It’s Oscars time! That night when all of Hollywood’s brightest turn out in all their finery to celebrate, well, themselves. But I kid the perpetually overblown and frequently wrong Academy Awards.

I love the Oscars. As a movie freak from way back, watching the annual televised crowning of the best movie/actors/director of the year was like watching the baseball playoffs. I knew my team might not win (and, being a Red Sox fan through the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, it did not), but it was exciting to know that at least the contest indisputably was between the best possible competitors. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences told me so. 

Of course, as I got older, wiser and crabbier, that all turned out to be a bunch of nonsense. The Academy Awards might not have had a steroid scandal, but the Oscars’ luster gathered tarnish the more that naive little film fanatic learned about how the cinematic sausage was made. The fact that the Academy has overwhelmingly comprised industry stalwarts meant a voting body that was overwhelmingly white, old and decidedly middlebrow. 

Box office, studio lobbying and star power bulldoze quality and adventurousness when it comes to handing out those statues. A quick peek down the list of Oscar winners is an exercise in either aggravation (“Green Book,” “Crash,” “Dances With Wolves” over “Goodfellas,” for crying out loud?), or blank looks as I try to remember just what an already-fading best picture winner was about. “The King’s Speech” was the one about that – king. Who made that speech? I’ve almost got it. 

But, hey, we’re here to celebrate Sunday’s Oscars, not to bury them in the well-turned earth of exhausted but very real gripes. OK, one more – this year’s decision to eliminate several major categories from the live Oscars broadcast (8 p.m. Sunday on ABC) is the latest chip in the Oscars’ veneer of artistic integrity. Yes, the Oscars broadcast runs too long, but might I suggest cutting those pointless montages of past movies (“Hey, remember how much you liked, um, Westerns?”), rather than relegating awards like best original score, film editing, production design, makeup and hairstyling, sound, documentary short subject, live action short film and animated short film to a pre-taped afterthought. 

Still, there are some glimmers left in that gold-plated statuette. In spite of themselves (and possibly due to the Academy admitting more people of color – and people under 70), voters have made some surprisingly bold (for them) choices in the past few years. “Parasite” was exactly the sort of brilliant, difficult (and not-in-English) best picture that would have flown under the radar (and over voters’ heads) in the past. And I’m not arguing with 2016’s “Moonlight,” another challenging little film of the type the Oscars should rightfully be hoisting up over the year’s overstuffed, overblown Oscar bait. 


This year’s nominees are the usual mixed bag, although there’s enough long-shot indie fare in there to give me hope. (The expansion of the best picture category to 10 nominees is silly, but at least it allows some smaller films, like “CODA,” “Drive My Car,” and “Licorice Pizza” to get dressed up for the occasion.) I mean, the Academy is just dying to give 75-year-old golden boy Steven Spielberg another Oscar, so “West Side Story” is pretty much my lock for best picture, even if all of Spielberg’s undeniable filmmaking acumen went into a remake of another best picture winner, which seems like shooting fish in a barrel. 

Film Review - The Tragedy of Macbeth

Denzel Washington in a scene from “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” A24 via AP

Looking over the various fields, you’ve got some other voter-favorites in contention. Denzel Washington hasn’t won best actor in a while, and starring in a Shakespeare adaptation (“The Tragedy of Macbeth”) directed by a Coen brother is about as Oscar-y as it gets. But Will Smith playing a real-life inspirational figure in a feel-good biopic (“King Richard”) is nothing to sneeze at, as far as Oscar voters go, either. Then again, Oscar-winners Javier Bardem and Nicole Kidman playing beloved real-life Hollywood royalty in “Being The Ricardos” is just the sort of self-congratulatory, sentimental pick Oscar voters fall for every time. 

You might notice that these predictions aren’t really about the quality of the work. And that’s sort of the point – the Oscars are only rarely about that, and more about handicapping Hollywood’s trends and tendencies. Some notable professionals over the years have scoffed at the idea of pitting disparate examples of artistic expression against each other in a glitzy and expensive contest each year. (Even if they probably would like to be recognized – they’re in pictures, after all.) 

The better film critics’ best-of lists rarely match up with the Oscar nominees (even if the larger best picture field accidentally nets a few deserving indies). And that’s fine – there’s a reason why audience scores are traditionally way higher on Rotten Tomatoes than critics’ scores. We critics are looking at different things, or, at least, we’re weighing the same things differently. And while the Oscars’ pretensions toward empirical, industry-ordained integrity are almost invariably revealed to be the flawed, blinkered and blind-spotted middle road between good intentions and self-perpetuating Hollywood myth-making, well, it’s still a lot of fun to sit down and watch. Even if it, more often than not, turns into a hate-watch. “Green Book”? Seriously? I’m not getting over that one any time soon. 

To weigh in with your Oscar picks, head over to the Press Herald’s 2022 Oscar poll. It might not count toward picking the actual winners, but everybody who enters has a chance at some neat prizes. 

(Oh, and the un-nominated “The French Dispatch” was the best movie of last year. What the Academy has against Wes Anderson, I will never understand.) 

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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