Hey Y'all A little while back I asked y'all why we as a culture devote so much attention to box office and the Oscars. I was inspired by a half-assed reading of William Goldman's equally half-assed book of "essays" on those subjects, "The Big Picture" and some of you made some really valid and compelling points. As I think Keith pointed out in a very tangible sense the weekend box-office totals fundamentally do matter in the sense that they have a direct impact on what gets made and what doesn't. If "Diary Of A Mad Black Woman" comes seemingly out of nowhere (for white folks at least) and makes twenty-five million dollars its opening weekend while costing roughly as much as the catering bill for "Monster In Law" then it doesn't take a crystal ball to ascertain that Tyler Perry will be all up in everyone's grill for at least the next few years, cinematically speaking, with countless new installments in the ongoing saga of Madea, the sassy, pot-smoking grandma whose films I can not bring myself to watch (fun fact: Maya Angelou's in the next Madea film. Is it too much to ask for that she and Madea become embroiled at some point in the film in an epic battle of the "The Dozens"? Surely her poetic gifts would serve her well in describing the myriad comic manifestations of Madea's mother's obesity.). Similarly, when "The Real Cancun" tanked opening weekend I did a giddy little jig of joy. If I was in a movie Handel's Messiah would soar majestically on the soundtrack as I read its paltry opening gross, ecstatic that its failure essentially precluded further attempts to fuse movies with the cultural plague that is reality television. I think you could also make the argument that what we line up to see at ye olde multiplex also reveals something compelling about who we are as a people. When "Fahrenheit 911" debuted at number one at the box office I remember being extremely impressed that the American public turned out in droves to see a political documentary. I think the film's box-office success spoke to the fact that alot of America was dissatisfied with the way the mainstream media covers The Bush Administration and the war, and hungered for an engaged and angry voice of dissent, no matter how ham-fisted or manipulative. My newfound respect for the viewing audience quickly dissipated however when I saw that "Fahrenheit 911" barely beat out the number two film, a slightly less timely and divisive epic called "White Girls" (I shit you not). So what does it say about America that a nearly equal number of people saw "Fahrenheit 911" and "White Girls" their opening weekends? You tell me. Besides, when I was twelve years old I used to religiously read the box office totals in Variety so I'm certainly not one to cast judgment on people for caring about box office. And I agree with the person who said that Goldman himself didn't take either box office or the Oscars too seriously in his book. It just really struck me how insignificant both obsessions seem in retrospect when compared to seriously discussing the art of film. As for the Oscars there was an interesting piece by A.O Scott in the New York Times Review of Books a while back about the National Book Awards that also relates to why we care so much about the Oscars. In it, Scott argued that people liked talking about why the National Book Awards suck because it allows us to feel at once part of the game and above the game. I think this is fundamnetally true of the Oscars as well. We can eat our cake and have it too, snorting derisively about how stupid and wrong all the nominations are and how they never even nominate the best films but do invariably honor what Jonathan Rosenbaum describes as "honorable mediocrity" (he was referring to Ron Howard and "Cinderella Man" but I think that phrase applies to alot of middlebrow Miramaxy costume dramay Oscar Bait) while still enjoying and participating in the spectacle and pagaentry. As much as I hate the idea of movies being ranked and judged like slabs of meat I sincerely enjoy the ritual of the awards and screener season, of making lists and voting and getting screeners and being able to watch "Syriana" at five in the morning while not wearing any pants. At the same time, I feel like the ritual of awards and top ten lists on some level cheapen the moviegoing experience. Ideally you don't just watch a movie, you have a relationship with it and there's a big difference between, say, watching "The Squid And The Whale" a few times and savoring its subtleties and nuances and really living with it for months before making a list and seeing five insanely ambitious two and a half hour epics in a five day span to see which ones end up in your top ten list. I think the mad rush to get these movies out so critics and voters can see them also promotes a feast or famine approach to releasing great movies. This month will be flooded with huge masterpieces. Then comes January and this year's equivalent to "Are We There Yet?" and various Uwe Boll joints. Lastly, someone inquired why critics take the Oscars more seriously than the Grammys. I think it's because the Oscars are semi-legitimate while the Grammys are wholly illegitimate. Granted, The Oscars seldom reward the best films of the year but they aren't liable to give awards to movies like "Wedding Crashers" or "Fantastic Four" or "Monster In Law" just because they're popular whereas the Grammys are little more than a popularity contest. Granted, there are the occasional Grammy-style nominations in the Oscars, as when "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" was nominated for Best Screenplays but as I said before they tend to nominate honorable mediocrities and solid, conservative old fashioned entertainment. Incidentally I was going to write about Kevin Spacey and how an Oscar can ruin a man creatively but I think I'll save that for my next post, as this one is already insanely long. Questions? Comments? Angry retorts? Please do share your feelings on any of the above.