Now that award season is in full swing, best of the year lists and critic associations award nominations are flying fast and furious. As usual everyone wants to be the official tastemaker for the cinematic universe. Unfortunately, this means getting any sort of consensus on which film is truly the Lord of the Ring is next to impossible. Even as I write this Spike Jones’ Her, David O. Russell’s American Hustle, The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis and Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing have all been considered the number one film of the year by different associations. So which film is actually the best? Who deserves top ten recognition? Which films are getting snub? And more importantly what does this mean for the Academy Award race? The honest answer is that it does not matter. These questions will in no way change how you view the world of cinema. We all need to take a collective breath and remember that this art form is subjective…which is exactly why we love it.
I enjoy best of the year lists like the next cinephile. I make a point to post my own top ten list every year. I also enjoy watching the Oscars to see which films and performance manage to please the vast majority of industry folks who make up the Academy. However, at the end of the day, I know the all these accolades have little impact outside of those who actually worked on the film. The fact 12 Years a Slave and Stories We Tell did not crack the Sight & Sound’s top ten in no way changes how I feel about those films. Nor am I concerned that some of these lists have dropped before Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street officially screened for critics. The fact that the film received award nominations from a group that may not have view it through the proper channels means nothing to me. I will be seeing the film regardless because Scorsese always creates interesting works.
At the best of times these lists and awards are great tools for being pointed towards a film that might have otherwise slipped under our personal radar. For me, films like The Great Beauty, The Selfish Giant and Ain’t Them Bodies Saint are perfect examples of this. I do not need an award to tell me to see Her or American Hustle, frankly those films had my money the minute I heard “new works from Spike Jonze and David O. Russell”. It is the smaller titles that gain the extra bump, especially since there are only so many films a person can watch and/or keep track of each year. The down side to these awards, which seems to becoming more prevalent each year, is the snarky “us verse them” attitude it generates. A mere hour after a list or nomination is announced, the internet is a buzz with public outcry. People react as if they were insulted personally that a film they loved was left off the list. Or,vice versa, if a film they despised actually brought immense joy to someone else.
So what if 12 Years a Slave loses awards to American Hustle? Does it really hurt its Oscar odds? Why do we even care about such things? Does it bring solace to those who usually side with the backlash towards the award season frontrunner each year? Regardless of what awards it may or may not get, McQueen’s film has already done strong business at the box office and connected with audiences despite its harsh content. I call that mission accomplished. Upstream Color, a film I was fortunate to catch on the big screen, will surely benefit from the extra notice, but my views on the film would ultimately remain the same even if it did not show up on several lists. Conversely, while I enjoyed Spring Breakers no lists or awards are going to convince me it is one of the best films of the year. But hey that is just my opinion, I fully respect and enjoy reading others views regardless of whether they agree or disagree with my stance.
The point is we all need to calm down and just enjoy award season for what it really is. A bunch of diverse voices sharing their opinions. It is nothing more or nothing less. Ignore the pompous desires of those wanting to be the authoritative voice, the meaningless debates over rankings, and most importantly the “potential Oscar ramifications”. If you happen to discover a few new film, while wading through the ocean of noise, then all the better.