Awards and the test of time
Joaquin Phoenix shocked his colleagues in the US film industry recently when he tartly dismissed all movie awards as “stupid and subjective.” In the course of his acting career, the acerbic star hasn’t set out to win any popularity contests, but his latest diatribe is a new low for him—especially because his latest big-screen portrayal (Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master”) is currently being touted as a contender in this season’s awards derbies. What lousy timing!
Of course, Phoenix would vigorously disagree. Since he doesn’t value citations and awards for “superior” acting, he couldn’t care less about making it easy for awards jurors to give him an official pat on the head for his acting prowess, thank you very much.
Besides, he is by no means the first star to debunk and devalue film awards, so why rap him for expressing his honest opinion? At the very least, Phoenix’s contrary views should prompt us to reconsider our perception about the validity and value of at least some movie awards.
After all, even the Oscars have been rapped for some monumental missteps, like bestowing the best actress trophy to Elizabeth Taylor for “BUtterfield 8” because she had been grievously ill that year (1961). (But she eventually won for her much more award-worthy portrayal in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” six years later.)
The lack of objective reliability of many movie awards is even more obvious on the local movie scene. Time was when there was only one film awards group, which was better known for its dubious and reportedly tainted verdicts than for its astute decisions.
Then came the film critics and reviewers’ Urian awards, which quickly gained the reputation for more objective and reliable verdicts, which the industry’s best workers embraced with joy and relief.
After that, however, came a proliferation of new awards—some fair, others well-intentioned but injudicious, the rest for rent or for sale to the highest bidder.
As a result, we now have around 10 annual movie awards groups, some of them questionable and harboring all sorts of hidden agendas. So, what is the poor local film buff to do?
Expectedly, the awards groups’ verdicts clash all the time, so the result isn’t the illuminating light of truth, but a whole lot of disagreeable smoke—and mirrors.
If good intentions can’t be depended on to come up with reliable awards for excellence, the shysters with hidden agendas are even less trustworthy. So, what’s to be done to make sure that movie awards go to the deserving, rather than to the well-heeled or well-connected?
We can go Phoenix’s way and dismiss the whole shebang as a useless exercise in self-delusion. Or, we can less impudently take the harder way out and carefully compare one awards group with the others, judge their reliability by the validity of their past verdicts, and believe only those who pass our standards.
Most people won’t have the time or patience for that detailed vetting process, but it’s the only way to go for film lovers who don’t want to be hoodwinked by inferiors!
How to go about it? Compare the track records of the different movie awards, and believe only in the two or three whose verdicts have generally stood the test of time.
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