And The Envelope Please

It’s awards season, at least in movie-land. So, we’ve already been through The People’s Choice and the Golden Globes awards with Critics Choice coming soon and Independent Spirit, BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild, Grip and Gaffer Festival and Academy Awards waiting in the wings. I’ve probably missed a half dozen more.

People of a rigorous mindset often mock the practice of giving gold stars and little trophies to every Dick and Jane so no one is left out. It debases the meaning of real achievement and gives slackers a pass, they argue. But it’s certainly not just kids who are patronized in this way. Over many years in two different business milieus I won my share of awards. No cool statuettes, alas, just certificates suitable for framing.

Most such accolades are based on the principle that, if you keep subdividing the pond, eventually every frog will be the prince of his particular puddle. So, for example, my local TV station boasts that it has “the award winning news program” while neglecting to say “in Mayberry.” Since there are at most three competitors, it would be a serious failure to only get the bronze and coming in fourth a real accomplishment.

Similarly, the proliferation of awards shows just means more and more people are destined to be winners. The Academy Awards are prestigious since they only allow two actors and two actresses a year to be called “best.” That leaves an awful lost of losers looking glum or trying to smile through their fury or tears. It also leaves an awful lot of the show devoted to awards for Best Editing or Best Art Direction which can cause channels to change all around the globe.

Since awards ceremonies are just glorified commercials for the product, it makes sense that there are more and more of them plugging the merchandise. Several are designed to give publicity to different parts of the film universe, thus cheering up and exciting various subsets of the audience.

The Academy Awards try to highlight glossy, serious movies that say, “we’re not just greedy sex, violence, escapist tripe merchants.” It is meant to suggest that Hollywood provides high-minded, uplifting fare, often with period costumes. So stuff like “Gandhi” and “12 Years A Slave” is recognized.

Most people actually are bored stiff by this kind of film and are happier with The People’s Choice Awards where the winners this years were for children of all ages — “Malificent,” “Divergent,” “22 Jump Street,” “The Fault In Our Stars.” Action, Adventure, Us Against Them, Jackanapes, tearjerking Love and Disease.

The Independent Spirit Awards are for allegedly smart, cutting edge movies that make no money. The Golden Globes, awarded by the foreign press, like to show they are superior to crass Americans by giving awards to supposedly edgy, transgressive, taboo films too downbeat or eccentric to appeal to the masses. So this year they noticed a transgender TV comedy, a drama about an extramarital affair and a movie with an abusive teacher. How sophisticated and European.

Of course, the surest path to an award in every year and every competition is to be cast as a character who is severely challenged — mentally, physically or psychologically. All three is you can manage it. The more horribly fouled up, the better. A merely dysfunctional, Tennessee Williams sort of family is a sitcom in this universe. No, to win big, prestigious awards you have to be a catastrophe, preferably a cheerful one who triumphs over adversity and impossible odds.

Thus, “The King’s Speech” (a royal stutter), “My Left Foot” (cerebral palsy), “A Beautiful Mind” (schizophrenia), “Precious” (poverty, illiteracy, obesity, child abuse, rape, AIDs). If one is award bait, why not try overkill?

This year is no exception, so we have Julianne Moore’s Alzheimer’s, Michael Keaton’s craziness, Eddie Redmayne’s ALS, Reese Witherspoon’s various addiction (and hiking), Bill Murray’s alcoholic grief and misanthropy and Shailene Woodley’s cancer. What, no Ebola victims or necrophiliacs? Well, there’s always next year.

Still, we’ll watch them all. Why? The women like to see the actresses dressed to the nines. And I like to see people celebrated for making something from scratch to entertain and amuse and possibly even move people. In a world where most accomplishments seem destructive, spiteful or petty, making a halfway decent movie or song or book looks like a triumph of the human spirit.

I also watch because once in a while someone goes off script and says something spontaneous, witty, snarky or heartfelt. On TV, nothing is rarer than a touch of humanity. And it is also amusing to see that the rich and famous are just as needy for affection and affirmation as the rest of us. Though a lot more likely to get it.

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