The anarchist approach to the Oscars
Cambridge Day is part of a project called Voices of MainStreet — a weekly, nationwide Q&A in which editors at the money and lifestyle site MainStreet.com ask questions and bloggers answer them. For this entry, I was asked about the Academy Awards.
My assiduously — and, I might say, pointlessly — maintained records show I went to only 13 movies last year, but by luck four were Oscar contenders for Best Picture, which means my filmgoing looks 31 percent classy and only 23 percent guilty pleasure (a run early in the year I can 67 percent blame on Robert Downey Jr., because I would see him in pretty much anything and he chose to make “Sherlock Holmes” and “Iron Man 2”). On a family vacation, I rented “Winter’s Bone” on DVD, meaning I’ve seen half the Best Picture nominees, probably a personal best or near it.
It’s unclear whether the academy is diminishing or enabling my accomplishment with its doubling of the Best Picture field a couple years back, since I saw “Inception,” “The Social Network,” “127 Hours” and “Black Swan” in the theaters not because I sensed they would be up for Oscars but through a torturous series of mistakes and tests made up of equal parts logistics, pride, interest and favoritism that is more art than science, and then only if you call alchemy a science.
For instance: I saw “Black Swan” because Natalie Portman. (If you can’t parse that sentence, you’re probably over the age of 40 and not getting enough irony in your diet. I prescribe reading whatever websites you can find on the web that end in “ist” or are Gawker or The Onion’s A.V. Club) But I saw “127 Hours” before that because there was a miscommunication resulting in me being at the Kendall Square cinemas with two friends being told by a third, via text, “Don’t watch black swan.”
That’s easy enough to accommodate when you have five cinemas in town, and another right over the border, and all are more or less likely to show Oscar-worthy films — some even more likely to show films that’ll wind up nominated for best Foreign Language Film. While watching “The Social Network” I ruminated that, since I was seeing it in Harvard Square, Mark Zuckerberg might have used the very same seat seven years earlier to watch and have angry, condescending thoughts about a movie. (Just kidding. I know Zuckerberg isn’t really as Jesse Eisenberg as portrayed him in “Social Network.” Zuckerberg probably wouldn’t even pay attention to whatever was onscreen at the front of the room. He was probably just sitting there thinking how to invade the privacy of everyone around him.)
I’m not going to mess with my finely tuned system of anarchy by introducing Oscar nominations, or even Oscar wins, as a variable, and certainly not as a determinant. Not when the nominations themselves seem so arbitrary. (And not when I don’t even watch the ceremony.)
Last year’s nominations were particularly discordant, and it feels kind of unlikely the same viewer digging “Avatar” would also get off on “A Serious Man,” or would leave during the end credits of “The Blind Side” to sneak into “The Hurt Locker” or “An Education.”
I mean, I would. I’ve proposed such things. But if it worked, my records would show it.