Now that Oscar season is over, so is the battle for my favorite filmic facepalm, and it belongs to generally competent New York Times movie reviewer and easy target* A.O. Scott. In his piece bemoaning the influence of the Oscars on Hollywood, he wrote:
“Releasing ambitious, serious films into theaters has become a brutal blood sport.”
It isn’t that outlandish on its face, because it’s the kind of thing we’re used to hearing at this point, but maybe we should question why we’re used to hearing it, because it really is very silly.
I Have Come to Bury Michael Bay, Not to Praise Him
Transformers was probably the most ambitious movie of 2007. Michael Bay and his investors would have considered anything less than a pervasive and instant global phenomenon to be utter failure.
Contrary to Mr. Scott’s article, If The Diving Bell and the Butterfly fails in theaters, it doesn’t matter (Scott defines failure in the “Darwinian landscape” as not being nominated for an Oscar). They didn’t make the movie in the spirit of ambition, just as it wasn’t paralytic Jean-Dominique Bauby’s dream to someday have his work adapted into a breakthrough international indie flick. And even to the extent that the pursuit of innovative storytelling or breaking new ground in the artistic mission of film is ambitious, it’s hard to imagine a movie ambitious enough in that specific regard (or any specific regard) to even begin to match the broad ambition of a major Hollywood juggernaut.
A.O. Scott could have improved his assessment by specifically targeting certain sorts of ambition and excluding others, but then, why you need to talk about ambition as a qualifier in the first place? It’s like rules-based utilitarianism — once you spend more of your time on workarounds than on your actual system, you’re probably facing a problem with your core philosophy.
His note on seriousness is less absurd, but is basically just a qualifier to keep people from saying “But Ratatouille! But Ratatouille!”
Damned If You Do
Back to Mr. Scott — if you’re going to mistakenly call out the particular kind of movie you want to see for the virtue of its ambition, why are you bemoaning that people fight hard for its success? Why praise moviemakers for their ambition and damn them for their drive to find success?
The way I see it, set against unwarranted charges of laziness, here is the eternal complaint of the armchair quarterback (this writer included**): “Why did pursuing my dreams have to be so hard?”
Or Van Dammed If You Don’t
But my favorite part of the quotation is the end, where he calls Oscar film marketing a blood sport. I think this is hilarious for two reasons:
- Because of course it isn’t. Nobody’s getting killed in the Kumite. Mostly people go out to parties and watch movies and stuff.
- Because Mr. Scott’s mild-mannered elitism was yet another helpless victim of Bloodsport’s vast and unstoppable cultural influence.
When it gets to be Oscar season, no film demands our respect quite like Jean-Claude’s magnum opus of slow-motion grimacing and groinal flexibility.
*I admit, I’ve been a little biased against A.O. Scott ever since his lukewarm review of Ang Lee’s Hulk. It’s not fair to doubt everything else the man writes simply because he gave merely stronger consideration than most, rather than gushing praise, to my favorite post-9/11 summer blockbuster – but that’s why they call it “bias.”
But seriously, I kid because I love.