The Trick Is Not Minding

(Ethan Gates)– It was early 2006. I was sitting watching the Academy Awards with my family. I had only seen one of the major contenders that year, George Clooney’s Cold War drama “Good Night, and Good Luck,” but I had adored it and was fervently rooting for it to win every award for which it was nominated. When it came time for the big announcement of Best Picture (something like 16 hours and 34 minutes into a typically interminable telecast), I crossed my fingers as the presenter read out the winner. But instead of my beloved piece of political propaganda (I still love the movie, but let’s be real here), the Oscar went to… “Crash.”

I was stunned. How could “Good Night, and Good Luck” not win? Or even that “gay cowboy” movie that everyone was talking about? My curiosity was piqued. I watched “Crash” a few weeks later to see what all the fuss was about. Seriously, who had watched this movie? What was it even about?

Answer: Sandra Bullock solving racism by hugging her Hispanic maid.

I watched all the other nominees from that year (“Brokeback Mountain,” “Munich” and “Capote”) just to make sure that I wasn’t missing something. Indeed, in my humble opinion, ANY of those movies would have been a far superior choice for Best Picture of 2005. Ever since then, I have made it my goal to watch as many of the Oscar nominees as possible, so I can stack up the Academy’s choices against my own preferences.

In the process, I got drawn into the world of Oscar blogging, a quaint little corner of the Internet where people start trying to predict the nominees in July and pretty much every film discussion boils down to a mysterious, indefinable, self-perpetuating thing called “buzz.” A blogger will talk about how a certain film (which won’t even be released in theaters for about five months) is losing momentum in the race, causing everyone to start talking about that film, followed by the same blogger declaring a few weeks later that said film is gaining momentum because everyone is talking about it. It’s a terrifyingly meta place (appropriately enough, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman of “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is rumored to be writing a script about Oscar bloggers).

And I promise you, none of us are this attractive.

I mock it, but as anyone can tell by reading my blog, or looking at the giant, adjustable chart that takes up 3/4 of the bulletin board in my room, or just, you know, talking to me for more than 2 minutes, I am myself far gone. Predicting the Oscars is a game: part strategy (analyzing past winners and trends, keeping track of precursor awards like the Golden Globes), part wild guesswork. I’m far better at predicting winners than nominees, as evidenced by my fantastically poor showing this morning when the nominees for 2011 were announced (remember when I said that “Bridesmaids” had a 0% chance of landing an Oscar nomination? yeah, it scored nods for both Original Screenplay and Supporting Actress – Melissa McCarthy). But the satisfaction of correctly predicting even one wild-card selection (like, say, Rooney Mara’s Best Actress nomination for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) usually makes up for it. After all, it’s all in good fun.

Or, at least, I tell myself that. See, the trick about playing the Oscar game is not minding. When you watch a shit-ton of movies like me, you’re bound to pick up some personal favorites. And your taste will NEVER line up with the Academy’s. This is not really surprising, considering the Academy Award nominations are really an amalgamation of the preferences of over 6,000 different people, but it’s remarkably hard to process. Logically, I should not get angry over any perceived “snubs” – the movies and performances I loved will always be there for me, whether validated by a bunch of snooty industry insiders with questionably middle-brow taste. Yet I still want to break something because these people somehow think that Jonah Hill in “Moneyball” gave a better supporting performance than Albert Brooks in “Drive” (and I loved “Moneyball” as much as the next person).

All right. I swear that I had a purpose in mind to this post beyond ranting about my super-niche hobby, although I’ve sort of lost track now. I guess, at the end of the day, I will have the respect that the Academy will have their preferences and I’ll have mine. Our taste in movies, music, food, clothing and so on is what makes us individuals, and differences in opinion on such things should be encouraged, embraced, yadda yadda. It sounds schmaltzy, but seriously, we all forget/ignore it every day. The trick is not minding. It makes for much more fun.

Three to Think About: I Will Now Completely Undermine the Point of This Post By Bitching About the Worst Oscar Snubs Ever:

  1. “Driving Miss Daisy” wins Best Picture of 1989; Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” is not even nominated.
  2. “Dances with Wolves” wins Best Picture of 1990, over Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas”
  3. Did I mention that “Crash” shit?