The ultimate pat on the back

Every aspiring young actor has dreamed of his or her day on the stage of the Kodak Theater to accept the highest honor the profession has to offer — the Academy Award.

However — though I hate to burst the bubble, young ones — the Oscars are meaningless.

Let’s start from the very beginning. Though talent usually garners praise, which in turn makes money for a picture, some of the greatest artists simply can’t afford an Oscar. Yes, the Academy selects its favorites and does not accept bribes, but money is a major factor in winning.

This is where the “for your consideration” advertisements come into play. According to the Los Angles Times, the average “for your consideration” advertising campaign can cost $10,000 a day in a major publication. That’s chump change for big shots in the movie industry, but not for everyone else.

What about movies like 1994’s Clerks? The cult classic is loved by millions, but its makers were as poor as could be. The film’s writer and director, Kevin Smith, had to leave college and spend every penny to his name (and the name of some of his friends) on its creation. The movie’s final cost was only $27,000. Sure, it ended up making Smith money in the long run, but not nearly fast enough to generate an Oscar buzz.

Even if the film had been a success right off the bat, Smith hadn’t been in Hollywood long enough to “know people.” He would have had to relentlessly network and suck up to hotshots until his number was finally called. Unfortunately for Smith, now that he’s rich and famous, he’s producing big-budget movies with no substance and his one masterpiece will never be recognized.

The Academy Awards is infamous for its waiting list. Ask anyone who knows anything about acting and they’ll tell you that when Denzel Washington won his Oscar for best actor in a leading role for Training Day in 2001 it’s because the Academy didn’t give it to him for Malcolm X in 1992.
But ask the same people if they thought he deserved the Oscar in 2001 and they’d probably still say yes.

Why? Because that’s the way the Academy works. No one really cares if the good guy loses as long as justice is eventually served. The average citizen could probably live another day if a favorite actor lost — unless, of course, he or she had money riding on an Oscar poll.

People lose money on Oscar polls because there’s no telling whom the Academy will choose. (Hint: Meryl Streep hasn’t won an Oscar since Sophie’s Choice in 1983 and the Academy skipped her over for Out of Africa and Adaptation. Bet it all this year.) If Oscars went to the definitive best actors every year, then we’d have some idea of who’s got it in the bag.

Heath Ledger delivered last year’s best acting performance by far and is justly nominated for an Oscar. But would he have been nominated if he hadn’t died? Odds are, no — because the Academy likes to turn up its nose at petty things like comic book movies. It probably would have waited a few years, tossed a few nominations his way and then given him a win on an off year.

In the rare instances when great art is recognized, the Academy usually finds a way to eventually snub the artists. Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York was the best picture of 2008. Does it have any Oscar nods? That’s a different story. Kaufman won an Oscar in 2004 for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Synecdoche’s leading man, Philip Seymour Hoffman, won one in 2005 for Capote.

It’s a shame the two couldn’t have come together earlier. They’ve already had their number called — to give them another award so soon would just be wrong, right?

Don’t worry guys. The Academy will send some golden boys your way when you decide to give up on art a few years down the line.