Saturday, August 8, 2009

Critics, I am putting you On Notice

That goes for you too, compiler of Entertainment Weekly's "Must List." Please, please do not use the word "Oscar" about any film or performance before the month of December. You guys are supposed to be the ones who understand how it works better than we plebes, and you're showing a SHOCKING amount of gullibility, which many of you do HABITUALLY at this time of year and into September, when the first wave of award-bait pictures washes over us all.

Let me tell you a story. I have a worn out VHS tape of Bravo network's "100 Scariest Movie Moments." I watch it way too much, and I've grown weary of the old commercials that I have to fast-forward through. Celebrity Poker Showdown ... Bravo's own "Why We Love TV" Reunion Week ... that horrible Hummer commercial where a clay-Godzilla-type monster mates with a robot and has a Hummer carbaby. But perhaps the most annoying commercial is for a film called Shopgirl that was coming out at the time. Claire Danes, Steve Martin (who'd written the novella on which the movie was based), Jason Schwartzman. I've never seen this film, possibly because of this commercial. There were all kinds of accolades listed for the movie, but the big one was about Danes, saying "She'll be hard to beat at Oscar time."

"Dude, where's my Oscar?"

Know what's wrong with that? October, when this movie was coming out and this comment being made (and for all I know, and I can't be arsed to look up when exactly this comment was published, the critic was seeing the movie weeks, perhaps months, ahead of time) is not Oscar time. It's not even when the studios trot out the films they really intend to push at the real Oscar time. I hardly need add that Claire Danes' performance, while I'm sure it was quite good, not only did not go on to win an Oscar, it was not even distinguished with a nomination. (I hope no one thinks, by the way, that I believe Oscar wins and nominations are actual indicators of a film's or an actor's/performance's worth. They absolutely are not. I'm just saying "she'll be hard to beat" is kind of an embarrassing comment to have made about a performance that turned out to be apparently quite easy to beat.)

The "100 scariest" tape goes into heavy rotation every year during the month of October, which happens to be when a lot of TV spots for award-bait movies air, most of them with at least one quote from a serious, respected critic who proclaims it or some actor's performance to be "the one to beat." I don't expect to hear such piffle this early in the year, but I've already heard it about one performance this year (funnily enough, regarding Claire Danes' fiance Hugh Dancy). And as I picked up my copy of this week's Entertainment Weekly, I turned to the "Must List" to find Meryl Streep in the number one spot for her charming turn as Julia Child in Julie & Julia. I smiled, having just seen the film myself, until I read the blurb and these famous last words - "It's her Oscar to lose." I rolled my eyes, even though, being Meryl Streep, she tends to be the exception to the rule, and even though she's on my own shortlist of Oscar contenders. But my list has only just begun; there are tons - TONS - of movies coming out in the next five months with doubtless hundreds of excellent performances in them. And while attaching the word "Oscar" to a review or a comment no doubt sells tickets, it also contributes to getting people - those who care about such things anyway - invested in them coming true.

This is something that I feel seasoned critics and industry insiders should already know, without a newb like me having to tell them, but apparently this is a lesson that needs learnin', and if no one else will step up, I will. Calm the heck down, people! There's plenty of time to make boneheaded and sure-to-be-shafted predictions after we've seen all the movies 2009 has to offer.

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