It’s that time of year again, when movies that got released months ago undertake a marketing blitz, media prognosticators come out of the woodwork, and the mound of sloughing flesh once known as Billy Crystal checks its shadow, to see whether or not it needs to rent a tux. Yes, it’s the final countdown to the 85th annual Academy Awards, AKA the Oscars. It’s Hollywood’s biggest night. Our eyes will be locked on the stars, and theirs will be gazing at the industry’s collective navel. The winners walk home with golden doorstops; the losers take comfort in knowing that the same demographic doing the voting is also responsible for letting a spin-off, of a spin-off, of a spin-off of JAG become an actual thing.
Yes, for as long as movies have been trying to convince us that true love conquers all, guns make a cocking noise whenever they’re raised, and Meryl Streep can’t lie about passing gas without deserving an award, the hardest sell Hollywood’s ever had to make is that an inbred awards show is the ultimate determinant of cinematic quality. Like any art form, film is subjective, and movies resonate differently from person to person. It’s a disservice to the great, varied movie year that was 2012 to say that just one film, performer, or director was unequivocally better than all others.
Yet, we can’t help but try to codify our culture with winners and losers, applying metrics to just about any experiential thing that comes to mind (see: every top 10 list ever). So, perhaps the idea of awards is what really matters in the first place, as they generate conversation about the selections, even if (or rather, especially if) they all turn out to be wrong. A middling drama about race in America can be easily forgotten, but a middling drama about race in America that also happens to win the Best Picture Oscar can provide enough internet hate-fuel to solve the energy crises five times over. At the end of the day, the ridiculousness of the whole affair is maybe a better justification for the Oscars than anything else, a loathing/loving celebration of entertainment as art, and business.
Even if they haven’t seen any of the films in contention, or don’t care about the awards to begin with, millions of people will watch the Oscars regardless. As a venue to ogle the famous, rip on Hollywood pageantry, or anticipate some new cultural Schadenfreude moment, there aren’t many better than the Academy Awards. But what if you don’t care about any of those things, yet end up watching the ceremony anyway? Maybe the cute new hire at accounting is throwing an Oscar party, and you want to impress them with your knowledge of every Best Picture nominee. Maybe you’re in deep with cinephile card sharks, and the only way you keep your legs is by outguessing their winners ballot. Or maybe you just want to be the pretentious film buff of the family for once, astounding all with your knowledge of mostly useless trivia (“actually, it’s pronounced Michael Haaan-eke”).
Well, you’re in luck, as we think an awards show celebrating Hollywood bullshit is more than deserving of a cheat sheet on how to fake your way through an entire evening of it. I’ll be your spirit guide through each of the nine films nominated for best picture, giving you enough information to convincingly get through a conversation about their odds in major categories, and how to handle a crowd that either loves, or hates the film. And don’t forget to check my picks for the winners at the end, because you never know when having a pick for Best Sound Mixing might come in handy.
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