmakers, who week after week find new original stories that are unnecessary to the governing body of the Academy Awards. You and I who see more than five movies in a movie theater, who go to film festivals, who support independent theaters, and buy physical media; we aren’t the majority. Our eyes only get the Academy so far and they don’t do what we need them to do anyway. We need them to pick the “right” movie and it so rarely happens that it may be time to let them slip off the door into the frozen waters of the North Atlantic. It may be time to let the Academy watch from the hallway as we close the door on them to plan the future of our family business. It may be time to say, screw your sad movie about a capitalist mogul, we want social change to come to our small, Welsh mining town!

So give Best Picture to Top Gun: Maverick. It is the correct, objective choice in the grand scheme of things. It will guarantee future viewers if they know that the era of the foreign film, that is a film that goes against the grain and tastes of broad audiences, is over. They’ll watch their stars again if they know that nothing unpleasant, challenging, or atypical has a chance of soiling the telecast. The five movies they saw in a theater that year will be well represented. The rest of us will continue to debate the true best picture with reverence, love, vitriol, and bile. Cinema has changed and what is old is always new again.

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