Well, you win some and you lose some. My 2018 Oscar Quest ballot is a mix of both. Of the twenty-four categories awarded last night, I predicted seventeen. Out of that seventeen, I got ten right and seven wrong.
Not my best showing.
But it was a good year just the same. Every year of movies is a good year if you think about it—if you learn how to learn from them. Here are some ways to build your skills.
First, you need to learn how to play this game. There are two facets of Oscar Quest to consider when predicting winners—what you like and what the Academy will like. This means that there are two threads of research that have to happen. One, you must see the films and evaluate them for yourself. This is fun, but it requires you to view critically, to compare and to consider technical aspects of filmmaking, not just plot and character. Two, you must figure out which way the wind is blowing among actual voters—the members of the Academy. What you like may have no bearing whatsoever on what people working in the industry will like. Box office numbers are not a good indicator of prize winners because the voters usually don’t care about that. So you need to see who has raked in previous awards, like a SAG or a Golden Globe or a BAFTRA or a host of other, smaller ones—all of which are awarded before the Oscars. Magazines like Entertainment Weekly and Vanity Fair are full of useful articles for the Oscar Quester as well. All of this comes into play, but, as you can see by my results this year, none of it is foolproof.
Second, even if you do all of this and come up short, your efforts have not been in vain. Movies are an art form and the more you see of them the better you get at separating the good from the bad. When you make yourself a more critical viewer, the very act of watching a film becomes a learning experience. You begin to wonder how the action on the screen got there and why this film had such an effect on you when another similar film did not. You begin to see that while script and performance are crucial, there are also light and sound and camera angle and camera distance and camera movement and how the shots are ordered and joined and what kinds of transitions are made between them. There are a million ways any ten seconds of film could have been made. What one way got used here and why? There are so many things to consider in the making of a film, it’s a miracle that any of them get made at all. But they do. And when we can see the inner workings of them—at least a little—then we have opened up for ourselves a whole new layer of understanding and enjoyment.
Third, movies chronicle culture. If you take a decade-by-decade stroll through the hundred and some-odd years of movie making, you will see on screen, perhaps, an idealized version of what life may have been like during a particular era. More likely, though, if you read between the lines and look carefully at how people are portrayed, who got starring roles and who didn’t, what audiences would accept and what they wouldn’t, what was considered glamorous and what was plain, which audiences were targeted and which ones were overlooked, which movies won awards and which ones were passed over, what technology was employed and what was as yet unavailable (or unaffordable)—then you will see a snapshot of an era in time in a new way. You don’t have to be very old to do this. Go back ten years. The dominant films even in that brief period of time will have things to say to you—cultural, political, historical. If a culture could keep a diary, this would be one way to do it. It’s our job to learn how to read it.
I have always loved movies, but I do let my movie-going slide—sometimes for years at a time. This year’s Oscar Quest was a way for me to get back into the game. I discovered that my recently renovated local theater has reclining seats (no way!) and tons of space between rows so that people who stand up and walk out during the closing credits no longer get in my way as I power through to the very end—even if they stand up right in front of me and dawdle as they put on their coats. I found several theaters’ cheap days, one of which sweetens the pot with free coffee, tea or cocoa for those of a certain age. I realized that there was no reason, aside from my own laziness, not to get out to the movies as often as I want. It’s cheap enough, comfortable enough, enjoyable enough and culturally important enough to make it happen.
And the experience of seeing a film on the big screen versus on TV? Well that is the topic of another essay. Stay tuned.
Oscar Quest 2018 is now one for the books. But OQ19 will be here before we know it, so it’s time now to keep those movie muscles toned and ready.
I’ve learned my lesson. What’s playing?