The Academy Awards — that night of movie industry glitz, glamour and self-congratulation embodied — again fall upon us this Sunday. I most likely won't be catching any of the ritziness firsthand (as I'm one of those detestable millennial cord cutters and am otherwise a little freaked out by red carpets and sequined dresses), but I'm sure I'll be intermittently refreshing some listicle as the results come in while trolling Netflix for something on just the right spectrum of noncommittal and brainless to end the weekend with. (The best options usually start with "Ernest goes to ...".)
Despite its clout as the major movie awards of the year, the Oscars have never really done much for me (at least not since the 1997 awards, when 8-year-old me could not fathom why the original "Men in Black" did not sweep every category and earn a special distinction as "totally, like, the best movie, like, ever"). Given that a scattershot of industry insiders are the ones doing the voting, big-time awards shows in general aren't as much a determiner of quality as a vehicle for recognition.
This is something that I feel gets conflated in the Internet obsessions with particular actors or directors "getting what's owed to them" on the awards circuit. Leonardo DiCaprio's win for Best Actor last year and the cloudy brouhaha that preceded it is the most striking example. Yes, it's cool that he won and everything, but not winning doesn't retroactively diminish a good performance — the goon squad's not going to come to his house and repossess his talent for not taking home a trophy.
Outside of the online echo chambers of star discussion, major awards shows in general are slipping downward on the slope of cultural relevancy. Most recently, both the winners and nominees at the Grammy awards showed that the music industry has a major blind spot in recognizing cultural relevancy (Beyonce vs. Adele) and where quality is coming from (in a pathetically late-game acceptance of original music streamed online). It's all tumbling toward the Daytime Emmys.
The Oscars haven't crossed into the same level of insignificance as the Grammys in the industry sea change, with streaming giants Netflix and Amazon both netting nominations this year (Netflix for mass-incarceration documentary "13TH" and Amazon Studios for Best Picture contender "Manchester by the Sea," though the latter took a traditional theater distribution route).
Still, being an ultimately industry-led outing, there's obvious preference in the selection of winners and extensive campaigns that go on to capture voters' attention that the audience at home doesn't see. Any particular movie taking home a trophy or leaving empty handed shouldn't used as a measure for wealth or lack of quality by us layviewers — that's a task that should be left to firsthand watching. (Or, you know, data aggregation. Respect our algorithmic overlords.)
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