So what’s the best film of this year? Life of Pi, Argo, or the French import Amour? Maybe it’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. It all depends on whom you ask—and whom you trust. Most civilians haven’t had a chance to see some of the high-profile year-end releases already vying for recognition—like Zero Dark Thirty, Les Misérables, and Django Unchained—but that hasn’t stopped the runaway train that is award season from picking up steam. The announcement of this year’s Golden Globe nominees further muddies the waters, as the ever-quixotic Hollywood Foreign Press Association has made its choices, nominating Salmon Fishing in the Yemen in a number of top categories including Best Comedy, Best Actor and Actress! (I’m fond of both Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt, but really…)
Most Hollywood insiders give a knowing wink when the subject of the Globes comes up, as the awards themselves have no real credibility. What they do is offer free publicity to current movies and TV shows and help to promote the upcoming Oscars. Besides, the HFPA puts on a great party where a panoply of stars show up and the booze flows freely. (Most pundits discreetly avoid discussing the credentials of this rather small voting group, or the fact that they are openly wined, dined and courted all year long.)
But it seems as if every such ceremony is given nearly equal weight nowadays, even the bogus Hollywood Film Awards, which take place before a sizable number of year-end movies have even been screened.
Like the 24-hour cable news channels, the chatosphere needs something to talk about, and every nomination announcement is a chance to talk about this movie or that star’s latest standing in the only race that really matters, the Oscars.
Of course, that so-called standing has a lot to do with the group handing out kudos. Some critics would rather be drawn and quartered than hand an award to a mainstream Hollywood picture. That includes some of my colleagues in The Los Angeles Film Critics Association, which announced its annual awards on Sunday. The results must have caused puzzlement in some Hollywood circles: no mention of Lincoln, a French film (Amour) as Best Picture, a Best Director citation to Paul Thomas Anderson for a movie (The Master) that many people found wanting, etc.
But hey, it’s all just a matter of opinion. The LAFCA vote is an attempt to harness a consensus from nearly 50 highly opinionated people, which is never easy. I know; I served as president for two years.
For me, the one good thing about all this hype is the possibility that it might pique someone’s interest in seeing a good movie he or she overlooked. If it weren’t for some of these awards, especially in categories honoring foreign language films and documentaries, many worthy films might not get on people’s radar at all.
It’s all part of an elaborate game played by the studios and the media. The best way to survive, as an observer or a nominee, is to not take any of it too seriously.