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Molly Haskell apparently not a fan of "31 Days."


notwanted
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*an excellent essay for cnn.com from friend of the network Molly Haskell:*

 

WHY THE OSCARS LEAVE ME COLD.

BY MOLLY HASKELL

 

 

Editor's note: Molly Haskell is a former theater and movie reviewer for The Village Voice, New York Magazine and Vogue. She has taught film studies at Barnard College and Columbia University and is the author of two memoirs and three books of film criticism.

 

(CNN) -- I am a movie critic. But because I am not employed by a newspaper, or a television station, Web magazine, ad agency or any institution that contributes to or profits from the media carnival that has become the Academy Awards, I can admit without fear of repercussion that the Oscars leave me colder than an arctic vortex.

 

If there were some remote planet or sun-kissed island where I could flee the din, I would go there. But I bet even remote outposts, windswept Siberian tundra or ships lost at sea, places without water or central heating, have a pipeline to the Oscar countdown.

 

Like Christmas and the presidential campaign, the Oscar race -- a misnomer, suggesting speed -- goes on too damn long. This is true even in a year when the nominees are more exciting than usual, perhaps even justifying the oft-made claim that the Academy has become younger and less stodgy. "American Hustle" is a comedy; "Her" a delicate love story between a man and a computer program; "The Wolf of Wall Street" raucous and controversial, "Nebraska" bleak. (Of course, we have been shocked before. Remember "Midnight Cowboy.")

 

The Academy has never been a barometer of quality, in fact it has a fairly dismal record when it comes to truly great or slightly difficult films. It's tended to favor the inspirational over the fatalistic; high-minded drama over comedy and noir; British over American ("The King's Speech" vs. "The Social Network"). *When TCM, the channel to which I am devoted above all others, programs a whole month of Oscar winners I lose interest.*

 

Other media outlets are not so restrained. The New York Times, like other organs of record no doubt, begins early -- sometime in summer -- with possibilities and probabilities, profiles and features leading up to and exploiting the fall's releases, until it's virtually blanket coverage. Brains that should be doing better things are busy handicapping and making lists. Like the presidential primaries (remember when Hillary was a sure winner?), the forecasts are wrong as often as not, but nobody's ever held accountable. Now that the Golden Globes have become the rehearsal dinner to the Oscar ceremony and fashion gets more coverage than international and domestic news combined, we watch as an armada of reporters is deployed to relay the buzz, and stories spill over into every section except sports.

 

 

But more important is what this carefully staged mass hysteria and nonstop coverage does to the movies and the stars. Films that open early in the year are virtually shut out by the bottom-heavy pattern of release and ruckus surrounding the end-of-year "prestige" films. Gems like "Before Midnight," "Mud," and "Frances Ha" might as well have opened seven years ago rather than a mere seven months.

 

Actors who've given outstanding, complex performances are suddenly pleading for love like orphan puppies, parading from one show to another, forever on display. Where are the handlers that used to manage the careers of stars, keeping them at a discreet distance from the fans and allowing them some semblance of mystery?

 

The irony is that as fewer people are going to movies, the annual spectacle that is the Oscars is taking up greater and greater space in the public arena. The upside is supposed to be a rare communal pleasure -- the way such occasions (as the clich? has it) bring the country together. Like Christmas. Or the political campaign. Or a natural disaster. For once in our fragmented era, old and young, blue and red, presumably join hands in a virtual auditorium to admire some dresses and laugh at some jokes.

 

But wait! If I remember correctly (and the evenings do blur into one another), our host last year was someone who had almost nothing to do with movies, who conducted a sort of insider colloquy with the designated demographic, young males who watch television. So much for cross-generational rapprochement.

 

Television grasping for viewers to lure advertisers, newspapers bumping up movie ads, the actors withering from overexposure and the films themselves all but anti-climactic in the final hour: How can even the best keep the sparkle of surprise? "American Hustle" with its exquisite choreography and sly tease -- I'm still trying to figure out who knew what when. Spike Jonze's ingenious "Her," a man-machine romance that proves that science fiction and sex are not mutually exclusive.

 

When the night comes, I'll watch of course. And vow to go to bed before midnight. And stay up anyway. After all, the Golden Globes was worth watching just for Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and maybe Ellen de Generes can make the long hours of Sunday night, March 2, tolerable this year. But in the meantime, I'll fight my uphill battle to ignore Oscar stories.

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Thanks for sharing, "notwanted", and welcome to the Forums.

 

All this essay does is to make me wish that we could see more of Molly Haskell on TCM (though not in February!), since she tells it like it is and she's right on nearly every count. My only disappointment is that apparently she'll break down and watch the damn thing anyway.

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I like Molly and mention her fairly often on these forums. But I do not fully agree with her frustrations here, though she certainly has a right to vent about it.

 

If there wasn't any Oscar show, wouldn't we be asking why we do not celebrate yearly achievements in film? I don't think the answer here is apathy, nor is it to tone down on the marketing and exposure of the Oscars. Each individual has their own choice about whether to get caught up in the award season whirlwind, or not.

 

Also, pooh-poohing TCM for jumping on the bandwagon is not going to solve anything. Perhaps TCM could trim it to 'Oscar Month.' And if the telecast happens in February, then it is 28 days, and if it is in March, then back to 31 days. I have always found it odd that it starts in one calendar month then wraps into the following month. Or why not start it on January 29th, so it ends on February 28th? Yet these are minor quibbles, and TCM should create programming based around it.

 

Another solution might be for TCM to use primetime for its Oscar salute and free up the mornings for regular film fare (whatever that may be to individual viewers). However, there are now more on-demand selections available through TCM, so if the live programming with the Oscar theme is not something a person wants to see, there are other classic films available vis-a-vis TCM platforms.

 

Again, I don't think complaining is the best thing to do. The Oscar celebration on TCM still brings quality classic film to us, and I don't think we'd expect anything less.

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I don't have anything against "31 Days", since I realize it's a good marketing tool for TCM to bring in new viewers. And since in the first exposure I had to it in 2010, there were scores of films I hadn't seen before, it'd be hypocritical of me to object now that it seems like mostly repeats.

 

But as for the Oscar ceremony, IMO it's like everything related to the Super Bowl except the game itself. On Super Bowl Sunday, I watch the game but mute everything else, from the pregame blather to the butchered Star-Spangled Banner to the commercials to the moronic halftime shows.

 

Similarly, when it comes to movies, I love the films themselves (at least many of them), but not the surrounding celebrity-driven hoopla that defines Oscar night, which is what Haskell is objecting to.

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Ms. Haskell brought up a point that rankles me( actually several, but, one at a time!). Fashion.

 

I once sent an e-mail to Terry Lawson, who at the time was the Detroit Free Press film critic, saying that just once, I'd like to see SOMEBODY walk up to one of the "Red Carpet" wags while wearing a large, baggy black leather coat. When asked, "WHO are you wearing?", the man answers, "Yaphet Koto!" Lawson replied back to me with a large LOL.

 

Although it will never happen, just once I'd love to see all the celebrities show up clad in bib overalls or sweats. After all, it's not a coronation.

 

I might just tune in to see what Ellen Degeneres comes up with, as I only saw one of the movies that's being considered for anything. But otherwise it'll be much like the Grammy's for me; Don't know who most of the artists are and not familiar with the work.

 

Sepiatone

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Reminds me of the story that Joanne Woodward.made her own gown when she was nominated for THE THREE FACES OF EVE, and mentioned so when asked. One of the columnists wrote.that Joanne was setting back.the cause of Hollywood glamor.

 

The reality is that a large segment tunes in to see.who wore.what, who arrived.with whom, etc. as.opposed.to who.won what. Its the nature of.the beast, and with all this self promotion fueling ratings, and.as.long.as.advertising revenue is as lucrative.as.it is, and the movies get.a bump at.the boxoffice, it won't be changing anytime.soon.

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I do enjoy TCM's 31 Days of Oscar because some movies I want to see are aired. However, I do agree with this statement by Molly Haskell:

 

The Academy has never been a barometer of quality, in fact it has a fairly dismal record when it comes to truly great or slightly difficult films

 

The Oscar winners are merely those who receive the the most votes from the Academy members. There's no guarantee that an Academy voter has seen all the films in a particular category or for that matter has even seen the film or performance that he or she has voted for.

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How times change. LOL. (Joanne) I remember reading Joan Crawford taking Woodward to task also for that fact. Once the Oscars started getting televised, everything changed. Ratings can even change Academy rules (the recent expansion of the Best Picture nominees for instance).......

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Go Molly. I despise "31 Days of Oscar" now. 15 years ago, it was great to have a month devoted to Oscar winners. 15 years later, it is merely BORING. I record tons of films ahead and save them for February since TCM rarely has an Oscar winner on that I haven't already seen dozens of times!

 

Lydecker

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> That's like asking people to go to church naked. Unrealistic. :)

 

Oh, I wouldn't be TOO hasty there, Tom. People are ALREADY going to church in them bibs and sweats, so the future is shaky at the moment.

 

Besides, if you're a true believer, no matter HOW you dress for church, you're still naked, in a sense. ;)

 

Sepiatone

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  • 1 month later...

The Oscar winners are merely those who receive the most votes from the Academy members. There's no guarantee that an Academy voter has seen all the films in a particular category *or for that matter has even seen the film or performance that he or she has voted for.*

 

For years I've been making this point about the Oscars.

And I finally have proof that the Academy members do, in fact, vote for movies and performances that they have not seen.

 

This quote is from a recent _Los Angeles Times_ article (March 4, 2014):

"All the same, two Oscar voters privately admitted that they didn't see "12 Years a Slave," thinking it would be upsetting. But they said they voted for it anyway because, given the film's social relevance, they felt obligated to do so."

 

 

I suspect that this happens every year, esecially with the "big" awards (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director).

 

Here's a link to the entire article:

 

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/moviesnow/la-et-mn-oscar-race-20140304,0,2619113.story#axzz2v1iGPZM9

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> I suspect that this happens every year, esecially with the "big" awards

 

 

Oh, it happens with the political elections as well. "Yeah, I voted for Sen. Blowgut because all my buddies were, and I didn't wanna be odd man out."

 

Sepiatone

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That doesnt surprise me. I'm sure a certain percentage of voters dont see all the nominees in a category or even the film/person their voting for.......

 

And I'm also sure that many times, in the acting categories especially, a vote is cast for someone because the voter does not want someone else in the category to win ---- with little to no consideration of the merit of the work of either person.

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Not sure what THIS is when you said 'I'm sure THIS happens'.

 

I can see someone not seeing all of the movies and therefore making their choice based only on the movies they have seen. I'm sure this happens each year and maybe more frequently than one would hope.

 

But voting for a movie one has NOT seen because of a film's "social relevance"? I would hope that rarely happens.

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Not sure what THIS is when you said 'I'm sure THIS happens'.

 

I was referring to Academy members voting for movies or performances that they have not seen, Two voters admitted as much this year and I think this happens every year especially in the acting categories. Votes are cast for other actors that they "like" even if they have not seen the particular performance that is nominated that year . . .or perhaps they feel the actor should have won for a movie (or movies) in previous years so they vote for their performance in the current year. And I do believe that often votes are cast against other actors---voting for someone with the intention of preventing someone else from winning.

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