Watching the Oscars, yearning for the unexpected

Titanic (1997)
Titanic (1997)

By Samantha Leach

I remember my first Academy Awards. I was five years old and I had just fallen in love with cinema upon my first viewing of Titanic. Admittedly at five years old I didn’t quite understand the true essence of the film. I was foreign to the concepts of doomed love and incomprehensible tragedy. So, instead, I marveled over the surreal beauty projected on the screen: the mahogany, china, beaded gowns, ocean blues, melodic melodies and above all- Leonardo Dicaprio’s face. Titanic was my first lesson in the magnetic allure of film and I rode my obsession all the way to Hollywood’s most dazzling night, The Oscars. Ever since I have been bewitched by the peculiar spectacle that is award shows.

I can track my aging through each award show season. I still remember in 2005 when I was certain that the Oscar for best picture would go to The Aviator and the sheer shock I felt when it went to Million Dollar Baby. Or, my excitement when in 2009 Sean Penn won the Oscar for Milk after losing the Golden Globe to Mickey Rourke. These Oscars were filled with more cinematic moments than any of the movies nominated. I’ll never forget when Roberto Benigni walked on top of the chairs all the way to the stage or when Adrien Brody made out with Halle Berry on stage because they were both just as shocked and ecstatic about their win as the audience.  This intensity was the hallmark of the Oscars that I grew up on. The Oscars of my youth were my version of a sporting event. They left me sitting on the edge of my seat wearing my superstitions upon my body in the form of my mother’s pearls and pink socks.

This year at the Oscars I felt my traditional feeling of shock. But this shock wasn’t filled with my traditional dizzying glee. Instead, I was entirely dumbfounded. With my 15 years of award show viewing I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at knowing the rhythms of each show. I always say the easiest show to predict is the Golden Globes because they will normally select whichever film has been most hyped. This year when watching the Golden Globes, please excuse my humble brag, I was able to predict 21 out of the 25 categories. I knew that the Golden Globe would undoubtedly go to the fan and critic favorite, Argo. When it won the Golden Globe I was happy for it, it was a movie for the audience and deserved to win what I consider to be a glorified people’s choice awards. But, I didn’t put it down on my Oscars prediction spread sheet.

My Oscar’s pick was the critics’ beloved but little seen film Silver Linings Playbook. The interwoven themes of mental health, love, obsession and family all seamlessly written and brilliantly acted seemed to be congruent with The Oscar’s Best Picture category I have come to know. But, when the best picture went to Argo, I was disillusioned. While watching the familiar guises of song and dance trumped up by the actors who won the awards of yesteryear, I realized this was no longer my Oscars. Instead of being an homage to Old Hollywood it was now merely mimicking the past. Argo’s win signified the final shift in the changing climate of The Oscars in which they nominates ten best pictures, all in the hopes to boost DVD sales. Where the show resides at the Dolby theatre, not the Kodak. In this new era, gone is the giddy spontaneity in favor of rehearsed speeches, few surprises, and the best picture award being presented via Skype by Michelle Obama.

A lot of people have posed the question, why did the Academy Awards make Anne Hathaway America’s Anti-Christ and Jennifer Lawrence America’s Sweetheart? I think this question is very telling. While Hathaway delivered a beautiful speech, it came across like the well-oiled machine of The Oscars themselves. It was calculated and practiced, nearing on expected. Lawrence, on the other hand, was candid and real. On the red carpet she hungered for McDonalds and on her way to the stage she tripped up the stairs. This is the kind of innate quality I have come to associate with The Oscars. It is a night where Hollywood becomes accessible to ordinary America because the actors drop the veil of their characters and are their own mere mortals. Lawrence’s uncontrollable excitement was a nod to the old Oscars, a night where anything can happen and the underdog film can win the big prize. While The Oscars are my sporting event, why would I want to watch the game if I already know all the plays? Maybe I’m just bitter that Argo winning made me lose my Oscar predictions contest. But really, I would trade winning my contest for some old nostalgic shock any day.

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